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October 21, 2012

The problem of postgrad representation

Writing about web page http://theboar.org/news/2012/oct/20/su-involvement-postgrads-encouraged/

Postgrad Hub Senate House

The Postgrad Hub (photo mine).

So, I've started writing for the Boar, Warwick's student newspaper. The paper is one of the more reputable student publications in the country and so far I've been impressed with its culture of fast, responsive and detailed journalism; I've seen events happening on campus and in Leamington Spa covered extremely quickly and to a high standard, which from my experience I know is difficult to achieve regularly. I'm speaking largely about the News section here as that's my own area of interest - I'm less well qualified to speak of the other sections. Aside from a couple of fairly shocking editing errors in one of the first paper issues of this term (printing the last two paragraphs of one story twice) which I'll put down (optimistically) to deadline-day stress, this is clearly a very good student newspaper.

However, a quick search for "postgraduate" on the Boar's website brings up a paucity of content which is I think symptomatic of the underrepresentation of the postgraduate perspective in the student consciousnessness. Most of the recent discussion of postgraduates in the Boar would appear to relate to the establishment of a new postgrad sabbatical officer in the SU, which happened in January 2012 and is closely related to the implementation of the new Postgrad Association which is the focus of my report. Outside of this, there has apparently been little-to-no consideration of specifically postgraduate issues (such as working conditions for postgraduates who teach, for example) in the student media of late. This is despite the fact that 45 percent of Warwick students are postgraduates.

This isn't directly a criticism of the Boar; I know that the only reason I was involved in an extremely revealing investigation into postgraduate tutors' conditions whilst at Lancaster was because SCAN's then Investigations Editor was a PhD student - but student media is in my experience largely dominated by undergraduates. Rather, my critique centres on what is a microcosmic representation of the huge bias in much student culture towards undergraduates. Of course I realise that because I've only been a postgrad for three weeks and spent two years working for and editing a newspaper which was probably guilty of the same bias I'm critiquing, this is somewhat hypocritcal. I want to comment on this though, because it seems there's something of a culture of change here at Warwick.

Given my background, I'll make the comparison with Lancaster. Lancaster University Students' Union (LUSU) have recently restructured their postgrad representation in a similar to fashion to Warwick SU, and students' unions across the country are also fighting the problem of how to engage postgrads. I remember from talking to students at Lancaster that space was a key issue for postgrads; they wanted a dedicated PG space which wasn't annexed on the edge of campus as is Graduate College. Clearly this is a common problem, and probably the biggest thing Warwick University have done for postgrads is to create such a space in the form of the PG Hub. This, combined with the current efforts of the SU in creating the PGA and establishing fortnightly postgrad-dedicated socials, show this culture of change. (I'm not playing Lancaster down here - I was very nearly a postgraduate there and would have been very pleased to have been such. LUSU is doing as much as - if not more than - Warwick SU for postgrad representation, but Lancaster University is probably doing less currently than Warwick).

It's to be appreciated, but I wonder how successful it might be. Certainly it's going to take a huge publicity and promotion effort on the part of the SU to draw attention to these things; I think it's indicative that the recent election for the Social Studies faculty representative was inquorate and there were no candidates in the Science faculty. We do now have an elected Arts Faculty rep, but admittedly she was elected against a candidate who submitted no manifesto. At least the election was quorate, though. I sense that the SU has a long way to go if it's going to get postgrads to stop switching off whenever they see 'Warwick SU' branding on a piece of publicity - especially when it comes to the democracy side of things. It does seem they're on the right track.

I wonder if better engagement might come through academic departments. Judging by the sheer amount of emails I've had inviting me to receptions, drop-ins, seminars and reading groups, and the usually strong turnout from my peers at these events, the English Department has the knack of getting people involved. Clearly this is to some extent because most of these events are directly related to students' work, but I'd also suggest that students seeing these emails feel a stronger obligation to their department than the SU. The only area of real university-union crossover here is the Student-Staff Liaison Committees (SSLC), and although I could be proved wrong I get the sense that these are treat with a degree of reticence by departments and ignorance by many students.

Perhaps, though, the SU could learn from the university and engage with postgrads more through their departments directly. For instance, I don't think I saw any encouragement directly from my department to run for the Faculty Representative role - only forwarded messages probably given little consideration by staff. It's not an ultimate or necessarily effective solution, but it's something I'm sure (hopefully) will be explored.

@jonniec409


October 18, 2012

Come on then Warwick, what have you got?

"I shall take it from its beginning, and continue it in its order."

- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe.

Having just begun my postgraduate career with an English Literature MA here at Warwick, and having wanted to write a regularly-updated blog for a while now, I've decided to combine the two in this project, which attempts to document my time here. Admittedly, this is largely for my own purposes; I can't be alone in finding that writing about my experiences helps me to get a better perspective on them. Certainly I find this almost cathartic effect is nearly always present when I'm reading Defoe - Robinson Crusoe, after all, does take the form of a journal - which is why that particular author's voice frames this blog and inspires its title.

Throughout this blog, to ventriloquise Defoe once more, I'll be "telling [you] a story; and if this won't do, I'll tell [you] another." (This particular quote is a response to one of Defoe's (many) critics in The Review). How entertaining or interesting this will be, I can't say - but I hope I can give an insight into PG life which at least one person wants to read. Hell, perhaps a prospective MA student might see this and it'll inform their plans for applying.

I also hope I can use this blog to develop at least a trace of a political consciousness and expression; it's been on my mind for some time now that although I've spent half my time in the last few years reporting on issues affecting students (which I'll continue to do), the objectivity demanded by a newspaper's news pages has kept me from forming and expressing my own opinions. Perhaps trying to force oneself to think and believe things for the sake of it is somewhat futile, but on the other hand surely as a research council-funded postgraduate and aspiring academic working in the humanities I have a duty to think about the politics of my situation? Watch this space, he says...

***

My undergraduate degree, in English Literature, is from Lancaster University - where I had three fantastic years. I was an active member of my department, college (Lancaster is collegiate) and the student media, and it's from this background that I come to Warwick. In the short time I've been here I've set about building a similar experience (I can't ever be idle, and will always take on extra commitments even when I probably shouldn't). So I've just completed my first article for the Boar, to be published online soon, and have thrown myself into the News team of Radio Warwick. I've also put myself forward to represent my coursemates on the department's Student-Staff Liaison Committee (SSLC) this year - but I don't know what'll come of that yet.

Hopefully I can lead - and document here - a life at Warwick of which I can be as proud as I am of my time at Lancaster. To be honest, that's going to take some doing, and to me Warwick has a hell of a lot to live up to. Three weeks in, it's doing just fine.

For reasons largely egotistical, here are some examples of things I've been involved with as a student of which I'm especially proud.

  • I am currently the most prolific (in sheer number of articles published in print and online) contributor to Lancaster University Students' Union's newspaper, SCAN - of which I was the Assistant Editor in 2011/12. I worked predominately as a news reporter, and reported extensively on issues such as the University and Colleges Union (UCU)'s ongoing dispute with employers over pensions and an extremely contentious and now-scrapped collaboration between Lancaster and Liverpool Universities. My collected journalism for SCAN is available here.
  • For two years I played bass guitar for a popular student rock band, Innamorata. During a hectic and often stressful undergraduate career, the band was a great release and probably the most fun thing I did in all my time at Lancaster. We had loads of opportunities to play all over Lancaster, including reaching the final of a battle of the bands competition, recording a 'live-lounge'-style session for the student TV station, playing live on radio and even playing to hundreds of people on a huge stage at Campus Festival 2012.
  • In my final term at Lancaster I established Flash, an undergraduate journal for creative and critical writing by undergraduates in the Department of English and Creative Writing. This started as something of a pipe dream, but it developed over summer and is now in the hands of an extremely capable team of undergraduates with tonnes of exciting ideas. This is possibly the venture of which I'm most proud from my time at Lancaster. Oh, and check out my article on possibility and the apocalypse in Douglas Adams and Cormac McCarthy.

***

So there you are, that's the background I'm coming to Warwick from. Here's hoping this year is as exciting as the last three.

@jonniec409


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