Graham is one of our Faculty Reps - he represents students across an entire UCL Faculty and is a member of one of the Union's key decision-making bodies, Education Zone. He's actively campaigned for strong messaging to support faculty, staff, and PGTAs in their collective action around the UCU strikes...
What made you decide to become a Faculty Rep for your department?
I just love being a Faculty Rep! I served in an equivalent role at both of my prior home institutions, the University of Maine and the University of Cambridge, and it was an incredible experience at both. I’m constantly inspired by the stories of how Faculty Reps have been able to make a difference from the ground up on issues facing their fellow students, often with a quicker turnaround time than would be possible by any other means.
What do you do in the role and what has been the most rewarding aspect?
My work as a rep has centred around committee membership: providing the student voice and in particular the postgraduate research student voice on some of the key decision-making bodies at UCL.
In my first year I was a member of the Research Degrees Committee and Academic Board, as well as the Education Zone committee which comprises all Faculty Reps, and at the moment serve on the Governance Committee of the Academic Board as well as the elected representative from Education Zone to Union Executive.
I believe that for PGR reps in particular, committee membership is especially important. PGR students spend less time on campus and are more socially isolated, on average, than their UG and PGT peers, which means any difficulties they face during their degrees are more likely to go unnoticed. PGRs also often hold dual status as students and teaching staff (PGTAs), which has unique benefits but also leads to unique challenges. I have found it very rewarding to keep a close eye on the impact that new educational strategies, COVID adjustment solutions, and employment practices have on PGR students.
How much time have you dedicated to the position, and would you recommend other students get involved?
It varies with the flow of the semester, but on average I would say 3-4 hours per week. Committee meetings may seem time-consuming, but you can learn more critical information in the span of an hour or two than you might have otherwise gained in the entire week.
Do you feel you have been able to make a difference?
I can certainly think of a few occasions where I raised an issue or made an observation which would not have otherwise entered the dialogue.
I feel that the kind of change student representatives make is more often of a communal nature, and sometimes painfully slow - but no one should underestimate the power of slow and unrelenting change!
What do you think most students might not know about the role?
I think many students don't realise the flexibility that exists within the faculty representative position, and related positions. If you can dream it, you can do it! There are so many resources available to pursue student engagement and awareness activities in your chosen focus, and experienced professionals throughout the Students' Union and elsewhere in the university who can advise you on how best to pursue your goals.
Were you involved in discussions around the UCU strikes?
As a member of Union Exec, I actively campaigned for strong messaging to support faculty, staff, and PGTAs in their collective action. PGTAs and faculty members on temporary contracts who strike often do so at enormous personal expense, so awareness from their students carries a lot of weight.
The student body voiced a strong majority support for UCU strike action as recently as this spring, and I felt it was especially important to respond to this support with clear informative and educational materials, as well as guidance on how students could participate and/or register complaints to their institution.