Hi everyone! HUGE WELCOME TO NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY AND NUSU!
Hey everyone! I'm Charlotte and I suppose this is my first 'official blog post' where I tell you a little bit about me and what I've been up to over the summer preparing for the start of term. Let's hope someone is reading this and this isn't just a shout into the void. I'll go with the assumption someone is reading (hi, mum!) and get on with it.
I have had the best time at Newcastle since I first came here in 2016 to study BA Media, Communication and Cultural Studies - I loved it so much I stayed on for my MA Sociology degree too. Now, with some well-developed eye bags and far too much time spent in the SU's Co-Op, I'm here for another year working as your Postgraduate Officer. So, what does that even mean? In short, I represent the needs and interests of all postgraduate students to the University and the Students' Union. This covers any postgraduate degree - so whether you're a taught student, researcher or anything in between, I'm here for you.
Throughout the year I will be working on important campaigns, projects and behind-the-scenes work to make sure postgraduates are represented; this focuses on three main areas of education, welfare and social. I was elected to this role in March on the basis of a manifesto of ideas I wanted to achieve this year. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic which has thrown many ideas into disarray and shifted a lot of focus to crisis management and ensuring that new changes in response to the ever-changing COVID-19 situation are being made with postgraduates in mind. You can read more about some of my key manifesto points on my Officer Page - I'm already working towards some as term gets closer! I'll be aiming to post regular updates through my blogs and my social media so keep up to date there. This blog is going to be my first of these regular updates so here's the whistle stop tour of what I've been doing since July...
In July I gave feedback to the University's Induction Team to shape PG inductions. I requested inclusion of the Postgraduate Assistance Programme in the Wellbeing content; created a postgraduate discussion group to get this linked in the induction content; fiilmed an introductory video for central induction content; indicated PG priorities for induction content and suggested amendments to make it relevant for PGT and PGR students. It was great to meet some of my manifesto aims of improving inductions for postgraduates and hope that the inductions are useful for everyone. The University's team have been working really hard on designing induction content that covers all the important information, and the preview I've seen looks great!
Over the summer, myself, Sian, Nadia and Dorothy have been involved in giving feedback to the RESPECT induction programme, which gives crucial information about hate crime, wellbeing, sexual violence and how to seek support. After giving my views on how previous content has been given, I was pleased to be asked to help write and film content for the sexual violence and harassment section, which is a topic I have campaigned on throughout my time at university. This will hopefully offer students a stronger message on the zero tolerance for sexual violence that the University and SU holds, and how to seek support.
Wednesday Afternoon Teaching Changes
After a meeting of University Education Committee, which myself and Sian sit on, the University decided it was necessary to extend teaching hours to Wednesday afternoons, which are usually held clear for students to engage with extra-curricular activities. I raised my concerns about how this impacts the student experience, leading to working with the university and other officers to secure social spaces on campus for students to use. Our full statement can be found here.
Meetings with Heads of Schools
Alongside Sian (a common theme in this blog) I've been attending meetings with loads of Head of School's and other important staff, to introduce ourselves, our ideas and get a sense of how the School has been functioning since March. We've been discussing the transition to online learning, how blended learning looks in each school, insights into Personal Extenuating Circumstances and finding ways to collaborate on NUSU's Decolonising NCL campaign priority. These meetings have been really useful to get to know each HoS and work out where the University and SU can work together to make changes happen!
Decolonising NCL is a key campaign priority for NUSU this year, and is a huge project that myself, Dorothy, Nadia and Sian are working on together. This priority is best explained by its summary: This year, we want to put Decolonising NCL on the University’s agenda. We seek commitments and assurances from the University to move beyond the mere touch up of reading lists and demand to see the practice of decolonisation embedded, at every level of the decision making at the University. At NUSU we understand Decolonising NCL as the fundamental reconsideration of who is teaching, what the subject matter is, and how it’s being taught. This effort will actively recognise and include the voices of those previously omitted on account of the racist, ableist, transphobic, homophobic and sexist structures of knowledge production and systems of education, shaped by the legacy of colonialism. To support this priority, we will be developing events and activities over the year to highlight how Decolonising the Academy has a wider positive impact on the entire University community."
Watch this space for updates as we progress on our decolonising pledges, events and awareness-raising throughout the year!
PG Welcome Activities
Welcome Activities will look a little different this year, as we are following COVID-secure guidance and government guidelines. I've been working on a programme of events, with a mixture of socially distanced in-person events and online opportunities to connect with other postgrads. Work has been slightly delayed as new government guidelines caused some confusion, but hopefully we can make some events announcements very soon! Socialising is so important for students and I know how crucial the first few weeks are to get to know people and find friends. I'll be doing my best to provide a fun, varied programme of activities - guidelines permitting. All our Welcome to NUSU info for postgrads can be found on our website.
PG Discussion Group
One of my manifesto points was an idea to create an online community for postgrads to chat, make friends and use in the future for research participant recruitment or general advice. This has been all set up ready for the start of term and is available via Facebook. Any postgraduate is welcome to join, whether new or not, just please answer the membership questions to let me know what course you're on! Get joining the Official Newcastle Postgraduates Discussion Group now to keep updated and get to know other postgrads!
Safe Return to Campus
I know that many students will be apprehensive and worried about coming to campus. I want to reassure all postgraduates that the University are putting lots of measures in place to ensure campus is COVID-secure, including providing a free safety pack (including a digital thermometer, reusable face mask and hand sanitiser) for all staff and students on arrival. I have been vocal about ensuring health and safety measures are enhanced across the campus and will continue to fight for a safe return to campus for all students. More information on the University's measures can be found on their website. I know that PGR students may have particular concerns about returning to shared workspaces and I have spoken to the university to ensure all safety information is passed onto PGRs to reassure them. Don't hestitate to get in touch if you have concerns and I'll do my best to find answers.
Supporting students is what I'm here to do, so if any postgrads have any questions or concerns please do contact me. The best place to do so is at my email (email@example.com) but I also have a Facebook and Twitter page where I post more casual updates that may be useful. This is an academic year like no other. It will be tough but there are also so many opportunities to make memories and make the best out of this situation. I'm here to suppor you - in the future I'll be running a postgraduate mental health campaign and hosting regular Zoom drop in sessions for welfare chats and support. My first Zoom drop-in is on Wednesday 23rd September 9-11AM which you can access at this link if you want to drop by.
Thank you for reading everyone and I'm really looking forward to term starting and getting to know some of you!