Show and Tell: how to engage your postgrads with their students’ union

Tuesday 05-04-2016 - 14:37

Show and Tell is a feature on NUS Connect which highlights interesting, experimental and/or particularly effective work going on across the student movement. Today Laura Ho, Postgraduate Officer at Bristol SU, discusses getting postgrads engaged with the students’ union.


How do you think the experience of being a postgraduate student at Bristol changed in the last few years?

We are now in our second year of having a full-time officer with a solely postgraduate remit. As far as I can see this has significantly changed the extent to which postgraduate students are involved in the SU. Anecdotally, I hear that people feel like the union is more relevant to them and that they have a first port of call for any queries/issues in the Postgraduate Officer. 

Along with our first ever Postgraduate Education Officer came our Postgraduate Network which works mainly as a social space for postgrads across disciplines and types of study (Postgraduate Taught vs Postgraduate Research) to connect. Its Facebook page now has over 1,600 members and is pretty active. The Network is led by a student steering committee and they hold weekly events - from pub quizzes to coffee mornings to film screenings. It also acts as a great initial place for people to meet other people during Welcome Week.

The network held four events during Welcome Week with over 400 attendees. Most people came to the events on their own but left with friends. The network is in the process of developing a representative function as well but that is in its very early stages!


What initiatives have Bristol SU taken to achieve this?

There has also been a cultural shift and a commitment to ‘getting this right’ internally. I notice with almost everything we do the question 'what about the postgrads?' is being asked and answered and not just by me as the Postgraduate Officer.


What was the biggest challenge and how did the union overcome it?

The biggest challenge has probably been getting postgraduates to associate at all with the union - overcoming the misconception that the Union isn't for them. I think that has been largely helped by the fact that the Postgraduate Network is student led, it's not seen as us imposing on them and also just caters to their wants, they just run events that the postgraduates tell them directly that they want. 

I think things like distinct branding has been useful, as has the occasional provision of free things, like BBQs. That's not to say people don't come to things if there's nothing free, it's just a good way to get people interested in the first place. 

But simple stuff like holding events in the summer was a huge way of getting people on side. It guess it's a time when postgraduates feel forgotten about because the undergraduates are away and suddenly there's nothing to do. We held fortnightly events over the summer which people seemed to really appreciate. 


What do you have planned for the future?

Developing the Postgraduate Network further and working on its sustainability - we have just employed a part-time member of staff to support the network's committee (as we felt that the amount of reliance on the student volunteer chair was unsustainable). Now we need to think about the financial sustainability as our funding is running out this year. 


What would be your advice to the movement?

Probably that democratic engagement with postgraduates won't come about without some sort of social engagement forming a sense of community and allegiance to the union. 


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