I can’t believe that it’s now been a year since I was agonising about whether to run for this role! My plans for exploring the possibilities of this relatively new sabbatical officer position which combines the access and education portfolios have been slightly derailed by the pandemic but I love the endless variety of the job. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the UG AEP’s future, but here’s an insight into what’s been happening behind the (virtual) scenes so far over the course of this strange year!
I’ll start the day by signing in on Slack, which is the messaging platform we use for the SU. The first thing I’ll do is check my emails and messages whilst munching on some toast, and often whilst having a chat with Alice (Welfare & Community Sabb) over a cup of tea. Once a month, Siyang and I have early-morning meetings to catch up with Graham Virgo, the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, so if it’s one of those days then I’ll make sure my breakfast-eating isn’t caught on camera!
If I don’t have anything scheduled I’ll get started on my to-do list, but generally this is a popular time for meetings. The Access and Education portfolio means that my role is quite University-facing and I have a lot of regular meetings with a range of different staff members to either offer students’ perspectives, engage in lobbying efforts or discuss collaborative projects. Some of the people I have regular meetings with include people who work in Education Services, Cambridge’s Education Quality and Policy Office (EQPO), the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning (CCTL), the Cambridge Admissions Office (CAO) and University libraries. I also meet monthly with all the Schools Liaison Officers (SLOs) who do outreach work in the different colleges, which is one of my favourite meetings because at least one cat gatecrasher is guaranteed.
My role has a couple of projects which are automatically part of the portfolio. One of these is the annual Shadowing Scheme, an outreach programme for around 300 year 12 and mature students from widening participation backgrounds who are interested to learn more about applying to Cambridge; the other is the Student-Led Teaching Awards, an initiative run by the Education Officers which collects nominations from students and gives out awards to staff members in recognition of their exceptional effort, innovation, care and dedication. Organising these projects has meant a lot of weekly planning meetings throughout the year with the SU staff members involved, often around this time of day, and most of the time we’ll be productively discussing logistics but you’ll also occasionally find me offering slightly outlandish suggestions for videos and other promotional materials. The others try to reign me in but some ideas slip through the net - you might have been (un)fortunate enough to see our SLTA body shapes on video!
Every Monday at midday we have Shout and Share, where the whole SU team gets together on Zoom to chat through what we’re working on in the coming week. The SU isn’t just comprised of the eight elected sabbatical officers: we also have the membership team, who are a wonderful group of permanent full-time staff members who keep the SU and its activities ticking along, whether those are related to the business or design side of things, or to the essential work required to run elections and support campaigns, academic reps, societies and other student groups. Sadly we haven’t all been able to work in the office together this year but we’re holding out hope to meet each other in-person for the first time at the handover party?!
Lunchtime! I’ll often take an hour’s break (if I don’t have a meeting or committee papers to speed-read for the afternoon) with my housemates. We’ll break away from our laptop screens to have a natter, listen to some music and eat leftovers or basically anything on toast. In the summer we’d mostly sit out in the garden to catch some sunshine; in this current cold weather we might brave the outdoors for a brisk walk around the block, but can more often be found eating soup or chilling out under our electric blanket (the best present my housemate received for Christmas in my personal opinion).
After lunch I’ll quite often have committee meetings, with the big important ones mostly taking place between 2-4pm every few weeks. These include the Exam and Assessment Committee, General Board’s Education Committee, Admissions Forum, and the Undergraduate Admissions Committee. I’ll often have a cup of tea for a caffeine boost so that I don’t fall victim to the post-lunch slump! Virtual committees have definitely been strange, with everyone confined to their little square boxes and no opportunity for pre- or post-meeting chats to build relationships with the other members. The odd eccentric Zoom background makes up for it though, with Ted Hughes’ favourite fishing lake in Ireland being a particularly memorable feature.
If I don’t have any committees to go to, I’ll use the afternoon to get on with some work related to the projects I’m involved in. This takes a variety of forms: I might be reading, doing general admin related to my work with access officers and academic reps (scheduling meetings, writing agendas, drafting bulletins, sending emails), or I might be writing a paper, report, policy proposal or presentation. So far this year I’ve been involved in writing reports relating to remote study and the use of online proctoring, policy related to video interviewing and international access, and proposals related to workload reduction.
Often around this time I’ll catch up with Siyang! We’ll hop onto a Zoom call and chat through papers for upcoming committees that we sit on together, strategies for our meetings with members of University management, or talk through any tasks that need doing for our collaborative projects. Sometimes our Zoom will also involve a photo shoot if we need any promo material for social media - not being able to get together in-person means that we have to get a bit creative with our publicity.
I normally sign off at sometime between 5-6pm depending on when I’ve started work. On Wednesdays during term-time, Siyang and I host Access Forum and Academic Rep Forum (supported by Kate, the Student Rep Coordinator for the SU) on alternate weeks around this time, after people’s contact hours have finished. I always love this opportunity to catch up and collaborate with the current students doing so much incredible work across the University!
Every so often, work extends into the evening. For example, during term-time we have Student Council and SU Exec meetings on alternating Mondays between roughly 6-8pm. At the moment, Kate and I have also been running the shadowing scheme online - we’re hosting the events outside school hours and spread over four weeks so that it’s as easy as possible for the year 12 and mature shadows to attend. It’s a lot of work but definitely one of the highlights of my time as a sabb so far, as seeing the shadows grow in confidence daily and enthusiastically participate in all the activities we’ve organised for them has been extremely rewarding and heartwarming! During such strange and otherwise bleak times it really is a joyful way to end the day.