My name is Lesley Barrett. I am the court support officer with Saoirse Domestic Violence Services. A very serious position supporting people living in or leaving domestic violence and abusive situations navigate their way through legal remedies and protections, and supporting them throughout their difficult journey. Heavy stuff at times, but a role I absolutely love and I am extremely happy in, it’s certainly my favourite ‘career’ role I have had. (I am a bit older, I went through college as a mature student!) I tell you this to paint a bit of a picture and give a bit of context I suppose. Firstly, to outline that there’s a difference between a career role and a job. Secondly, so I can tell you that the funnest ‘job’ I EVER HAD was my time as an SU officer in TUDSU. Also, it was probably the job I had that gave me the most opportunities for a plethora of experiences that will stand to me in my career, in any career (remember I was a mature student so I’ve had a good few jobs!). Despite being THE MOST FUN job, it gave me opportunities and learnings that stand to me in my career now.
I first got involved with the SU by being a class rep and a member of student council. This gave me a taste for the positive impact that being involved could have for the wider student body. It made me thirsty for more involvement. I wanted to make things better for students, I wanted to be able to advocate for students at a higher level and raise the issues facing students both locally and nationally and be a part of the change making process. So, I first ran for welfare officer. Covid hit and that was the start of the big learnings. I learned how to market myself and run an online campaign. When I was elected there was massive learnings, as an on the ground face-to-face organisation working directly with students we had to tailor and adapt to providing this service online. Again, there was MASSIVE learning in this. But I don’t want to dwell on that too much because I think it’s become evident how much we all learned about service provision and working with people during this time. My second year I was deputy president of the union. A role which came with much more responsibility and more experience. So, let’s focus more on the overall experiences which gave me opportunities to learn, grow and develop so many transferable skills.
I’m going to bullet point these otherwise I would end up with a novel rather than an article!
- Practical IT systems skills and understanding – no matter what job or career path you follow it’s likely you’re going to have to use some kind of soft wear / account management system etc. Not just learning how to use these systems but why data gathering and management is important. I definitely learning this in TUDSU
- Meetings – I’d attended plenty of meetings in my life I’d even organised and chaired community meetings. However, until I was in TUDSU I’d never formally chaired a ‘business’ meeting. I’d never learned how to put an agenda together. I’d never been taught the formalities regarding minutes, attendance and correspondence etc. There’s different protocols and TOR’s (I didn’t know what Term’s of Reference even meant never mind their importance!) for different committees, boards etc and I learned this there. I learned how to be efficient in chairing, how to manage difficult discussions, how to ensure everyone’s voice is captured in a timely and efficient manner and importantly how to move things along when needed.
- Boards, bodies and committees – I had the opportunity to be a member of various different forums at a local and national level. I was a member of the women’s council of Ireland, I was a board director at TUDSU, I was a member of different organisational design groups for TU Dublin, and I was a member of Governing body. They’re just the highlights! You may not even understand what some of these are, and that’s fine, I didn’t starting out. I now understand their significance and the massive opportunities these were and the learning I took from these opportunities was MASSIVE.
- Networking – Even this word used to make me cringe! Bear with me though. In developing a career, you will need to develop a network of multi-disciplinary contacts. I had the opportunity to work with professionals from across the educational sector, from other national organisations, to meet with politicians and so much more. Those kinds of opportunities don’t come along easily in other roles.
- Public speaking – The thing that terrifies most people! If you want to progress through a career role you are going to have to at some point or level make presentations or representations to ‘others’. It may be your own line management, it may be a funding request to government and everything in between. The kinds of events and activities you are involved with in the SU gives plenty of opportunity to grow and develop these skills in a myriad of ways. You don’t have to be an excellent public speaker for the role, but you will certainly be given opportunities to improve this skill. It doesn’t have to be big and scary, it starts with things like class rep meetings, team meetings, student council, USI (Unions of Students Ireland) meetings, none of which feel overly daunting when you’re there doing it. Which builds your confidence to perhaps speak at more public events. Even speaking / chairing meetings is developing these skills.
- Team work – I can’t think of any job or career (although I’m sure there are some!) where you will work as a sole worker all the time. You’re likely going to be part of a team at some point. This will come with benefits and challenges alike. Learning to work as part of a team, to disagree with dignity, to collaborate, to designate, to support, to own your role in the team, to overcome challenges internally and externally and maybe, depending on your role to lead people, are all skills I learned, developed and fine tuned from working in the SU.
That’s just SOME of the things I’ve learned from my time as a student union officer. They’re some of the stand out things to me, there’s lots more I could get into but I am conscious that this is supposed to be a short readable piece lol.
Before I wrap things up, there’s the question facing me of my ‘best experiences as an officer’. This is always a question I struggle to answer because while there’s lots of stand out moments I genuinely cannot pinpoint just one experience as a highlight. Some of the things I remember that make me feel most proud would be our RAG fundraising efforts, having motions passed at USI congress, students approaching me to thank me because something I/ we did helped them or made a positive difference in their lives and we may not have even known, students I worked directly with telling me I had helped them, but to surmise I’ll go back to what I said at the start, FUN. The overall stand out memories are the fun times I had with my team and other officers I made friends with across the country. When I think of some of the madness (what happens as an SU officer stays with SU officers!) it still makes me BIG smile. Despite the difficulty of the role at times, and the differing opinions (remember I mentioned disagreeing with dignity!) when we all got together, usually certain nights out, there was madness, mayhem and lots of laughter. When the memories of board meetings, lobbying, day-to-day work fade, those will be the memories that will stay with me.
So, I’ll wrap things up with now with this.
Working as an officer in the student union is such a unique role, it’s so varied and complex, and many people just think of the SU as being the party organisers for the college, I deliberately didn’t even mention events in my transferrable skills because I wanted to show it’s so much more than that. But I’ll be honest nobody ever truly understands what it’s like to be an SU officer than other officers. It’s not a career, and in its not job for life, but it certainly is a once in a lifetime job
So, if you are even thinking about running for election, you have what it takes. Go for it.
Don’t run for election, I couldn’t run from my house to the shops! Skip, sashay, or role your way into a leadership position, you’ve nothing to lose (even if you don’t win you’ll have the craic and learn along the way) but you’ve endless opportunities to gain!