The General Secretary's review of the year

An interview of Tim Brown tells us about the highest and lowest experiences he has had over the past year.

What have you loved about your sabbatical year most?

The days Ive found to be the best are when Ive been speaking at major conferences possibly being the only person there to convey the voice of the nations postgraduates. Its quite a privilege to be recognised in such a capacity. Its also been quite an honor to have my name in the press a few times. There are a number of cases where I can see my input has made a difference, which gives the NPC purpose to exist.

Ive also really enjoyed visiting institutions around the country to meet affiliates and potential affiliates where the opportunity arises. This is something I see as important and take the time to do as much of it as is possible. It would be great to tour the whole UK, although unfortunately there isnt time as such. Being there to meet different student representative bodies to provide advice and support has been a place where I feel my experience has been used the most.

The best thing about being General Secretary I think is that every day is different, theres so much to learn about and so its not easy to get bored for that long. Its boosted my leadership experience one step further and will no doubt benefit from it in the future.

What have you found most frustrating?

Stuffing envelopes! That definitely has to be the most boring, time wasting and annoying part of the life of a general secretary. Knowing that I could be using my time more constructively writing a useful piece, visiting an institution or doing a whole load of other things often makes me ask what Im doing but mailings do need to be sent out on occasions. Administration does take up time, but I have found strategies to overcome this, which I hope to write into a "General Secretarys Survival Guide" eventually. This will make life a lot easier for future General Secretaries.

Another frustrating aspect of this post (and also being a postgraduate representative in general I have noticed) is convincing some student representative bodies that postgraduates matter. Worse still, I have found some people believe that there is plenty of provision for postgraduates. Such comments largely come from those who are not postgraduates and there are so many misconceptions out there that need to be removed. Ive seen and gained so much evidence that shows that postgraduates are in disagreement with such statements. The postgraduate voice has been kept too quiet, it is time it was raised with the means provided to let it happen.

What do you see as your major achievements this year?

Ive written a number of responses, the biggest of which are the higher education white paper, the joint funding councils work on improving standards in research degree programmes and the research and assessment review. All of these are highly important to postgraduates and we have often been the only postgraduate voice to ensure the postgraduate perspective is included.

Publishing of a report, "Providing for the Postgraduate Market" has been another important milestone. This subject is certainly one close to my heart in raising awareness that postgraduates are a different peer group, their needs and interests are significantly different from any other group and they need to be addressed specifically. I aim to continue to help NPC advise in this area as institutions become increasingly aware.

Also expanding affiliations has been on the agenda, particularly in London and the South East. There are many institutions to visit, however, and I am keen to reach as many as possible since no General Secretary has been in the area in the past. Getting NPCs database sorted out to ease work pressure in the future has also been achieved as well as organising the 2003 conference.

What do you want to see NPC do in the future?

There are a number of further things I would like to see NPC do in the future which we have not been able to do as yet due to limited resources. I want to see the geography of our representation expand, particularly in Northern Ireland, which has begun to happen. This is really important for us in advancing postgraduate education in the UK. Also I really want to see our voice grow beyond postgraduates on research degree programmes and research related taught programmes. There are also many postgraduates on advanced taught courses and teacher training courses who all make up a significant proportion of the postgraduate community. I eagerly wish to see our scope expand in this area and will do whatever I can to ensure this happens.

Also our resources need to grow, which we largely provide on the web. I am keen to see these resources get communicated as much as possible to the individual postgraduate so NPC is more widely known in the postgraduate community for what it does. Finally I also join with other NPC officers over the years to campaign for the long awaited removal of the medieval visitor system, which has caused horrendous problems for a number of postgraduate students.

Any final remarks?

I stood for election as people asked me to in recognition of my passion to see postgraduate education change. That passion hasnt ended and Ive certainly not given up on seeing postgraduates have a future. There is still a long way to go and NPC most move on with the times. I dont have the capacity to do this myself, this will require new faces and new ideas to join next years executive, which I hope to see at the AGM. What I admire most about NPC is that it is a closely-knit community, each one of us has a part to play, which is vital no matter how big or small that role is and I call on us all to take up our roles so that we will go further.

I give my thanks to the rest of the executive, especially Tim as my employer, Chris as my manager in one sense of the word and James as my predecessor. Without them I would never have achieved what I have achieved.