Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Road to Reading…

Arriving at University can be an daunting experience, no matter what you have done before.

Your Student Engagement Officer
Charlie Holman
I will never forget the nervous/excited feeling in the pit of my stomach as my car rolled on to Whiteknights Campus and I navigated my way to Car Park 2, ready to move in to Windsor Hall; which was to become  my home for the next year.

As your journey to Reading University begins and you start to develop that feeling of apprehension and nervousness just remember, there are more than a thousand students that are in the same boat as you. Most importantly you’re not alone in your feelings.

For me Freshers' was amazing. You have probably heard the expression “THESE WILL BE THE BEST YEARS OF YOUR LIFE” and it’s true they are, no matter how sick you are of hearing the expression.

One of my most memorable moments of Freshers’ Week was just how friendly everyone was on arrival. Again just like you, no one has any friends. Sure there are some people I never talked to again after Freshers' Week but there were also people I met in that week that have become my friends for life. I lived with them for three years and even upon graduating we still meet up and visit each other.

Here are a few tips that helped me and hope will help you to get started:
  • Make sure you have joined your Facebook halls group before you arrive. I remember talking to my flatmates before I arrived via Facebook and this put me at ease because I was already able to put some names to faces.
  • Bring a door stop with you. Wedge your door open so your flat mates can easily get to know you. This also makes you a lot more approachable and people are a lot more likely to pop their head in and say hello.
  • Get to know your JCR and don’t be scared to ask them just about anything. Your JCR is a committee which has been elected to run activities and enhance your halls experience. Having been both a Fresher and a JCR committee member, I know what it’s like to get lost around campus and having absolutely no idea where I was supposed to be (this is pretty mandatory during your first couple of weeks). But as a JCR, I know how dedicated they are to making Freshers' the best experience they possibly could for everyone in their halls. They’re more than happy to help with any problems no matter how trivial or serious.
However, my biggest tip would be to make sure you throw yourself in to University life. Join societies, learn a new sport, volunteer, or just make sure you get involved!  This is a great way to meet similar minded people to yourself and broaden your friendship group from within your halls. I made some great friendships within the societies and clubs I was part of. Try new things! University is a great place to find a new passion or interest and unique in the huge amount of opportunities available. From water sports to Quidditch, caving to baking, there are hundreds of clubs and societies to choose from and they add so much more to your University experience.

Enjoy every minute of Reading. I have no doubt you will. Having just graduated I know how sad it is when it comes to an end. Have an absolutely crazy Freshers’ Week. The rest of the officer team and I will see you there.

Charlie Holman
Student Engagement Officer


Thursday, 15 May 2014

Anxiety: It's Time to Start Talking

Anxiety is a really difficult thing to talk about. Trust me, I have spent many years trying to explain how I was feeling to people; how I felt my mind was overflowing with catastrophic thoughts and how I worried
endlessly about the people I cared about. Even now, after having treatment, I am finding writing this a real uphill struggle. Despite the difficulty though, there is a good reason why I am writing this, and that is to help start a discussion about anxiety.

I have always been an anxious person. When I was a child I would cry whenever I needed the loo for fear of wetting myself, or would cry when a fire alarm went off as I thought I would die. This wasn't helped by me realising my sexual identity at a very young age which always made me feel like I had something to hide. But, it was my unstable family life that caused me most issue.

Being the eldest child in a family where my mum has bipolar disorder and both parents struggled with alcoholism I found incredibly distressing. I always felt I was the person who had to look after everyone and that if I didn't do my job properly the family would fall apart. It was a very isolating position as I felt I never had anyone to talk to.

I couldn't even tell friends at school, I used to put on a mask most days where I would smile all the time because I didn't want anyone to find out. I felt that it would make me weak; that people would judge me and think it is my fault this was happening. Looking back you realise how ridiculous those thoughts are, but at the time they consume you and you can think of nothing else.

This continued into university, and despite all the difficulties I had actually managed to cope to some degree. I had made friends and was doing well on my course; I had even gotten over the initial guilt of leaving my family behind. But then in second year it all fell apart. A friend passed away and I literally felt like everything was falling apart. Everything from the past, all the fears and emotions, came back full force. I used to spend most of my time fearing for the safety of my loved ones, planning funerals for them in my head – even down to eulogies I would give. It was truly a terrible existence.

If it wasn't for a few close friends literally forcing me to go to the counselling service then it would have just gotten worse and worse. I had also just gotten my first boyfriend, and he was someone I felt truly comfortable around and one of the people I could really open up to and tell the true extent of what was going on in my mind which helped. Thankfully I was able to get myself together just in time for exams because I had done pretty much no coursework the entire spring term.

Everything was looking up; I had close friends and a very supportive boyfriend, but then I moved for my placement year and suddenly I felt isolated again. This time however I felt I couldn't open up to anyone, not even my boyfriend, and just started to go downhill again. I would get into petty arguments with him because I was just holding back a lot of emotion; in fact once I had an argument with him over a missing zip.. it was that bad!

Eventually he broke up with me, for reasons other than my anxiety, but it was probably a contributing factor. I was devastated and I didn't know what to do. My anxiety came on full force, coupled with depression, and I just couldn't get anything done. The stress led me to get a heart infection and I was in and out of hospital for that. But, it wasn't until I had a panic attack in the hospital I thought “enough is enough” and decided to deal with it.

So I finally picked up the courage to tell my GP and discovered that all my fears about him saying I was making it up or that nothing was wrong were all in my head and he diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. He set me up for a long course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as well as putting me on SSRIs (an antidepressant; I was very hesitant in taking these at first... looking at the side effects sheet is a very bad move for someone with anxiety). I was even able to gather up the strength to tell my friends and family about it. I even told my work and they have been nothing but supportive – even getting me lifts to counseling sessions.

This was about 4 months ago now and honestly it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. CBT has taught me some great skills for managing my worries and preventing rumination and the SSRIs have helped to reduce the physical symptoms caused by anxiety and depression. I have been able to make many positive changes as a result; for example I am doing more exercise and I even volunteer at the local dogs trust which gives me a sense of enormous well-being (definitely ripped that off from a Blur song but oh well).

Don't get me wrong, I still struggle with anxiety from time to time, but then I am only on the beginning of my journey – in fact just today I had a panic attack at work due to not taking enough time to look after myself. However, despite this setback I am still looking forward because I have learnt that it is fine to have blips every now and then; real strength comes from how you get back on track. My life has undergone such a positive change, so I just have to keep going.

So, at the beginning of this post I said that anxiety was difficult to talk about but unfortunately, I have found that it's the best way to start to work through it. One day you will find the courage to say how you are feeling to someone and as hard as it may seem it will be such a relief and it really is the first crucial step to dealing with it. As you can see from my story, it was when I stopped talking that things went south so make sure you get talking!

Tommy Snipe
LGBT+ Part-time Officer Elect

Monday, 7 April 2014

Students as Partners

'Students as Partners' - an interesting article co-written by RUSU Education Officer, Emma Jackson and Professor Matthew Almond, Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry and University of Reading Teaching Fellow.


At the end of Spring Term, RUSU organised a “Partnership in Teaching and Learning” conference. Supported by the Higher Education Academy and the National Union of Students, this was an enjoyable and well-attended event highlighting the work of the RUSU Excellence Awards winners.

The conference itself was the first of its kind to be run by a Students’ Union, in the sense that it not only celebrated fantastic teaching practice, but also demonstrated the ways students can work to change teaching and learning by highlighting and disseminating what they consider to be good teaching practice. The conference did this by creating an opportunity for the winners of the student-led teaching awards to share how they teach, and what their students respond best to. The event showcased some outstanding examples of good practice, ranging from technological innovations (Karsten Lundqvist and Emma Mayhew), research-inspired teaching (Emily West) and the role of personal tutors (Becky Thomas). From the programme, it is clear innovation in teaching was a pervasive concept. However, the overriding theme that emerged was that of “Students as Partners.” This concept has been growing in strength across the whole of the university sector in recent years, not least as a major aspect of the Student Charter.  At an institutional level the “Students as Partners” philosophy is underpinned by the high level of student representation on Boards of Study, Periodic Review Panels, Appointment Boards, Senate and suchlike. However, the conference highlighted the idea of a ‘partnership’ at ground level, with speakers from some of the University’s PLanT Project teams. The PLanT Project, as run by Joy Collier and Maura O’Regan, is an initiative which gives students the opportunity to work with staff to enhance and develop aspects of their course, ranging from delivery and design of a module to considering the resources used to teach. The conference was a platform for teams within the Institute of Education and SPEIR on exploring the “multiple identity” associated with being a student and a teacher whilst studying within the Institute of Education, and on running breakfast clubs to enhance student engagement and collect honest and frank feedback.

In this short article we would like to explore a slightly different aspect of “Students as Partners;” how changes to the mode of delivery of academic material can encourage students to take more responsibility for their learning and to engage more with their curriculum. One of us is a lecturer in Chemistry and, as such, many of the examples chosen will come from the Chemistry Department. In no way does this indicate any sort of monopoly on good practice, it just happens to be what I know most about. One of the great things about Teaching and Learning enhancement at Reading is the way that good practice is freely shared between Schools and Departments

Transferable Skills Training  - Teamworking

Transferable skills training is now embedded into many programmes at Reading driven by the realisation that this can underpin other academic skills, and will enhance employability. Typically this sort of work will include group exercises and group work allows students to work together and to interact more closely with staff. In Chemistry we have run a first year module, developed by Elizabeth Page, “Chemical Concepts in Context” and this leads onto more group-led research projects at Parts 3 and 4. Some of these projects have led to published work. In all cases students see the value of working as a team to achieve their aims: some student comments include:

“Good for getting to know a group of people early in the year”
“I found the module useful and related to my course”
“Picked up a lot of useful skills and examples for interviews as well as chemical knowledge”
“It was very useful for future jobs as this was the module where I learnt most of my skills”
“ I Really Enjoyed Doing Them”
“We enjoyed opportunity to do more lab work. Felt that the project enormously helped teamworking skills”

A Colloquium-led Module

Probably all Departments within the University run series of colloquia or seminars where outside lecturers come to talk about their research. David Nutt in Chemistry has seen the potential to use such events as a source of material for teaching. Undergraduate students attend such collqouia as a credit-bearing module and submit a report on one selected colloquium for assessment having been given formative feedback on an earlier report. Students need clear guidance through such a module but one great advantage is that student feel a part of the research community of their department. They no longer see the research activity as something completely separate from their studies; at the same time the module greatly broadens their horizons.

The Student-Led Conference

Several Departments have run departmental conferences where students give a presentation (oral or poster) on a topic from their subject specialism. They may in some cases have a free choice of topic, in others the topic may be set by a member of staff.  Once again such activity gives the students a feeling of being research partners. It may be daunting for many beforehand, but afterwards all recognise the value of what they have done. Some positive comment include:-

  • During my second year, my department organised a student conference challenging students to present on their chosen subject. Having been encouraged to take part in this, I have grown in confidence and have since presented multiple times during my industrial placement.
  • Opportunities like the student conference and chemical concepts course gives us the chance to develop the transferable skills (like presentation) that employers will look for when we leave university.

The Flipped Classroom

Across many parts of the university the “flipped classroom” is gaining a strong following as a way to deliver lecture material. For any not familiar with this approach, the technique is to present the formal lecture in an alternative format e.g. as a video on which the students work independently and then the formal contact time is used for discussions, question-and answer sessions or problem based learning. This allows a much better partnership to develop between students and lecturer than is possible in a formal lecture. However, there are some caveats. Some students and lecturers feel that this approach works better in some subject areas than others – in chemistry the consensus is that it works better in the more problem-based areas than the more descriptive ones. Of course, there is also the feeling from some that if too much material were delivered in this way then the workload would be very difficult for both staff and students.


UROP is an excellent way to encourage students as Research Partners.  Recently we have trialled a scheme whereby UROP students also gain supervisory experience by working alongside other placement students such as Nuffield Bursary placement students from schools and colleges. In this way the students see that they are being treated fully as partners, not only engaging in research but learning how to supervise and direct research.


The comments above just provide a few possible ideas. Of course the whole area of Technology-Enhanced Learning opens up a whole range of possibilities for students and staff to work more closely alongside each other.  Our experience is that Teaching and Learning and the Student Experience are really enhanced when staff and students work alongside each other.  If any of these ideas have inspired you and you would like to know more then please do not hesitate to contact us.

Emma Jackson
Professor Matthew Almond 

Friday, 7 February 2014

So you're not sure if you should stand as a Student Trustee?

So you’re thinking of running in the elections for Student Trustee? Go for it!!

The position of Student Trustee is a very important role as you are on the Board of a charity that represents thousands of students...you bring suggestions from a current student’s perspective which, when you think about it, is crucial as this is a student-led organisation!

Over the past few months, I have gained some invaluable experience that I would otherwise not have had the opportunity to gain. Twice a term the Student Officer Trustees, Student Trustees and External Trustees meet at Board to discuss important matters concerning students’ experience here at Reading. This is something which you have the potential to have a big influence on which is actually really exciting!

Alongside these important meetings, you will have the opportunity to chair Student Officer Scrutiny (S.O.S) meetings and become really involved with what RUSU is doing to enhance the student experience. Although this may seem daunting...it is such a good skill to add to that CV! Not only this but you have the chance to sit on a variety of sub committees, help with elections, policy, finance.....the list goes on!

You may think that you have to be a certain type of person or have had a certain amount of experience in this area, but believe me, as long as you’re interested in RUSU and want to have an influence on big changes and decisions then ANYONE can nominate themselves to be a Student Trustee!

Just think......you and a couple of others will be the only people from your year of students to have such unique experience in working with a hugely successful organisation. Tell that to your employer!

Emily Kerr
RUSU Student Trustee 2013/14

Monday, 3 February 2014

Got Elections Phobia?

"There’s no way I can run, I haven’t done enough stuff! Everyone else will be more qualified"

This is a common worry people have when they are deciding about whether or not to put themselves forward. But there are no tick boxes for what you have to have done to run for any of these positions. You don’t have to have been a Course Rep to be Education Officer, you don’t have to be a volunteer to be Community & Development Officer and you don’t have to have been on a JCR to be RUSU President. Of course, experience in the area you want to be involved in is useful but it’s certainly not essential, what’s more important is a passion for the issues and a determination to make change. In fact, the only essential quality you must have is that you need to be a current student at Reading. You might be a final year about to graduate or maybe you’re a first or second year thinking of taking a year out? Undergrad or Postgrad, over 21 or under, home student or overseas, whatever your background or status you are eligible to run! So… since being a student is the only essential it looks like you’re super qualified so why not give it a shot?

"Sure, the job looks fun but I’m too scared to run in an election"

Too many people never run in an election because it seems big and scary and just not something that they would ever want to put themselves through. Maybe you've never known anyone who has become an Officer; maybe you haven’t been that involved with the Union, maybe you didn't even know Student Officers existed! Maybe you hate public speaking, you don’t think you know enough people, you have too much University work or you just don’t think you have the time to campaign. None of these things are reasons for you to not put yourself forward. Campaigning can be flexible and there are lots of ways to do it that don’t involve public speaking or standing around on campus all day. There are also many ways to win an election and it’s really not always about who knows the most people, or who is President of what society. All kinds of people win elections and this year it could be you! Whatever barriers might be in your way, come and talk to us about them and we will do our best to break them down.

"Well it’s easy for you to say…"

Contrary to popular belief, elections scare me. Before I ran in my first election (St. George’s JCR 2009) I was terrified. The prospect of standing up and talking to just 40 people made me feel sick and I thought no one would ever vote for me.  Yet somehow I have run in a further 5 elections since that day. They might be scary, but going through them has given me 2 years on a JCR and 2 years in the best job in the world at RUSU. I’m a delegate for NUS National Conference and a member of NUS Welfare Zone committee. And do you know what? I was just as scared before all of those elections as before that first one in St. Georges’ common room. Whether it’s talking to 40 people or 400 people I still get nervous, I rewrite speeches about a thousand times and I threaten to drop out right up until the last minute. So why do I keep doing them? Because it’s just so worth it. The scariest bit is actually nominating so just do that and worry about the rest later!

"I haven’t really thought about it to be honest, people like me don’t really do this sort of thing" 

A common misconception is that elections aren't for ‘people like you.’ All I’ll say is this:

"If the same kind of people always run then the same kind of people will always win and the same kind of things will always happen."

If you want to see change then why not be the one to trigger it? If you think no one would vote for someone ‘like you’ or that no one ‘like you’ has ever won before, well that is all the more reason to run!

Students’ Unions should be living, breathing, ever-changing, diverse and accessible organisations and maybe it’s someone EXACTLY ‘like you’ that is just what RUSU needs.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Full-time or Part-time Officer positions take a look at our website or send me an email. 

Sophie Davies
Welfare Officer 2013/14
E: welfareofficer@rusu.co.uk
Follow @RUSU_Welfare 

Friday, 31 January 2014

Love your Library.... what you think matters

So, you may have seen one of these cheeky fellows floating around the library...
You may even have been one of those who posted a postcard into this post-box...
If you were, then I would like to say thank-you for taking the time to fill out the survey! Over the summer, the University made some fantastic changes to the second and fifth floors... but we don’t want it to stop there!

RUSU ran the library survey to find out what you want out of the library. Naturally, views and opinions differ across year and faculty, but here is what we found the overall student body wants:

  • Continued refurbishments to the third and fourth floors
  • An increase in the library temperature (believe it or not, one of the biggest student gripes was that you were too cold)
  • Improved toilet facilities
  • Improved catering facilities, with more space to eat in particular more group study spaces
  • Improved IT services, including more computers
  • More extensive and up-to-date collections
  • Of course, many other issues have been raised as a result of the survey, which we will also continue to work on – such as more safety bus provisions

By filling in our postcard, you have directed your Union.

ou have given us a wealth of data we can now use as evidence to lobby the University on all the above matters.................we'll keep you posted on our progress.J

Emma Jackson
Education Officer 2013/14
Follow @RUSU_Education  

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

So you want to be the RUSU Community and Development Officer?

It is strange to think that this time last year I was in my third year of English Language, wondering what to do when I graduated. Whether I would move home, go travelling, stay in Reading or continue my studies on a postgraduate course. Being a Student Officer never really figured as a possible option. I thought it was for super confident students, who were engaged with politics and understood democracy, all attributes that I thought I didn't really have. However, I really could not have been more wrong.

Being a Student Officer is about being passionate about students’ rights. It is about wanting the best for students, whether it be good feedback from assignments, more information regarding careers, or more opportunities to volunteer. It is about leading a multi-million pound organisation with 4 other Officers, being a Trustee of a charity and being part of something that can really make a difference to over 15,000 students.

If it wasn't for one of last year’s Student Officer’s giving me a gentle nudge, I would never have had the confidence to run and would have never had the great experiences and skills that I have acquired. So now it is my turn to encourage you to stand for elections and to have one of the best experiences you will ever have.

So why run to be the Community and Development Officer? There is no simple response to this question because the reality is there are a multitude of reasons why you should run for this position.

Firstly, the role is still very new, there is so much scope to tailor the role into what you think a Community and Development Officer should be. This is even more true now that the role has slightly changed. You would be the Officer responsible to take the lead on the issues and campaigns that relate to student housing and halls of residence. Something that every single student experiences and a chance for you to make a real difference to these students time at Reading.

Secondly, you are responsible for the direction and expansion of volunteering, a huge but very exciting task.
RUSU recognises the importance volunteering has for both personal and career development. Volunteering has grown so much in the last two years, but there are still so many opportunities for students to get involved with and it will be up to you how to regulate those opportunities and to decide how you best feel students will engage with volunteering.

Thirdly, and this is the best reason by far, every single day is different. One day you might be going to Lakeside Care Home to help out with a tea party, you might be helping another Officer with a campaign they are running, you might be speaking on Junction11 one day, the next you might be in a University board meeting representing students followed by meeting community members to tell them about the great things students’ do, and even end up having tea and cake with the Mayor. There are certainly tough days, but they are way outweighed by the great days, when something positive is achieved for students. Every day brings a new experience and a new skills set. It is great to put on the CV and it is possibly the best introduction to working life.

Being a Student Officer gives you a great experience that you will always look back on and could lead you into having an incredible job. Even if you are undecided about running, come and speak to one of the Officers now, our doors are always open, and we can support you in any way we can.

Katy Ashford
Community and Developemnt Officer 2013/14
E: communityanddevelopment@rusu.co.uk
Follow @RUSU_Community