Interview With a School Rep

Sophie

Want to know how to become a School Rep at Leeds? Read our interview with Sophie Bellin, School Rep of SOEE!

As a bit of background for those who aren’t familiar with Leeds’ structure, faculties are split into schools, which are split into courses. Sophie refers here to school and course level activities.

24th October 2014

What is SOEE?

School of Earth and Environment.

And what do you study?

I study Environmental Science and I’m in my third year.

Awesome. How would you sum up Environmental Science and Earth & Environment in layman’s terms?

Environmental Sciences is the science of the environment. It has 5 sections – the management of the environment, the atmosphere, the biology, the chemistry and the water of the environment. So those are the 5 main sections and I specialise in water and biology. And Earth & Environment is everything to do with the Earth and Environment. SOEE has courses ranging from Geophysics to Enviro-Business. So the courses that SOEE offers are really diverse – you go from really science-y to quite social science-y.

Cool. How have you found the course? Do you enjoy it? What are the good and bad points?

I really enjoy Environmental Science. When I was at school I always used to enjoy Geography and the sciences and Maths, and Environmental Science really does incorporate all of them. It’s not clear-cut as to where each topic lies, which I really like. I couldn’t really name a bad thing about it, it’s just really exciting because the environment is such a hot topic at the moment so everything’s changing and our lectures are so incorporated around the research done in the school.

That’s very cool. So it’s on the forefront. Are you doing a research topic with a lecturer that’s on the forefront as well?

Yeah, for my dissertation I’m looking at phosphorus and iron speciation in sapropels in the Eastern-Mediterranean Sea. And my results for my dissertation form part of the results for a bigger research project that could have an impact on climate change models. So that’s quite massive.

Yeah, that’s cool! So how did you hear about the SOEE Rep position?

Through the union and… Throughout university life I’ve been really involved with the union so in first year I was a Green Rep for my halls and last year I was a Course Rep, mainly because I didn’t get School Rep last year. But I’m glad I had a year of being Course Rep before I became School Rep.

Yeah. And how is it comparing, between School and Course Rep? What are the positions and what are the main differences?

Being Course Rep is making sure all the people in your course are heard. So that isn’t easy but you have more access to everyone in your course, so it’s easier to get the general ideas from people. Whereas as School Rep, I’m representing 600 people and some of them, well a lot of them, I’ve never met before. And we do courses that are so different to mine, and whose needs and issues are so different to any that I have experienced. So I have to rely on the Course Reps to hand me any information that they can get on their course mates. So there’s a heavy reliance on other people.

How’re you finding managing people who would otherwise be your peers?

I try to be quite casual, because at the end of the day, I am representing them and there isn’t a hierarchy… I’m just the same as everyone else. I’ve just been chosen to represent them. So I think it’s important to stay on the same level as them because that’s the only way I can get their true opinions about things.

So how does it work? Do you have a weekly or monthly meeting to discuss..?

It’s all a bit chaotic at the moment because I’ve been in charge of hiring the Course Reps alongside our Student Experience Officer. So at the moment I’ve spent the majority of my time finding, doing elections and things like that, for the Course Reps. And that’s taken up a horrendous amount of my time. [laughs] And getting emails from all of them, I think, at the moment we’re up to 40 course reps now. So it’s a lot to manage. We had our first Student/Staff forum last week, which went really well. So that’s the official way I meet up with them. And then otherwise we have a Facebook group and we talk regularly by email. And I’m setting up just a Student forum, in between the two Student/Staff forums, so that I can talk to them on our own and see what’s going on.

How did you find gathering opinions when you were a Course Rep, and how are you helping to help Course Reps who might be struggling with finding opinions this year?

I think the most important thing is to know people and just go up to them and say “Hey. You do this. How’re you finding it?”. So my biggest advice for all the Course Reps is to try and make friends with everyone…

[laughs]

…And talk to them. Because sending emails and just writing on Facebook groups is not always effective, and people don’t want to necessarily tell you their problems if they don’t really know you.

So what kind of problems would you deal with, typically?

As a School Rep or a Course Rep?

Both!

Well as a Course Rep last year, I dealt with a deadline issue. We hadn’t got an assignment back and we were already meant to be handing in our second assignment, which clashed with the feedback policy in our school. So I managed to get a deadline moved back. So that’s the kind of thing you could do as a Course Rep. And then as a School Rep. There’s been a big issue this year with portfolios. At the end of second year, everyone has to hand in a portfolio of all their assignments from the year. They’ve decided to stop doing the portfolios this year and there’s been a change in staff in our Taught Student Office, so people haven’t got back work from last semester, year 2. And fourth years who went on a year abroad… Quite a few of them have actually had their portfolios lost. The school are trying to do what they can to try and find them but it’s not looking great. So I… To a certain extent, I have to be the one who transcends this information, because the school weren’t aware that the portfolios hadn’t been given back and it was only when people told me that they hadn’t been handed back, that I went up and said “Look. These people are waiting for their portfolios”. All the module leaders, they give their feedback and then it’s down to the office to send it back. So there’s two links. And the module leaders have done what they have to do, so then they don’t know if we don’t get it back.

Mm. So it’s good for them to hear that information.

Yeah.

Do you deal with any positive feedback to the school? And what kind of positive feedback, if any, have you had?

Erm. We had quite a lot of positive feedback in our first Student/Staff forum. We ran a workshop in it, in the first hour. I’m trying to think of some now. [laughs] [pause] One is that the personal tutors, the idea of the personal tutors and the personal tutors that we do have are really good. And their office hours are good and they’re always available and they respond really quickly to questions. I think especially people who’ve been to other universities, they’ve found that a really positive experience. That’s one of the best things.

Good! How’re you finding balancing your course work and being a School Rep?

With difficulty! [laughs] I think at the moment I’m a lot more busy with the School Rep role than I will be in a couple of weeks time, just because of the gathering of all the Course Reps. So last Thursday I replied to 60 emails! Just related to being Course Reps. So that takes up a lot of time.

Hopefully it’ll balance out though.

Yeah.

So at the moment I’m hoping that it’ll quieten down a bit, but if it doesn’t then my plan is to set aside an hour when I answer emails for School Rep stuff. And try and keep on top of it and do that. Because I have emails on my phone and I tend to just read them all the time.

Emails take so long! To write up properly as well! Yeah, I totally get that. What’re you going to write about this position on any CV or applications? How do you think it’s going to help you and what kind of skills do you think you’ve gained?

I think one of the main skills that I see from getting the role, is that I have perseverance and commitment. Because I applied for the role three times but it was only on my third time that I got it. And also that throughout my degree I’ve done different roles and being a School Rep shows that I can work my way up, and improve, and that I am bettering my skills. As such.

Cool. What do you want to do after you finish your degree?

I’m not quite sure! [laughs] I’d really like to work for UNEP, so I’ll probably have to do quite a few internships when I graduate, to get into the UN.

What would you recommend for people wanting to become a School Rep to write on an application or say in an interview? Like, what kind of things do you think they look for?

They really look for how you represent other people and not just yourself. And they want to see that you’re committed. When I went for my interview, and it was the third time they’d interviewed me, I think they gathered that I was very committed to wanting to be a School Rep.

Yeah [laughs]

I think you need to be involved with the union to be a School Rep. And to show that you are committed. And I think being a Course Rep for a year before being a School Rep is almost vital.

Cool. Thank-you!

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