By Gift Sotonye-Frank (Student Officer Postgraduate)
Every year Queen’s University of Belfast Students’ Union (QUBSU) puts out a call for election of student officers. The familiar line of call is that ‘by becoming a student officer you will represent over 25000 students, make real decisions that make impact on students’ lives and lead change for Students’.
While the call made is true there are several other things that are involved when you become a student officer. Using the concepts of UP,IN and OUT,I outline a few of the other things that students nominating themselves should be aware if elected as student officers.
It is easy for student officers to sometimes act based on what they think is best rather than representing the student population. It is therefore important to reiterate that one of the missions of the student Union is to support and improve students experience at University. Thus, remember that the students who cast their votes are your ‘boss’. Looking up to these students and making sure their voices matter and are heard should be paramount before, during and after elections.
Indeed. majority of student officers nominate themselves primarily because they want to help students in particular areas they feel need fixing. At least this was true for me. These areas are what forms part of their manifesto promises during the nomination and campaigning stages. Many students are drawn in and feel motivated to vote for the candidates they think best captures their interests. Yet, as a candidate relying on students votes and elected by students to become a student officer, listening to students and taking on board their views must not be overlooked. This is important because by listening, firs,t you show students that you care about the things that they care about. Secondly, you position yourself as a servant leader willing and able to get your job done by prioritising the welfare and needs of the students you represent.
Working as a team of student officers is crucial for achieving a high level of success.it cannot be overemphasised how much student officers must work as a team. According to Cohen and Bailey teamwork entails a collection of individuals who are interdependent in their tasks and who share responsibility for the outcomes. Put differently, team work is an important factor for smooth functioning.
In my experience as both previously a part time officer and now full time officer, having a team spirit and working as a team got me further than I would have done on my own. Mainly because, I don’t have to figure everything out on my own and can ask for help without the fear of being judged. Looking into your team as a part of your strategy is helpful because each member of the team has a knowledge about the areas that they are working on and it is so much easier to get information that helps you at times piece your puzzle together and get your job done.
Beyond the officer team there are also staff members within QUBSU whose knowledge and skills you need to also be tapping into. As a candidate or student officer, getting to know what these staff members do and how their roles compliment yours is necessary if you want to save yourself the hassle of taking the long road. These staff members have expertise in their field and are best placed to help and support you in your representative role. However, doing so will depend again on the priorities of each student officer.
Firstly, for a large part, the student voice team work very closely with student officers before elections and during your tenure as a student officer. The reason is largely due to the fact that student unions are democratic institutions and a lot of what the student voice team does revolves around the democratic processes. That said, there are other services that the QUBSU offers, such as Volunteer SU, Advice SU, Clubs and Societies, The Speakeasy, SU Shop and SU Marketing. All these services are a vital part of QUBSU and are equally relevant to the job of student officers, but having a plan in place will enable you engage more effectively with all the staff in ways that are beneficial to both you, the students you represent and QUBSU.
It almost goes without saying that QUBSU does not exist in a vacuum and the same is true for student officers. As a student officer, it is important to embrace the knowledge that being a partner and critical friend of the university comes with the territory. In some instances, student officers will work in partnership with the university on projects that will enhance students experience. There are also instances that student officers need to collaborate with both academic staff and/or professional services staff to deliver events, campaigns and programs that are beneficial to students and the university community as a whole. While at other times it may be imperative to collaborate with services outside of QUBSU and the university to support students. Therefore, as a student officer, some level of advance planning will serve a good purpose in ensuring that those identified as partners can be contacted early on in your role, and also to ensure that they are the right fit for the project intended.
For effective planning, student officers should ask the questions why are you doing what you want to do? Who are the people or group of people you require to do specific tasks? For example, if it’s a project focusing on international students who do you need to get in touch with? And finally how would you go about engaging with others, for example would you be engaging with them through email, focus groups, working groups or a combination of all or some. It is important to note that this kind of planning could take time so start early. However, do not be afraid to evaluate your plan and get rid of aspects that may be unnecessary.
 Cohen, S.G., and Bailey, D.E. (1999). What makes teams work: group effectiveness research from the shop floor to the executive suite. Journal of Management, 23(3), 239-90.
 Pfaff, E., and P. Huddleston. (2003). Does it matter if I hate teamwork? What impacts student attitudes toward teamwork. Journal of Marketing Education 25:37–45.