A day in the life: Undergraduate President

A day in the life of an undergraduate president at Cambridge SU. With picture of Fergus.

Being a Sabbatical Officer is extraordinary, on a number of counts.

The most interesting thing is the constant gear-shifting; one hour you’re having a meeting with some upset students, the next you’re reviewing 120 pages of papers for a university committee, the next you’re bulk emailing people encouraging them to engage with a survey or forum, the next you’re diving into governance and financial minutiae as you try to plan what the SU can and should do.

It’s very stimulating, though admittedly also sometimes rather draining. By comparison, when I studied History in my undergrad, it was mostly me, alone in a room or a library, reading books and articles and trying to make notes, all day every day. Now, at any given moment, I’m in 40 email conversations, 12 of which needed to be answered by last Friday, there’s three time-sensitive problems that need solving by the end of the day, and someone - anyone - will decide that they need an hour-long meeting that (it later transpires) could have been email.

It’s lovely getting to meet so many people, though. Meeting and working with a range of intelligent, dedicated, kind people across this University, is a genuine joy.

What do you do all day?

But what exactly, you might ask, is ‘meeting and working with’ these people? What do Sabbatical Officers do all day? I can only answer for myself, but I’ll give it a go: I’ve given three example weeks below, from late October 2023, early December 2023, and late January 2024. I’ve chosen these weeks on the basis that they offer a reasonably varied range of examples of what a ‘typical’ week might look like.

Firstly, I’ve tried to break down each of the weeks into how time was spent, across nine categories:

  • Admin (e.g., emails, copy-writing)

  • University Committees

  • Meeting preparation

  • SU Forums and Events for students

  • Governance work

  • Internal meetings/trainings

  • University stakeholder meetings

  • Campaign work

  • Medical

I have not included lunch breaks; these would add a standard 1 hour per day (and thus 5 hours per week) in each case; I have, however,  included ‘medical’ time (that is, time off work due to medical leave) when it has fallen during the working day, for the sake of transparency.

This is also the data in table form: I would emphasise that one should not draw out ‘trends’ from the side by side comparison, given that these are a curated selection of a much larger set of weeks.

Tasks w/c 23rd October23 w/c 4th Dec23 w/c 22nd Jan24
Admin (e.g., emails, copy-writing)              9        6.75         3.5
University Committees              2          1          5
Meeting preparation             5.5         3.5         2.5
Governance work             3.5         6.5         7.5
Internal meetings/trainings             5.75          8         4.75
University stakeholder meetings              5          5         5.75
Campaign work            6.5         7.25           6 
Medical              4            6           0
Total          43.75          44         39.5

These numbers reflect specific given weeks during my time so far as Undergraduate President. There is, of course, a lot of variation between different Sabbatical roles, and different factors - most notably how many committees you sit on, how many meetings you organise, and how much responsibility for governance matters you take on - will affect how any given officer spends their time. Hopefully, though, these go some way to giving more clarity about what exactly a Sabbatical Officer does (or can) do. Certainly, I’d have appreciated having an honest, specific breakdown of the numbers like this before I ran.

Please feel free to drop me an email at any time if you’re interested in learning more about running for any Sabbatical or non-Sabbatical role in the upcoming Leadership Elections! It’s sincerely an extraordinary job, so I hope you’ll consider giving it a go!

This is your Students’ Union: to be its best, though, it needs you.


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