‘Becoming a Department Rep was so empowering’

As a postgraduate sociology student, Sophie Porter, 25, has spent a year representing her department and says it’s only enhanced her university experience…

‘When I was first approached about becoming a Department Rep, I was initially quite apprehensive as I wasn’t sure I could do it! Looking back, I’m so glad I took the plunge because it made my second year at Goldsmiths so completely different to the first.

The main purpose of the role is to collect and pass on feedback from other students in your department in order to improve their educational experience. You learn about project management through the research projects you work on - mine was about retention, why students drop out and what we can do about it - as well as event organisation.

For the research project we came up with the initial data, then presented it in workshops with staff and students. I’ve always been nervous about public speaking so this really helped with my confidence. We then collaboratively came up with solutions which are now being implemented.

The main thing I’ve learnt from being a rep though is understanding that my voice is valid. Knowing you’re an equal with all the staff members at various meetings has been a real confidence boost. And even beyond that with your sense of where you stand… it’s so empowering. You don’t just roll over to authority figures – because you’re there to voice your opinions and those of your fellow students.

Being able to voice my ideas meant I organised the first research symposium, where speakers within the department presented their research to postgraduates. It was so successful that it’ll be carried on in future years. That was borne out of me feeling confident enough to put it forward as a suggestion.

Being a rep has also helped me realise what’s accessible to me as a student, for example The Academic Communities Fund which is a pot of money students can use to arrange events and activities with their coursemates. Through this, I set up a film screening series with another girl on my course and that was really successful. We did eight screenings over the year.

As a rep, you get paid a bursary too, which means you feel so valued in what you’re doing.

Also, as a postgrad you can sometimes feel a little disconnected from the SU and university – I’d definitely felt that at times in my first year. But becoming a rep changed all that because I was actually physically at Goldsmiths a lot more, so I felt really engaged.

Looking forward, I’m considering the idea of working in policy and research using all the skills I’ve learnt from being a rep.

I would definitely encourage other students to get involved! I had a completely different experience this year. I feel so much more a part of the university and the SU and most importantly, I feel like my work has made an impact.’