Election fever is about to grip campus with students putting their names forward to be the next President or Vice President, members of the Student Council and academic, course and club representatives for the Students' Union. We caught up with former Vice President, Neil Maguire, who served as a sabbatical from 2013-15. He shares his memories, top tips, and reasons why students should really consider these important and exciting roles.
What inspired you to be a sabbatical?
Having previously worked as a bar supervisor in HQ (the old bar where Fountains Court now stands), and later, The Lounge, I had an inside view as to what was on offer for students, especially for the freshers' at the beginning of each new term. From listening to students night in, night out, it became very obvious that they wanted change from their Students' Union with new services, activities, and events offered – and I believed that I could achieve this. I wanted to make a difference for my peers and bring a fresh approach to Leeds Trinity.
Would you do anything different now if you could go back in time before the elections started?
To be perfectly honest, no I wouldn't. I was always transparent with students before, during, and after the elections, and continued this approach during my time as Vice President. I never made any promises that I couldn't keep, and based on relations established, feedback received, and surveys conducted, I like to think that the students approved with this approach. The key thing to my campaigns was that I went with the approach that I'm just going to be myself, and hopefully that would be good enough to be elected – and thankfully it was – twice.
What did you enjoy most about the election process?
The most enjoyable aspect for me was the campaigning process. Getting out there and speaking to students, having a laugh, and trying something different - it was great – and it also served as a good stress relief from times of assignments and nominations. Being able to put a face to a name is a big thing for a lot of people, and if you're approachable and can make people laugh, then they are going to remember you, which in turn will lead to votes. I couldn't have achieved what I did without those that I met throughout the election process, and I have a lot to thank them for.
What advice would you give for anyone thinking about running for a sabbatical position?
Just do it! Why not? What have you got to lose? It's a once in a lifetime experience and can open many doors. You will get to meet celebrities, meet new people, both staff and students, learn new skills, make more friends, be a shoulder to cry on for many, and be an outlet for fun and enjoyment for others. Of course, there are busy times when you could be working long hours, but now LTSU has a superb team established to support you with this, so see it as an experience, not a chore. If there is anything you thought would be good to try at university, and that students would enjoy, then this is your chance to do it. You can make a difference, and you can be the difference to how people look back on their student experience.
It will make you a more rounded person, give you a better outlook on many aspects of life, and it's great for your CV – and if you have the right approach, it's also great for your peers! However, the election process is full of unknowns, so if you do decide to run for office, don't put all your eggs in one basket – still keep an eye on the job market and have a plan B should you be unsuccessful, but other than that, what are you waiting for?!
What would you say have been the greatest benefits following your sabbatical experience?
The memories are great, second to none, but I think the opportunities that the experience has provided since are what really stand out. I have gone on to hold a few senior management positions within different organisations, which previously, I wouldn't have been able to secure, but after some slight change I am now in my career job – working in Northern Ireland's biggest college, doing something similar – making a difference for students!
The role of Vice President is so diverse that I was actually privileged enough to have the choice of several job roles recently, and that is simply because of what the job can offer. The doors that it opened for me have made me quite a desirable candidate for employers, so I'm told, and I don't believe there to be any greater benefit when seeking employment. It has allowed me to follow the path that I wanted to, rather than have to change to suit the job market. Without having held the position of VP, and followed on to my current role, I wouldn't have been able to get married, buy my first home with my wife, and enjoy life as I currently am, earlier than expected.
What was the benefit of being in post for two terms?
The main benefit of serving across two terms was being able to see things through, and provide stability for LTSU. There is nothing worse than starting a project, making promises to students, and then it collapsing at the half way point – plus you aren't able to truly see the fruits of your labour after 12 months. You need that extra year under your belt to see if and how you've been able to make a change, and what students actually thought about it.
A second term allows you to reflect on the previous term to see what did or didn't work, and make a change for the future, but also to understand the wide remit of the role, and how to protect yourself. In my first year I gave it everything, I worked 17-hour days, left work at 3.00am and was back in at 9.00am. I answered my door at 4.00am to students who, shall we say, wouldn't normally have knocked on my door on a normal night, and perhaps set up a few links that weren't overly beneficial to the organisation.
In my second term, however, I had learned how to do things differently. I still gave the role all I could, but I put boundaries in place. I had hours in the office, and out of the office; I learned how to make better deals for the students; had established relationships within Leeds Trinity so that there was more weight behind us in meetings; there was a strong element of trust within the student population; and we had a strong brand established. The second term, in my opinion, is crucial, but without building a good rapport with students first time around, and laying the foundations, you may not get this opportunity – do it right from the start, and be transparent in everything you do, and the rest should look after itself.