GSU VP Election: Abhisweta Bhattacharjee says “next year is going to be a good year”

Bhattacharjee envisions a year “full of wins”, promising in-person events and supports for international students

Abhisweta Bhattacharjee is an MSc student in Applied Psychology at Trinity, hailing from West Bengal in eastern India. She completed her BSc in Psychology at the Victoria Institution (College) in Kolkata in 2018. Bhattacharjee is the incumbent Vice President (VP) of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) and is running uncontested for reelection.

Speaking to Trinity News over Zoom, she speaks of her passion and interest in independent research, proudly remarking that some of her own work will be published in the United States this July. Regarding the decision to run for reelection, Abhisweta reflects on the past academic year and acknowledges the isolation students have experienced because of the pandemic. She expressed her own disappointment at not having been able to provide “the offline experience” for students and a “real experience of Dublin” for international students. Moreover, she admitted that GSU’s ability to engage consistently with the postgraduate student community was hindered by the pandemic. “Even though we tried our best at the GSU as a team, [Covid-19] took away so much of our time because we had to keep adapting to new situations, new regulations coming out, constantly new stuff”. Bhattacharjee adds that if reelected, she hopes to “to bring to life” several projects in the new academic year in the areas of mental health, careers, and in-person socialisation.

When asked about graduate student engagement with the GSU, Bhattacharjee admits that there were “changing methods of communication” necessitated by Covid restrictions. However, she insists that despite Government prohibiting in-person socialisation, the GSU “still stood-by the students” and provided “a safe environment and network” through online communication.

Bhattacharjee also plans to organise several online and socially distanced in-person events in the new academic year, following public health and safety guidelines. She hopes these will increase engagement and form a “stronger bonding” between the GSU and graduate students. “We know that the risk of infection outside is lower than inside four walls”. She envisions that graduate students could enjoy a “paint and prosecco event outside” in September as Covid-19 restrictions ease further.

“Even though we tried our best at the GSU as a team, [Covid-19] took away so much of our time because we had to keep adapting”

With regard to the added pressures and difficulties that international students face when studying abroad, Bhattacharjee hopes to draw upon her personal experience as well as the GSU’s relationship with College’s Global Room and the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) to help “make the immigration process easier for students”. During her vice-presidency, Abhisweta emailed a list of frequently asked questions to international students with direct answers provided by the INIS, adding, “doubts about those sorts of questions literally vanished”.

Additionally, Bhattacharjee plans to create a new online platform for international students with frequently updated information regarding INIS and support with the immigration process. She envisions it as a network for international students to “find friendship and form a bonding” with those in similar circumstances. She believes it will “streamline” GSU communications and stop the “spamming” of all postgraduates who are GSU members with information about the immigration process.

When asked what her plans are concerning student supports and financial aid, Bhattacharjee aims to expand on GSU’s “very well outlined” process from this year and to encourage cooperation between the GSU and College. “We need collaboration from both College and the [GSU] President” in order to successfully lobby TDs to review accommodation policies that are affecting student renters nationally.” Currently, within the GSU, the President focuses on researching national policies regarding student accommodation and financial support, with the Vice President handling these issues “within the gates of Trinity”.

On GSU’s existing relationships with other organisations within College, Bhattacharjee envisions “working closely with all”, including the Library and Counselling Services, “for the benefit of the students”. Regarding GSU’s relationship with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), she says “we would love to work with them whenever there is a requirement”. However, Bhattacharjee reiterates what she said at hustings last Friday, where she emphasised the need for the postgraduate voice to be heard and have its own standing, separate from the undergraduate student body.

“We need to understand that there are heaven and hell differences between the requirements of an undergraduate student and those of a postgraduate student…[the postgraduate community] has mothers, fathers, mature students, young students, PhDs, literally anyone you can think of in the general population”.

Bhattacharjee says that communication between postgraduates and College is “filtered” through TCDSU. She also wonders “why can’t the postgraduate community voice our concerns [to College] without going through TCDSU first?”

Similarly, Bhattacharjee aims for the GSU to work closely with the Postgraduate Workers Alliance (PGWA) in spite of “a strain in the relationship this year”. She again echoes her sentiment from hustings that there was a “breakdown of communication” but not a “breakdown of the relationship” between the GSU and PGWA this year.

“If there was a breakdown of the relationship, then they [PGWA] would want different things than we [GSU] want, but both of us want the same thing”— “equity” for and “ recognition” of postgraduate workers with “correct remuneration” for their work.

“We need to understand that there are heaven and hell differences between the requirements of an undergraduate student and those of a postgraduate student”

Bhattacharjee attributes the “gaps in communication” between the GSU and the PGWA to the pandemic. She is hopeful for a rebuilding of the relationship next year, by “starting from scratch” to diffuse any lasting tension.

“We just need to respect our differences and [acknowledge] our similarities”.

On the subject of postgraduate workers rights, Bhattacharjee promises to continue pushing for equitable contracts and rates of pay. She added that current GSU President Gisèle Scanlon has had “successful” meetings with Provost Patrick Prendergast with regards to postgrad workers’ rates of pay, as well as having lobbied Provost-elect Linda Doyle. “At College level, we have already had positive responses to our motions”.

“We have the empathy and we’re lobbying for the funding”.

Bella Salerno

Bella Salerno is a staff writer for Trinity News