Clubs / Societies

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Extracurricular Club Realities (i.e. Why Following the Outdated Advice Doesn’t Work!)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

Your achievements are stepping stones.

Earlier this month, I was listening to Phill Jupitus co-presenting a breakfast show on student radio.  I was listening out of curiosity.

photo by Andy McMillan

photo by Andy McMillan

Lucky I did tune in, because I also got to hear Jupitus in conversation with James Ricci, president of Bournemouth University Students’ Union.

Ricci mentioned that being involved in SU and university activities is helpful to a graduate CV in an age when a degree alone isn’t qualification enough to enter the job market convincingly.

He’s absolutely right.  So many people go to uni now that you have to do more than pass a degree course for employers to show an interest.

You don’t have to be president of a Students’ Union in order for your CV to shine, but you do need to show your achievements over the course of your degree.  Yes, you studied for a few years, but what else did you do?

Even accounting for the hours spent on independent study, there’s a lot of time left over.  Take away regular (but not TOO regular) leisure time and there should still be room to stand out.  Whatever your subject is.

By ‘stand out’, I don’t mean like a sore thumb.  Not unless that’s one of your endearing qualities…!

You should volunteer, participate in activities, have stories that identify you as a unique person, and so on.  Through this, you’ll notch up various successes worthy of mention.

Success isn’t limited to gold medallists, elected SU officers, student leaders, and so on.  Any achievement is a stepping stone that you should be proud of.  Possible achievements and activities worth mentioning include:

  • Clubs/Societies you’ve joined;
  • Clubs/Societies you’ve made a difference in;
  • Clubs/Societies you’ve helped set up yourself
  • Part-time employment;
  • Online achievements that you founded, such as non-personal blogs, websites, professional networks, etc.;
  • Sporting achievements;
  • Voluntary stints;
  • Uni events you assisted in (paid or not);
  • Senior Student and outreach roles;
  • Charity work;
  • Relevant trade associations & professional groups you’re an active member of;
  • Campaigns you played a part in (unless controversial);
  • Personal hobbies & activities that go beyond casual interest (unless controversial 😛 ).

Three achievements stand out in particular in my own student past:

  1. I was elected a Final Year Representative;
  2. I was a Senior Student for a year;
  3. I was a founding member of an English Society.

I mention these not because I did them for my CV.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thinking much about it at the time.  I did these things because I wanted to.

The student representative position was mentioned in passing to me.  It sounded interesting and I felt it would enable me to see (and act) ‘behind the scenes’, as well as speaking on behalf of fellow students.  The Senior Student position was a paid position and it helped me take up something more relevant, useful and exciting to me than a part-time job.  It also meant I could live on campus on my final year with Freshers.  I got to experience the first year again AND tuck in to my dissertation.  Win!  As for the English Society, my Academic Advisor suggested it to me and a few friends.  We liked the idea, so we started the ball rolling.  It wasn’t huge at first, but we managed minor successes, and the society grew in subsequent years.  If it wasn’t for an initial push, there would have been nothing.

So I can mention these achievements to highlight various responsibilities and actions, yet the intention wasn’t just to look better on paper.  You’re either in a position where you’ve already got some achievements worth mentioning, or you’ve got the time to experience more before you graduate.

What could you mention?  Think hard.  Something you may not consider an achievement may be more important than you think.  If you’re still left struggling, it’s not too late.  Start building a portfolio of achievements today.  As I said just a couple of posts ago, “You have the power to stretch out wherever you want“.

20/20 – Day 15: 20 considerations for the future before you leave university

It’s impossible to plan the future perfectly.  No matter. The more you do to provide for your future, the greater scope you’ll have with each new day.

Whether you’re still in your first year or you’re soon to graduate, start thinking about a life after your degree.  Nobody knows where you’re headed, no even yourself, but there’s plenty you can do to help the process.  Get the dice working in your favour.

  1. Why did you choose to study your subject? If you were asked this question, would you have a reasonable answer ready?
  2. Is your degree relevant to the field you want to go into? If not, pay attention to what you can bring to a job or career and what experience you have gained from your study.  Many core qualities and skills can be developed from a university education, so be prepared to explain and sell yourself over these transferable skills, no matter what your degree is.
  3. Work experience. Whether paid, voluntary or otherwise, any stints working are good to show off. Not so much a paper round when you were younger, but anything more substantial than that could play a part in strengthening your case.  Bar work, SU work, shop work, office work, placements, charity work, student work…jobs may not be directly relevant to those you apply for in the future, but many of the roles will have given you transferable skills.
  4. Societies/activities to mention, or join.  Playing a role within a club or society brings many transferable skills.  I don’t advise joining a vast number of clubs and societies for the sake of it.  Join one or two societies that you have most interest in so you develop contacts, experience, confidence, and much more.
  5. Professional associations.  Most associations have cheap membership options for students.  This is a great opportunity to find valuable information and join with people who already work in the areas of work you’re interested in.
  6. Create a great CV.  Don’t rush a document off a couple days before you need one, spend some quality time crafting something good now.  Check my series of posts on Employment Nirvanafor more information.

    You can't control the future, but it still depends on your help.

    You can’t control the future, but it does need your help.

  7. Tweak your CV and update it if you already have one.  Perhaps you made a pretty good CV in the past.  If so, keep going!  Make sure it’s kept relevant to your needs, as well as adding your experience and achievements as you go along.  Don’t leave it to chance.
  8. Look at jobs currently on offer for ideas. You may not be applying right now, but do you know what type of jobs are available?  If you don’t take a look, you won’t know how feasible your plans really are.
  9. Look at jobs currently on offer to see what they’re looking for.  Another benefit of browsing jobs you’re not about to apply for is so that you know what skills and qualities employers are looking for.  If you see a common trait that you haven’t yet mastered or experienced yet, you’ve got time to bring things up to speed.
  10. Check graduate schemes as soon as you can.  There’s no point in waiting.  The jobs won’t wait…
  11. If you know what your dream job/career is, pursue it NOW! Don’t wait, get involved.  Just because you’re not getting paid to learn about your chosen line of work doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother putting the effort in.  The moment you start chasing for leads and opportunities is the moment you step closer to what you want.
  12. Go to careers office and use them.
  13. Check careers & graduate sites for information, help and leads.
  14. Consider transferable skills in everything you do.  A small feat for you may be just what an employer wants.  Don’t overlook your talents!
  15. Clean up your online profiles.  And if you don’t want to remove the gory details, at least protect yourself by updating your privacy settings so you’re…well, private.
  16. Clean up your offline profiles. You don’t live in an online-only world, unless you believe we’re all in the Matrix or something.  Real-world issues need just as much consideration as those online.
  17. What do you *want* to do when it’s all over? Ask yourself this question and give a genuine answer.  Don’t kid yourself with ideas of what you’ll probably end up doing and what would roughly satisfy you.  Be bold by deciding what you’d choose if you had every option freely available to you.
  18. How will you achieve this? You’ve been bold in your answer to the above question.  Now have a plan to make this happen, no matter how outlandish it seems.
  19. Personality. What would you change and what would you keep the same?
  20. What do you seek beyond career, money and fame? We all crave different things in life.  Those cravings change as we change.  Before you graduate, what matters to you beyond money and the usual ‘big dreams’?
Title image: original by tiffa130 (cc)  /  Bottom image: quinn.anya (cc)

Which uni is best for sport? You may be surprised…

Those of you who want to be at a university with great results in competitive sports…step right up!

The Complete University Guide has released tables for those institutions with best results in competitive sport.  The Independent also gives the lowdown.  The top 10 universities are:

  1. Loughborough
  2. Bath
  3. Birmingham
  4. Edinburgh
  5. Nottingham
  6. Durham
  7. University of Wales Institute, Cardiff
  8. Oxford
  9. Newcastle
  10. Exeter

Those universities not listed here may still have good sporting facilities.  For instance, the Indpendent’s report does give the University of East Anglia a mention for having a splendid reputation in providing all students with fantastic sports facilities.  So if you’re more of a casual sporty-type, you’ll have plenty to get your teeth into at UEA.

Sport is never the only reason for going to university, obviously…but if it’s a passion or a strength, the better facilities and competitive practices may be worth a lot to you.  After all, you’re planning on being there for several years!

A table like this just adds to the billions of other tables out there, but I’m happy to point this one out to prospective students, because it may be the ‘make-or-break’ table for those of you unable to decide between two or three equally appetising institutions.