An obsession with careerism underscores Trinity’s society culture

Ursula Dale explores whether Trinity’s vibrant society culture stems from students’ interests or careerism

Our collective memory of Freshers’ Week envisages Trinity’s student culture as a hub of society activity and extracurricular freedom. The vast number of options available to freshers, which particularly resonates with those such as myself who had not been involved in clubs during school, means that one’s first weeks in College are spent speculating over the varied prospects of being a new Trinity undergrad. As weeks, and quickly years, pass, people settle into their routines and stick largely to those societies they struck up an interest in in first year. Though there are, of course, always exceptions to this rule and new participation is encouraged by students of all ages and experiences, patterns tend to stick: from here on out societies can change from opportunities for casual enjoyment with people who hold mutual interests or the chance to try out a new hobby, and become paths to intense extracurricular involvement and careerism.

Trinity’s thriving society culture is one of the strongest amongst European universities. Indeed, The Phil and The Hist, the latter of which turns 250 years old this year, are the two oldest student societies in the world. Such a legacy stands to benefit Trinity’s place in Europe, and worldwide. But rich society culture and impressive, long lasting legacies such as this can sometimes catalyse less positive changes. There is no doubt that society participation, especially on a committee level, is beneficial for more than just extracurricular enjoyment. 

For CVs and campus accommodation applications it can feel crucial to have some impressive claim on College’s social scene, which can quickly develop into a pressure for your hobbies to become more akin to careerist ventures.

What begins as a fresher-induced venture can develop into hours of weekly commitment, switching from an academic respite to a competitive and intense responsibility.

Being a global epicentre and visible origin point for student society culture, Trinity’s impressive legacy instils an inevitable degree of competitiveness in its participants.

Pressure to balance academic success with further employable interests creates a need to fulfil high expectations for those involved in societies, and a reliance on a careerist approach of rising through the ranks to maximise society engagement as one approaches their final years.

For any that don’t choose to get involved in societies through not finding the time, having other employment or simply through lack of interest, a sense of missed opportunity can also become apparent. 

Societies, though often welcoming, can feel cliquey and intimidating to those who haven’t involved themselves during their first years at Trinity. Trinity’s extensive society culture, which recognises 121 different societies in the College alone, not only makes individual societal visibility difficult, but offers such an intimidating and vast range of options to freshers, that singling out specific interests can feel overwhelming and implausible. Trinity should have no doubts in the pride of place societies play in its social structure.

However, in such a competitive College climate it is understandable why careerism can become prioritised over genuine enjoyment for those attempting to develop or succeed within societies. 

Running for chair or other higher up executive committee positions offers the chance to show employers skills of leadership, organisation and even helps those involved experience some of the relevant pressures they will face in the workplace. Especially for those who have been an active part of a society for years, the decision of your peers to elect you to lead a society can be deeply rewarding and feel like a recognition of the contribution you have made to that club or wider society life in Trinity. Careerism can often shape the way student societies are run, emphasising a business-like, management approach which quickly develops from an initial casual interest. Committee spaces within Trinity, despite there being a vast variety of societies on offer, are limited, and being pipped to the post can create an environment of competitiveness rather than camaraderie.

Ursula Dale

Ursula Dale is a Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister English student.