More than academics: TEP and Trinity’s societies

The introduction of TEP aims to improve Trinity’s education system, after its first term in action how has it affected Trinity’s famous and vibrant society life?

The purpose of Trinity’s campus is primarily to provide a third-level education, yet it offers much more in the form of societies. Famous for the many active and thriving societies on campus encompassing a wide network of topics and interests, society life has been a basis of attraction for many students who have chosen to attend. Trinity Education Project has brought changes to students’ daily lives, irrevocably affecting how societies function. Speaking to some societies on campus, the reaction in terms of attendance, the impact on particular students getting involved, and changes in the committee seem to vary. Some herald as little impact as can be expected from a large change in College’s structure, while others have found it disastrous.

Hugh McInerney, Chair of FilmSoc, described exams as “an immediate presence” at the start of the first term, in contrast to previous years where the majority of students faced the bulk of their examination at the end of the academic year. This presence had its effect on the running of societies. Stephen Smith, Chair of the Archaeology Society, said: “It has lessened the amount of events we can hold as our prep time for each event has to be taken into consideration around ever increasing deadlines and study periods before exam weeks.” Chair of EnviroSoc, Izzy Jorgensen, felt her society had a similar experience: “The first three weeks before the end of term, basically everything shut down…some events have now been pushed to next semester because we were concerned about low turnout.”

Faced with the prospect of changing priorities, where students would not have as much free time in the run-up to the winter break, societies sought to change their typical structure. Sorcha Ryder, President of the Phil, noted that events had to be moved around from their usual timetable. “Reading Week was the first week in December, meaning that our annual Christmas focused events had to be run in mid-late November, which obviously is less than ideal.” Jack Natin, Chair of Vincent de Paul at Trinity, equally shifted their timetabling with events that would usually have been scheduled for December being moved back to November. This was done as an attempt to accommodate students with heavy continuous assessment workloads and exams.

As continuous assessment is a key component of the implementation of TEP, the assignments week to week have increased for students. A cause for concern for some societies is if students choose to prioritise their academic work over attending a society event or taking a position on committees. Smith felt their attendance had dropped but was hopeful that having gotten over the introductory process of the first term, students will be better prepared to balance both a society life and academic life. Ryder believed attendance had not been affected but noted the reduced numbers at the Phil’s Thursday debate as Christmas exams loomed closer. McInerney felt the effect more closely, citing, as an example, that their annual Die Hard screening at Christmas “attracted around twenty people, even though we had it in the middle of November to attempt to preempt exam stress”.

“Jorgensen’s committee were left feeling “totally burnt out”.

The transition from school to university poses its own set of changes and Ryder highlighted the first year in college as “an important time for trying your hand at multiple different clubs and societies and seeing what you like best. It’s often at a society events, rather than in a seminar group, where you meet people who go on to become your closest friends in college.” There is the possibility of the tradition of Trinity’s societies which can be a place to foster friendships as well as interests being diminished, as TEP causes students to focus more on assignments. Even so, Smith argues that first years have not been affected by TEP as “they know no different, so it’s later years that struggle more”.

Jorgensen pointed out that as head of the Environment Society, their attendees may already be from a niche and loyal crowd, and felt the reduced attendance came not from first years but third and fourth years in particular for AGMs and EGMs, “choosing instead to maximise academic potential”. McInerney pointed out that for FilmSoc, the impact was felt from STEM students. “Nearly half our committee studies a STEM subject, so this, of course, meant towards the end of the year they were understandably unavailable, affecting not only attendance at events but our ability to organise them.” As STEM students with a timetable which boasts long hours already struggle to be involved on societies, TEP may cause this struggle to worsen. In addition, it may fall to younger years to run the societies as older years are forced to not just prioritise but choose between the two.

Smith was able to see both the good and bad in TEP, arguing that it made the Archaeology Society “more productive…but also it makes it a job rather than enjoyment in a lot of other ways”. However, Jorgensen’s committee were left feeling “totally burnt out” and accommodated this by introducing “an informal mental health policy with what amounts to selecting understudies for all of the officers, who are all fourth years”.

“Arguably, we learn just as much from society experience, if not more, than what we do academically.”

The result is really a question of whether society life is as important as academic life, and whether societies will be able to adapt to change. On the surface level, and for many students, what matters is academic performance as it is that slip of paper which will be planted on our CV to be shown in job interviews. Even so, Trinity’s society life offers opportunities to be creative, work in a team, host extraordinary events and, often, enact real change. Arguably, we learn just as much from society experience, if not more, than what we do academically.

Jorgensen, an international student, was drawn to Trinity because of its society tradition. She said: “Society life was the only thing I really knew about Trinity when I considered applying, it was the only thing that piqued my interest and set it apart from an American college.” This selling point is worth noting during any changes made to the College academic system, as Trinity seeks to draw in more international students. It is clear societies have already started to mould their timetable to fit the new system of TEP, while maintaining former years’ standard of society success. As first years may be accustomed to this way of working, it may, in the long term, have little effect on societies.

Georgina Francis

Georgina Francis is a former Managing Editor, Life Editor and Assistant Life Editor of Trinity News.