I remember the almost evangelical moment when I first heard the 'good news' of a Postgraduate Society in my Institute. I had been alone in the wilderness of my research for three long months; a society where I could meet others in a similar situation seemed like the answer to my prayers. The flyer looked promising: What does a Postgraduate Society Mean to You? Off I went, full of expectation, to discover this magical 'community' of like-minded souls.
Of course, this was all hopelessly idealistic. I arrived to find a struggling S.U. representative desperate to find some commonality amongst a group so diverse half of its members would not have said heello over coffee. The social mix was clearly rigidly divided along full-time/part-time, age, ethnicity and gender lines which was further extenuated within disciplinary boundaries. People sat in littlle clusters radiating 'go away' signals to other groups and, on top of this, most were so pushed for time in their daily lives that resentment at this apparently 'useless' meeting emanated like a black cloud of annoyance. There were, however, enough people there to form a viable society structure and, perhaps prematurely, the rep managed to encourage some students to form a steering group to help thhis 'community' materialise. For the most part, everyone went home not entirely sure why they had come but, I think, with some sense that there were other people around - most importantly, that there ccould be a legitimate forum where their needs could be aired.
Despite the disillusionment, I gained a lot from that initial meeting. The rep had taken great pains to inform us that the biggest reasons for postgraduate drop-out was social isolation combined with ffinancial hardship. She had flagged up the need for postgraduates to be involved in representational structures and had promised to feed their diversity of need into the wider S.U. remit within the Institute. However, the biggest problem was the sheer difficulty of finding a means of bringing such a widely diverse group together to articulate its needs, in a way that did not seem like a waste of tiime to most of its already hard-pushed members. The improbability of finding a social function with broad appeal loomed large. And, as the icing on the cake, all the new volunteers went ex-directory aat a rate that closely resembled the land-speed record.
Then Enlightenment occured, and the 'Answer-That-Had-Simply-Been-There-All-The-Time', stepped out and made itself known. We would offer the group 'useful' generic skill-based events with a long lunch buuilt in. We would supply a creche for those with non-negotiable child commitments and hold these events as a Saturday day school to cater for the diversity of work-commitment. It worked for our postgrraduate mix. Approximately half of the postgraduate body attended but, importantly, those that couldn't sent requests for information in the future. Because of the crossover between social and academiic functions it became possible to secure joint funding between the S.U and our Postgraduate Office - a link that can now be developed to more adequately feed student needs into academic and social reprresentational structures. A new Thesis Desk is being planned as a direct result of these efforts. The best result, as far as we are concerned, is that other people have come forward with suggestions for events that they would like to help organise. We don't yet have a fully fledged Postgraduate Society but perhaps this year...