When you first arrive at Uni, the amount of choice you are faced with societies is overwhelming. On top of that, as a fresher, you are just making new friends and trying to build up those relationships. Coming right out with your hobby or passion, or trying something completely new that you might not be any good at whatsoever (in my case…. cheerleading) can be pretty daunting. Realistically, you don’t want to fall over and embarrass yourself in front of new people you haven’t known very long.
And after the initial rush of Freshers fairs and sign up sheets, it can feel pretty impossible to start up a society right in the middle. It might feel like you’re a little late to the game and are going to be a bit behind. And, in some cases (like sports teams) that might actually be the case, and waiting until the next year might be the best possible option. But more often than not, it’s never too late to join a society – they are always after more members. You can make new mates, chat to people you’ve not necessarily spoken to before, and build up a skill you genuinely care about.
After my failed attempt at being a world-class cheerleader, I decided on not bothering with societies unless they involved a History Society trip to Budapest. I was in it for a holiday. But it’s common sometimes to get the feeling at Uni, as I did in first year, that you suddenly have a lot of free time you’re not sure how to spend. I had made my friends and settled into a routine of library and socialising, but felt like I had come to University and not tried anything hugely different or new. Then, near the end of my first year when a friend told me he was writing for the student newspaper. He showed me his published article, and I was starstruck. I desperately wanted to see my name printed in a paper. I loved writing (still do) and always wanted a career in journalism, so of course, I wanted to get involved.
I joined The Gryphon and the Music writers group on Facebook. After getting a bit of confidence from writing an album review, I offered to interview Clean Cut Kid at their gig at ‘The Wardrobe’ in Leeds. I was so nervous I took a friend with me to record the conversation and make me feel like less of a novice. I ended up having a big laugh with the band and being quite proud of the interview I wrote up. I tried to apply for a Music Editor role, but having written a grand total of three articles, it was a bit of a stab in the dark. Unperturbed, I decided that if they wanted more articles, they would get more articles. In my second year, I reviewed every DJ I saw and tried to review or interview every artist I possibly could without hogging all the good stuff. It’s actually pretty nerve-wracking having your words published in the Uni paper and online for everyone to read and judge. But, to be brutally honest, not everyone reads the student paper, so I happily slipped under the radar, a bit too nervous to tell people what I was up to.
In third year, I became print editor of the electronic music, ‘clubs’ section of the paper. It meant I had a whole new editorial team of students I had never met before to chat to and work with. I had a new pal in the online editor of Clubs, and we worked together to make our section the best in the paper…arguably. I experienced a side of the Uni I hadn’t seen before; getting involved with the Student Union and really enjoying it. I was happy to share all my articles on Facebook and recruit my friends to get involved too. I was definitely proud to be part of something I thought was great. We all had socials, chatted, worked on the paper, and I made some of my best friends sitting in The Gryphon office.
There is a point to this. I didn’t get into the swing of being involved in a society fully until third year, but I think it would’ve been a huge regret of mine if I hadn’t. I have spoken about the work I did at The Gryphon in genuinely every job interview I have had, and it gave me an online portfolio for all my work to go. I got much more confident in my ability to do what I enjoyed and also feeling like I could put myself out there and not be nervous about judgement. Realistically, no one cares what you are up to; they are busy thinking about what they are doing next. Many degrees have low contact hours, and no matter how many hours you spend in the library, you can be left feeling a bit like you want something more. Joining a society gives you that variety a lot of students are looking for.
So, even if you’re in your final year and feel like you’re settled. Why not unsettle yourself? Put yourself out there and see what you can do. You might be a terrible cheerleader, but you could be pretty decent at something else.
English and History Graduate, University of Leeds