Becoming a JCR President

… If nothing else, you get a fancy plaque on your door.

You’re in your final year of university. You can’t quite believe how fast it’s gone; one second you were a nervous fresher revelling in the novelty of Klute and quaddies, now you’re writing a dissertation and preparing yourself to enter the daunting word of work. But what if you’re not ready to let go of Durham just yet? Working for the university may be your answer.

There are various ways to stay in Durham for another year, and get paid for it. The Students’ Union offers various full-time roles and frequently advertises this on social media. Another method of extending your stay in Durham is to run for a position offered by your college, such as Bar Steward or JCR President. But what actually are these jobs? I sat down with Alice Dee, the JCR President of St Aidan’s College, to talk about living in college and what her job requires.

So what do you actually do on a day-to-day basis as JCR President?

People ask me that all the time and I usually say I don’t know because it’s easier. I spend a lot of my time, usually mornings, replying to emails (which is quite boring) and Facebook messages, (I get loads of Facebook messages). I usually have meetings with college staff, other college presidents, university staff, things like that. It depends what’s going on really, each day varies, like I’m working in the shop tonight because they’ve got a social, or if there’s a formal on I’ll be helping with that. So it varies, no two days are the same but there’s a good variety.

What made you want to spend another year in Durham?

Basically I got really involved in the JCR because I didn’t like my degree, so I was like “I’m going to do anything but” but I actually found it really fun and it’s really contributed to my experience at university. I thought it’d be really cool if I got the chance to spend another year here, so I ran for president. There were six people that ran for President so I didn’t think I’d get it.

What do you think was the key to your success in the election?

I actually don’t know! I’m not really sure why – I don’t think it was popularity, I don’t know. It’s weird because I ran against two of my really good friends. I’m very honest… maybe it’s that. I’m really shit at lying so don’t ever put me in an awkward position!

Do you think it’s fair to say that elections are sometimes mere popularity contests rather than a focus on manifestos?

Yeah definitely. I think we’re lucky in Aidan’s that we literally just do a hust[ing] for five minutes and then you just have a manifesto and that’s it, whereas [with] some colleges and student union elections it’s all about doing huge campaigns. So if you have the time, or the money, or the friends to put into it, you have a better chance of winning. But then I think if it was a popularity contest, I wouldn’t have won.

Did you fulfil the role of any other Exec roles in the years prior to becoming President Yeah, so I was on ShopComm first, then I was on Student Union Committee and then I was the Student Union Rep for [St Aidan’s] College.

Do you think this was necessary to become JCR President?

It made me interested in doing it, but it’s not necessary at all. There’s someone running [for Aidan’s JCR President] this year who’s not on the Exec and the President before me last year wasn’t on the Exec. But it definitely made me more confident; I knew what I was getting myself into.

Alice Dee, JCR President, St Aidan’s College

Did you always intend to run for JCR president or were you ever content to finish after obtaining your degree?

Absolutely not. I thought I would do that [finish after her degree]. In my first year I wasn’t really involved in the JCR at all, I didn’t go to meetings; I was one of those unenthusiastic freshers. And then I got a job in the shop and it was only around Christmas time last year that I decided to run [for JCR President]. Some people have decided within a few years that they want to do it, whereas my friend Lisa actually suggested I did it.

How do you think your work as JCR President 2015–2016 has compared to presidents of the past?

I don’t know… I’m very critical of myself so I could probably tell you what I’ve done really wrong! I think I’ve got a better relationship with college staff than some presidents previously did and I quite like the social side of it.

I think you’re really good with the Freshers –

Yeah I like being friends with the ‘fresh’ – they’re like my kids. My mum’s like “how are the freshers doing?” and I’m like “they’re all fantastic”. I’m not a very neat person as I think everybody knows; Mark [the previous JCR President for St Aidan’s] last year was prestigiously neat… the office was perfect, he always had the JCR tidy, he would clean the pool tables so everything was in tip top shape whereas I just hate cleaning the pool tables!

What’s the hardest part of your job?

It’s difficult because you’re literally on call, 24/7 really. Even though you’re not meant to and I’m only paid for 35 hours a week, I don’t mind doing stuff on weekends (although some presidents are quite strict with doing just their 9–5). But it does mean it’s quite tiring; last term I’d literally not had a day off since the end of August, so I was quite ready for Christmas! Especially when you’re on call and people come and see you in your room, and you’re like “I’m in bed!”.

So you live in college?

Yeah on C straight with my crew. I’m in the Freshers’ group [on Facebook] [laughs] I’ve muted it though. (Don’t tell them I said that).

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

When we do something which is a really good improvement maybe, like when we got new speakers [in Aidan’s JCR]. Or when you win a battle, so for ages we’ve been trying to get the tennis courts refurbished and then this year Susan Frenk [President of St Aidan’s College] said we could have it. And when we do events and everyone’s really happy.

Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to the successive JCR president what would it be?

Don’t let it get you down too much – when it’s just your job you can pick up loads of flaws. For example last week I was really pissed off that the Christmas banner was still up above the shop, but I doubt anyone actually noticed it was still there. Stuff like that, because it’s your whole job it can take over your life a bit. But I’d say just enjoy it; you never really get to do a job like this ever again. Just enjoy it and go out loads and have fun.

Dedicating a year of your life to working in college and making the university experience the best it can be is a huge but worthwhile feat. Perhaps you’re unsure as to which career path you want to take, or maybe you simply want to prolong saying goodbye to Durham for another year. Regardless of your incentives, university employment is definitely something worth considering.

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