Academics, GMB chamber debates, drunken society balls, and packed pub crawls. With this being the experience of most Trinity students, it is often too easy to forget that our college experience is largely shaped by fellow students. For a select few who get elected to the top positions in student-run organisations, College can become a part-time job. So, what do these crucial jobs entail? And why, when already faced with the pressure of one’s degree, do these students voluntarily decide to take on more work?
The University Philosophical Society (‘The Phil’) – founded in 1683 – boasts one of Trinity’s largest memberships. You will find their Council milling around in the great halls of the GMB and attempting to entice you to speak at one of their weekly debates.
Reaching the top of this debating society is competitive and the perks of being Phil President are far-reaching. But for a society of this size, the role is no doubt demanding
With an extensive list of debates, competitions and social events, the organisational task of the Phil presidency is onerous and prompts many to go off-books for the duration of their term. Trinity News spoke with last year’s president, Ellen McKimm, to discover what it is really like.
McKimm, who followed this sabbatical trend, described the role as “very time-consuming and simultaneously very rewarding.” She outlined her main responsibilities which included “managing bookings, securing guest speakers, booking flights, accommodation, managing the subcommittees and the council itself.” While the job can be accomplished alongside one’s degree, as demonstrated by 2021-22 President, Eleanor Moreland, McKimm, who is currently in her third year studying PPES, explained that she wanted to give the job her all, stating “I don’t tend to do things by half, so I wanted to take the time and get the most out of the experience.”
“…the advantages are plentiful and make this job an experience like no other”
Despite the demands, the advantages are plentiful and make this job an experience like no other. After a “lot of long hours, hundreds of emails, meetings and calls…to watch it all come together” was, for McKimm, extremely gratifying. In particular, observing “the impact learning public speaking skills can have on people’s self-esteem” was a primary motivation for McKimm when organising these events.
McKimm also described the “once in a lifetime opportunities” she and her Council were afforded as “second to none.” For one, the role helped her professionally, enabling her to work in the European Parliament in Brussels with the former Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald as a trainee. This is an opportunity she believes she “would not have been able to get without my time in the Phil.” As President, she also met many notable figures including President Michael D. Higgins and MP Jeremy Corbyn, encounters which she described as “pinch me moments.” Yet, it seems that for her, it was the personal side that proved to be the ultimate reward: “I now have a lot more confidence in myself and I definitely trust my gut more when it comes to decisions.” She continued, stating that overall, “I learnt a lot from the things that didn’t go right or could have gone better – which I think is the point of these societies; to make friends, have a bit of fun and learn something along the way.”
Another ambitious female leader in one of Trinity’s largest societies is Ruth Brady, last year’s DU LawSoc Auditor. Known primarily to non-law students for events such as Swing Ball and ‘Masquerave’, this society also organises competitions, speaker panels, and career evenings.
Talking to Trinity News, Brady’s commitment to LawSoc started two years prior to becoming president. Although she applied to go off-books once elected Auditor, she decided she just “couldn’t do it. I like having a few plates spinning… and I need to always be moving forward.” Despite acknowledging the importance of having that option, she was delighted with her ability to balance everything, stating “it paid off because I really had to buckle down when I scheduled my study time.”
“It is one big team, and you creatively direct the vision”
While working three other jobs alongside Auditor, enjoying nights out till the bitter end, and completing her final year at college, Brady stated that in terms of responsibilities, it was “a demanding but very reasonable commitment.” With twenty-three other committee members under her management, the strain for her was more mental: “I really had to face myself in the mirror sometimes and just check in to see where I was in all this…You get so caught up in ‘being the Auditor’. You are almost primed to believe it is a CEO-style role where you call the shots…But it’s not! It is one big team, and you creatively direct the vision.”
Current LawSoc Auditor Eoin Ryan also stressed the new territory one enters after assuming this position. He stated that “it’s only this year…that I fully understand the breadth of the role. The demand on your time is massive and co-ordinating with so many people has its challenges.” He cited a former Auditor’s advice concerning the difficulties leading a committee can entail: “‘as Auditor, it’s your job to run towards problems head on and confront and solve them as quickly as possible.”
The sense of collaboration which underpins these voluntary roles is what makes them “so special” in Brady’s eyes. Despite the immense work that goes into the job, she argued that “payment would only encourage the propagation” of the job being viewed as a “CEO role.” “It’s serious,” she stated, “but it should never be taken too seriously. We have our whole lives to stress about taxes and jobs and relationships – college is a time to kick back and enjoy the ride”.
Ryan emphasised the importance of enjoying volunteer work when taking on these jobs as most who do, “are mainly motivated by their love for the society.” However, he did cite the financial burden of living in Dublin for an extra year as a reason he isn’t off-books this year. He argued that for some, the unpaid status of the job is “probably a barrier to those who are not fortunate enough” to spend this time on society work, as opposed to in a part-time job during College.
“Such a grounding has enabled Brady to advance professionally and deepen her network”
Like most major society positions however, there are perks. The Auditor not only gets free tickets, merch and speaker dinners, they also meet stars; Brady, for example, got to meet Patrick Dempsey. These benefits however, extend way beyond the material. Brady explained that the role not only “fine-tune[d] my time management and leadership skills” but it also “forced me to engage in and acquire experience and contact in marketing, events and sales…you cannot pay for that experience.” Such a grounding has enabled Brady to advance professionally and deepen her network. “LawSoc helped me secure a training contract with PwC,” she said, explaining that after one of the partners came in for a talk, they got chatting. Currently though, Brady is working for her family business, Coole Swan, as a Global Brand Director; in her mother’s words: “Ruth, if you can be the Auditor of LawSoc, you can develop this brand with your hands tied behind your back.”
The SU is another organisation in which many students voluntarily take on time-consuming leadership roles. Aside from the Sabbatical Officers, many of the roles within the SU are unpaid and hold a requirement to be “fully on-books,” as STEM Convenor Ruaidhrí Saulnier explained. He added that in terms of responsibility, the role “has previously been described as an unofficial Sabbat position” due to the heavy workload that accompanies it. This can lead to a perpetual level of stress which Health Sciences Convenor Rarosue Emakpor said is “always at the back of your mind.” Consequently, she argues that “there should be at least a little financial compensation relative to how much of your personal time and resources you have to dedicate to the role.” Yet, as this is currently not the case, Emakpor said that she will try “not to let this role affect my studies because at the end of the day, this is a volunteer position and I am a student first and foremost.” With that said, Emakpor stressed her desire to increase diversity and inclusivity in student politics and she strongly feels that she is “making a change in her own little way” by taking on the role this year.
Completing university is undoubtedly challenging. Balancing coursework with one’s other commitments is taken to extremes when students like these voluntarily assume major part-time roles. While the jobs themselves are time-consuming and often mentally draining, it is clear that the lessons they learn about themselves, as well as the unique opportunities these students are afforded, make their efforts worthwhile. And while the need for payment seems to be up for debate, the sense of dedication and pride these students have in their work outside the classroom is not.