Nouse interviews YUSU Academic Officer Meely Doherty


Nouse sat down with the Academic Officer to ask her about her role

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Image by YUSU

By Daisy Couture

On 17 November, Nouse sat down with newly-appointed Academic Officer, Meely Doherty, to ask her about her role.

What exactly does your role involve?

Unsurprisingly, the Academic Officer deals with academics! It’s assessment, feedback, timetabling, graduation issues and also employability. It means that the role tends to deal with less campaigning than some of the other SABBs [Sabbatical Officer] roles - it’s a bit more operational. I call them ‘little fires’ - we tend to deal with more department-specific issues, rather than university-wide ones.

What inspired you to run forAcademic Offer?

One of the big things that really encouraged me to run was that I used to work for the Inclusive Education Department in the University. We did a project called the Assessment and Feedback Project, which is still running. Then, when the self-certification campaign came around last year, I wanted to be involved. I got in touch with staff members outside of[ Pierrick and Deb’s] campaign and forwarded it onto them so that they could use the information - it was was nice to see this tangible impact.
I try really hard to make sure that reps are included in everything. For example, I’m getting department reps on working groups that they wouldn’t usually be invited to. I wanted academic representation to change, and I guess I decided to be the person to do it. It’s a fun job but it can be quite difficult, and that’s okay!
I also wanted to do it in a way that was a bit more empathetic to staff. Obviously there’s times where staff do something wrong. However, if you don’t assume malice, you can usually get it fixed. It’s about creating those avenues of communication at every level of academic representation, so it’s not just me at the top going “Hey, why haven’t you done this?”

What are you currently doing to help support students academically?

In the summer, I ran on a policy centering around inclusive assessment and employability. Inclusive assessment is very policy-based. It tends to be quite rhythmic in how it works because it has to fit around committees, but it will have a long-term impact. Employability tends to be something you can get done a bit quicker, but the impact might be more short-term. I’ve been working a lot on employability recently; we’re designing a competition that I can’t tell you much about yet, but it should be fun!
I’m also working on a signposting guide that focuses on what you can do after university - I think a lot of undergraduates end up doing panic masters because they’re not sure what to do. Obviously postgraduate studies are 100% valid, but it’s not always the best choice for some students. So it’s about making them aware of other options that they might not have considered.
Finally, I’ve been working with the careers department on York Leaders. In the past, York Leaders was only open to second years - I’ve got them to extend it to third years, and it’s also become shorter. I’m very grateful to the careers department, because I kind of gave them all my ideas and they made it work!

What are your main goals for this academic year?

It’s optimistic thinking, but I want people to feel that when they leave uni, they’ve got the most out of their degree. When a lot of people leave, they feel as though they’ve taken part in a lot of societies, college events, sports, extra-curricular activities etc. They’ve had a great personal experience, but they haven’t thought too hard about their degree. I want to make sure people get the most out of it. This can take the path of knowing what you want to do when you’ve graduated, but it can also be making sure that assessments and timetabling work for students. These might seem quite small, but they build a bigger picture of your university experience. One of the big things I’ve been working on this year is dictionaries. As we move from open to closed exams, there’s this sense of anxiety around them, especially for students who haven’t sat one before. One of the best ways we can make this as comfortable as possible is by providing things that can uphold theclosed exam style, whilst not being so daunting that they cause students to underperform. Dictionaries sound small, but they can actually be a really big benefit. If I leave and all that I’ve achieved is making assessments better for students, then that is good enough for me.

Are there any major changes you’d like to see in the educational system?

I think that the British educational system creates a level of competitiveness within students that actually disadvantages them later. For example, the number of students that don’t take part in 'Languages for All' because they’re worried about being mocked for being a beginner. Or the fact that students are often discouraged from trying disciplines they’re not familiar with and I think that causes genuine problems. On the other side of it, I think that students are often pushed in the direction of university, when it’s not always the right choice for them. The education system needs to stop promoting the high school to university to dream job pipeline. University is a great place for so many people, but it’s also the wrong place for some people and that’s okay. Make university open to everyone, but make it a choice as well. It’s a great form of social mobility, but it’s not the only one.

What has been the best part and most challenging part of working with YUSU so far?

I think my favourite thing about working for YUSU is the people. I think that the University has some really amazing people who want to help you; people get wrapped up in the idea that the more senior a person is, the less likely they are to want to interact with students, but I don’t think that’s true! I have a lot of respect for the University staff, and I do think it’s really cool getting to know different people. I just want to make people happy! I’m also a bit of a nerd and I love all the meetings, I find it so interesting watching all the policies come together. The government structure is fascinating. I couldn’t be in any other role. The hardest part is the imposter syndrome. You’re occasionally sat in a room with people who are much more senior than you, or who have been working there longer than you’ve been alive. But you have this moment where you realise that you’re tere to be the student voice.