University of York Students' Union (YUSU)

Five things I learned in the first 6 months of being a Sabbatical Officer

Julian Porch (Acadmic Officer)


1) It’s a really varied job.

Some days you get pied in the face twice, go out to Freshers events, or dress up as Mrs. Claus; other days you’re going through University policies with a fine tooth comb, you’re meeting with one of the Pro-Vice-Chancellors to discuss programme governance, or you’re preparing to deliver a workshop at HESPA’s annual conference (8th-9th February at Strathclyde, cheeky plug). It’s a really mixed bag, so you just have to be pretty flexible, able to really quickly change your head and what you’re thinking about from one thing to the next.

 

2) You have to take time off, and that’s not a bad thing.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ― Audre Lorde

I really like to think on those words whenever I’m feeling really tired or I’m experiencing burn out. It is a tough job, and certainly in the early months I felt sort of guilty for taking time off. So I didn’t, and then I got tired, and then I didn’t take any time off, and then I got even more tired etc.

It’s easy to say self-care is important, but the first time it actually made sense to me was when I full on took like a week off, and got all the little stuff sorted. So I caught up on my life admin, I did all my dishes (and put them away, shocker), I washed my laundry (and put it away, shocker), I got fresh bed sheets, I started going to the gym semi-regularly, and I actually ate some vegetables and drank some water. And I came back to work and I just wasn’t as stressed at all. For me, the big stuff definitely follows the little stuff, so I try to keep on top of the little stuff.

 

3) It’s all in the detail.

I’ve always been quite analytical, but in doing this role I’ve really developed my critical eye.  Sometimes something really quite important can come from just a few words, a small portion of some data visualized in a really obscure way, or just following the paper trail.

I’m not a business analyst or a data scientist, but I’ve become familiar with tackling new problems, and certainly at the start of this role that involved asking a lot of silly questions. Now I know what the right questions are to ask - I’m better at finding out what I don’t know I don’t know.

 

4) But it’s also about thinking big.

It’s all in the detail, yes. But it’s also about the big picture. This job is, at times, very political. Keeping up-to-date with sector developments, and who published what research, who’s using it, why, which cabinet minister has been reshuffled where (topical) - even more locally when thinking about our University. When you’re consulted on long-term strategic development, it’s exactly that, and you have to logically follow the progression of development and project what something will look like in 10, 15, 20 years’ time. That really gets me going. Thankfully, a lot of YUSU staff are brilliant at looking forward and strategic planning and have really helped me develop a lot of my big thinking. Also fortunately, there are staff who help reign me in and focus on my projects.

 

5) It’s a brilliant job for boosting confidence.

So before coming into this role I never would have highlighted confidence as a particular personal strength of mine - if you had told me when I was in first year that in three years’ time I would be on the stage in Central Hall delivering the official YUSU welcome talks, I would have laughed in your face. But definitely in the election process and since coming into the role my confidence has improved by leaps and bounds. A lot of it comes from the paradigm of the role - for example: making yourself approach total randoms when you’re running an election campaign, being accountable and holding others to account, talking and negotiating with University management, and all the rest of it. Just as much of it is being part of a really close-knit team who you bond with incredibly and who are there to support you as you do them.

Aside from all of that, just the shape of the last 6 months and the incredible opportunities it has afforded me and the other Sabbs have been incredible for increasing my confidence. Absolutely not in an egotistical way, I’m still well aware that there’s a whole world of stuff out that which I don’t know about - I’m under no illusions that 6 months’ worth of experience makes me an expert in anything, but I’m much more self-aware of my knowledge base and skill-set, my abilities and my strengths and weaknesses. I’m much more ok with the fact that I have weaker areas. Nobody can be good at everything, and it’s important to remember nobody is defined by their perceived “weaknesses.” You don’t think ‘Oh yeah Neil Armstrong - sure he was the first person to walk on the moon, but he really fudged that whole “One small step for ///a/// man” quote.’ Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the moon, not the man who apparently forgot an indefinite article.

 

Unlike Neil Armstrong, I may be remembered for writing blogs which very quickly go off-topic.

Peace out,

JP

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