Extracurricular Club Handling Sovereign Zen Style (Guest Post)

Today I have the pleasure to introduce Stanley Lee to TheUniversityBlog. Stanley writes at The Hub of Gen Y Unconvention and has written a guest post on extracurricular clubs and societies at uni. Over to Stanley!

You’ve probably heard that by joining clubs it’s a great way to enhance your future prospects. If you haven’t heard that, you’re sure to during Freshers’ Week when club leaders look for you to join their groups. However, signing up is often not the win-win situation promised to you.

photo by Aidan Jones

photo by Aidan Jones

Extracurricular Club Realities (i.e. Why Following the Outdated Advice Doesn’t Work!)

  • Going post-grad: The admissions committee only cares about the following items(I’m listing them below to refresh your memory):
    • Getting good grades in relevant subjects (reason: to prove you know the foundations of the particular research subject well enough before beginning your graduate school education)
    • Be known as one of the best students in your major (this is noticed by the professors in the form of complementary accomplishments such as awards, grants, and excellent recommendations)
    • Demonstrating your ability to handle the demands of research, often achieved by doing good work in summer research terms and rewarded with the type of responsibilities that will, down the line, impress the professors reviewing your file, including publications!
  • Finding employment: If you think recruiters will give more consideration to the mention of club leadership roles on your CV/resume, you’re dead wrong! It may, at most, make the recruiter’s day when he/she is screening mountains of applications! Employers look for the following qualities for new hires, even though this traditional process is actually insanely inefficient for both parties:
    • Grades, where you went to school, and to a certain extent, your major, especially for a technical job to ensure you encountered the appropriate skills for the job
    • Interview performance after application screening. Whether the firm is big or small, the purpose is to find out whether you can solve complex and fundamental problems on the fly, seem like a decent person, understand their business, and not a jerk waiting to poison the entire team/department.
    • Hiring decision is made (which may or may not be within your control).

Basically, graduate programs and potential principal investigators want to minimize their risk of recruiting a “dud” (as this could be a fairly devastating experience for all parties involved) with the competitive landscape between millions of different research institutions, and maximize the output of the relationship for the professor’s future promotion and cases in their tenure positions. For employers, it’s even more straightforward: the ability for the candidate to comply to company policies and commit to maximizing profits for the company without being a disruption.

During Freshers’ week, you will definitely receive mountains of pitches from club leaders claiming how “beneficial” the particular clubs are for your personal experience (I know this personally because I was sufficiently involved in anywhere from an engineering design competition team to professional development organizations when I was a college student, i.e. first-hand experience as one of those students who were in too many clubs resulting in severe time famine):

  • Handling sales pitches: Hey, you gotta put yourself in their shoes when trying to figure out what they’d gain from you joining the leadership group. They will have new blood to share the load of completing the tasks, many of which are time-consumers if you are there to at least do a decent job.
  • Handling additional responsibility requests: If you did buy into the sales pitch and produce quality results to improve the club, you will soon be flooded with more and more overwhelming requests to put out fires. They will try to persuade you to buy into the team concept as an excuse to save their rear-ends to ensure a certain event is a huge success. This is a sure recipe for disaster. Politely but firmly turn down any requests that you can’t make time for.
  • Handling overloads (including quitting the club if necessary): If you’re overwhelmed with the responsibilities because you haven’t been able to enforce the commitment cap in the early stages, now is a great time to think whether the club is just using you as a tool, not caring for your personal interests (at least this is a great preview of how the real world works with some people using human capital as a means to an end, especially those who are not concerned about long-term business relationships).

Clubs are fabulous under certain conditions:

  1. You get a more complete perspective on how you see the world by enhanced engagement and relaxation,
  2. it gives you exclusive in-person access to networks that you have the opportunity to access before, and
  3. it is not a time-sink (although this has a huge part with managing expectations).

Point 2 is usually exaggerated because you can find out the contact just as easily with the Internet, on top of the social media networks. Point 3 is usually hidden as much as possible because its expose will chase away members who will complete work for the club.

So, please do yourself a favour. Be diligent on your choices like any other choices, especially if you’re intelligent enough to head to university.

If you are hungry for more information about this, feel free to check out my video on the The Hub of Gen Y Unconvention. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @stanigator!