Running for President

Thinking of running for one of the four full-time Sabbatical Officer roles in this year's SU Elections?

To give you a flavour of what being a Sabb entails, we've enlisted the help of our five current Officers who took time to answer questions including what their roles entail, what they've achieved so far, what they've gained from the role, and what their experience of running in an election was like.

Next up is President Jack O'Neill, who will be sharing his experience in the role as he looks back to some of the most important moments. 

What do I do?

One of the tasks that will be circulating around in my head in a few months is beginning to describe what exactly the role of President of a Students’ Union is all about as I look onto my stages after Royal Holloway. There truly is a plethora of experiences, responsibilities and joys to the role of President so here is my attempt at breaking it down for you!

When thinking about the responsibilities of a President, it is probably best to break it down into the various different spheres that the role operates in. Firstly, there is the responsibility of being your representative – being elected from a pool of over 10000+ students is quite the title to have! This comes in different forms for the role of President, in addition to interacting with students to pick up daily issues that may arise, the role of President also experiences the widest breadth of College Committees. This may range from issues such as Brexit to contributing to capital investment projects or from the Health Centre provision to honorary degrees!

Secondly, there are the trustee responsibilities. All Officers become an Officer Trustee or the organisation and the President becomes the Chair of the Trustees. This is a really interesting experience as it enables you to consider what the interests of the organisation and students are for a longer period of time than you are even in the role for! This involves participating in the governance of the organisation, whether that be financial or reputational.

In addition to these main responsibilities, the President also sits on College Council (so effectively being a Trustee of the University, as well as the Students’ Union), and also a staff member – so contributing to the plans that, for example, Student Voice have for the year. It is really exciting to be involved in a wider team. The President also has the role of leading the Officer Group, which is amazing as the work is impactful in a vast range of areas.

What have I done so far?

This year has seen the implementation of the Democracy Review. This has involved a huge amount of work from all staff, and the Officers are front and centre in delivering this. This has enabled us to engage in new ways and one of the things that I am continuously excited about with elections is that it allows new ways of engaging with students to come to the forefront of the Students’ Union.

Personally, I have had my head in three big projects and campaigns throughout the year: careers support, postgraduate research student experience and the Wellbeing Strategy. This truly shows the breadth of the President role; considering campaigns that will impact all students from all backgrounds, such as wellbeing and careers, but also in steering the direction of the Students’ Union, such as exploring new areas like with PGR students this year!

What have I gained?

To put it simply, the experience of being President is like leaping ahead in your career trajectory – you are in a position with responsibilities and input that are very uncommon for someone just coming out, or interrupting, their degree.

It provides an unbelievable opportunity to learn about an array of areas that you may have thought unimaginable at this age. Most jobs nowadays will give you the opportunity to develop presenting, public speaking, writing reports, conducting research and so on, but very few jobs will enable to you lead and have the strategic experience that this job offers.

What has been my biggest challenge?

There will be plenty of time for me to reflect on my two years as an Officer once my shelf-life runs out at the end of this academic year, but here is a quick glimpse of what I have found enjoyable and challenging in the role!

Higher Education as a sector is changing at a rapid pace, I believe that the next decade (without sounding too hyperbolic) will be a defining period for Higher Education. I have found it incredibly insightful and empowering to witness this change unfold, and to be a part of it. Whether this be through seeing the long-term vision of Royal Holloway as an institution, or working on policy for the Students’ Union that will provide an agenda in critical areas that are gaining in prominence for the student experience of university, and the value of university altogether.

As with any role, there are challenges. In the same way that Higher Education is changing, students are changing too – those in their first year now are entering university five years after I entered, and times change. It is a challenge that is invigorating, but a challenge nonetheless Priorities of student bodies change, and so do the ways to engage with them. It is the fundamental challenge that every Officer battles during their tenure and so my challenge to you is how you can inspire and empower new generations of students.

My Election experience

I love elections – it is a time when people who are passionate about a cause throw their hat in the ring and put their best foot forward. I enjoyed running on both occasions because it is a test to see if others value the solutions you propose, and also a test for yourself in adapting to new situations.

Running in the election was thrilling, in both cases I felt like I had something to prove and that is exciting.

The first time, I was an outsider who wasn’t involved as others and I enjoyed that challenge. The second time, I had a case to defend my record as well as propose a new direction, which is a fresh challenge.

My main advice would be to learn from yourself and each other in an election!

Stand for Election

Like the sound of what you've read? Nominations in the SU Elections are now open – get more info here and nominate yourself below, or drop an email to natalie.bates@su.rhul.ac.uk.

Nominations close at 4pm on Friday 7 February.

Read the Job Description

Stand for election

Jack O'Neill // President