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Camille Bou

September 27th, 2022

The benefits of getting involved with the LSESU as a PhD student

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Camille Bou

September 27th, 2022

The benefits of getting involved with the LSESU as a PhD student

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

I’ve always enjoyed getting involved in the student life of my university. During my undergraduate degree, I was a residence assistant and peer academic supporter for students living on-residence (the equivalent of LSE’s subwarden). During my MSc, I was part of the executive committee of the LSE Student Union (LSESU) Health Society and a Student Ambassador.

Since the start of my PhD,  I’ve taken on varied roles within the LSESU. I was a student staff liaison or academic representative (SSLC or STAR), and was the LSESU Postgraduate Research Student Officer. These roles were more rooted in advocacy and consisted of understanding my cohorts’ concerns and complaints at the Department, LSESU, and LSE-level,to devise ways to push for change and improve the working conditions of LSE research students. A notable project I partook in whilst being the LSESU Postgraduate Research Student Officer included the Democracy Review – “an in-depth evaluation and reform of the SU’s democratic structure”, so it would work more efficiently and effectively for all LSE students.

The involvement of research students was important in this project, as they were a subgroup of LSE students who were particularly disengaged from the Student Union. I conducted focus groups with them to understand why that was. Major reasons included limited knowledge of the role of the LSESU (eg thinking it was largely a social organisation), and lack of time, which was also linked to the perception that partaking in LSESU activities was a waste of time as it did not contribute to career growth in academia.

These reasons were valid. As a PhD student myself, I understood that time was the currency of academia and needed to be spent wisely. Yet they saddened me, as they felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy in which research students were doomed to accept preconceived ideas of what a PhD journey should look like – namely, that any time not spent on academic activities is time you’re losing out on getting ahead in a very competitive academic job market.

Studies conducted on research students showed that they had higher anxiety and depression rates than educated people in employment, and these differences were not explained by higher rates of pre-existing mental health problems. Key predictors of poor mental health included not having interests and relationships outside of PhD studies, isolation, imposter thoughts and perfectionism, and financial insecurity) and the supervisory relationship in addition to external stressors.

While getting involved within the LSESU inevitably added to my workload, I never regretted the time I spent volunteering. I built skills that will be useful in the workplace – strategic thinking, teamworking and negotiating, to name a few. I expanded my professional network, getting to know the faculty and staff of my Department outside of seminars. I organised events that fostered a sense of community, enabling me and my cohort to build lasting memories.

Most importantly, I gained knowledge about the inner institutional workings of the LSE and LSESU through volunteering. I found a group of like-minded, engaged research students and, together, we have been advocating for better support for research students with caring responsibilities, increased stipends and better working conditions for graduate teaching assistants – all current challenges faced by postgraduate research students. It has been empowering to contribute to shaping the future of postgraduate research training at LSE – and it has made me feel like I belong to the community. So the next time a volunteering or engagement opportunity at the LSESU comes up for postgraduate research students (eg academic representative, elections, executive committee of a society, voting on a motion…), I encourage you to apply for it. These positions are what you make of them, and they can truly enrich your PhD journey.

About the author

Camille Bou

I'm Camille, a PhD student in the Department of Health Policy. I'm interested in how context shapes the experiences of young informal carers in the United Kingdom. When I'm not analysing data, I enjoy listening to music and podcasts, catching up on TV series, walking in London's abundant green spaces, and exploring the city’s diverse art, food, and drinks scene!

Posted In: Student life

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