Running for a position within a Student Union can have a number of advantages.
Firstly, there are often a lot of part-time positions that, while unpaid can be very fulfilling and look great on a CV. It is a good way of getting work experience, networking and making new friends. It helps you to understand the inner workings of large organisations and familiarises you with the procedures within the institution as a whole. It can also open up opportunities for paid work, internships and work experience within the Union and the University
As well as that some Sabbatical Officer roles are paid and pay well, with the national average President's role being £18,500 and some London universities offering much more, up to £26,000. These roles are demanding full time jobs, but can pay well.
However, these roles do come with a number of difficulties. Elected positions invite a great deal of scrutiny into both your professional and private life. And even part time roles can be very time consuming and you may feel a lot of pressure with people sometimes contacting you on private accounts and out of office or woking hours.
Overall, roles within students unions can be fulfilling and fun, but also come with a lot of commitment, hours and pressure so run for a position do it lightly.
Being one of the Students' Union's sabbatical officers gives an opportunity to affect the changes that happen at the university hence make your university better (which is a good idea if you want to give something back to the organisation that helps you to become successful in your professional life). Obviously, everything depends on your intentions and attitude but if you are a right person for that job, you will be able to improve the overall experience of the students throughout their time at the university. Plus the position of a sabbatical officer is a full-time paid work hence it is a good way to gain some work experience before you progress to a competitive job market. Even if you won't win the elections, the nomination and campaign period by itself is a valuable and interesting experience since you can improve a lot your abilities to reach out people, public speaking and communications skills. It is definitely worth giving it a try to participate in the elections.
Being an unconventional thinker, I often come up with interesting and/or easy solutions to complicated problems. However, I soon realised that ideas unaccompanied by actions were worthless- nothing ventured, nothing gained! The need for a platform to translate ideas into action attracted me to student politics/ unions. Although this was the only benefit I sought, I was showered with much more!
"The need for a platform to translate ideas into action attracted me to student politics... this was the only benefit I sought"
I must point out that students' unions in different countries work differently; I have seen them up close in India and the U.K, and the difference is stark. While in India active engagement is largely perceived as laying a foundation to enter mainstream politics, activism in the U.K is seen as empowerment and an opportunity to develop soft skills required to enter the work force in general. Whatever the case maybe it is undisputed that being part of a union provides the much needed platform for professional development. It also opens doors to valuable opportunities, helps build a strong network and lasting connection with people from different walks of life.
Money Matters but Not in a Leadership Role
On the matter of pay, union roles are unpaid in India. In contrast, all sabbatical and some part-time roles are paid for in the U.K. Yes, money is a bonus where available but if that is the sole benefit one is after, surely, there are more entrepreneurial / lucrative ways to earn.
Character and capacity building are the blessings in disguise
However, common to all representatives the world over is the elevated platform to enhance one's character and capacity. The constant engagement, discussions and conversations with multitudes helps you abandon your ignorance and prejudice. It ignites a sense of togetherness - it is no longer "I"; it is always "We". If that is not enough it instills the confidence to develop ambitious ideas that accommodate multiple views, and pursue them fearlessly.
This battle for the common good of your fellow students does unconsciously trickle into your personal life. You start realising what's important and what's not. You no longer take things for granted or make assumptions. Before you know your moral compass is perfectly aligned by those who entrusted you to empower them. I can't think of single other student opportunity that offers such a privileged learning space!
Let me share one of my own experiences. I have served for two consecutive years as an elected representative (Postgraduate Research Students Officer) at the King's College London's Students' Union. During this period I have put in as many hours as any sabbatical officer would but my position was unpaid (Having come from the East, this fact did not bother me but unpaid work is unheard of here). The Union at that point in time had not allocated a budget to compensate for my position. When it did, it required taking a sabbatical year. As a full-time research student, based in a wet-lab, taking a year off would be a major setback. The College then offered to pay me in my part-time role but I outrightly refused it on moral grounds. I have been asked numerous times if that was a "tough decision". I had set a precedent on accountability by being the first and only officer at KCLSU to publish monthly updates on the work I undertook in the College e-Zine. To remain accountable and independent of the College to work in the best interests of those I represent was paramount. The answer, therefore, is "No, it was an easy decision. And the right one."
A couple of years ago, I would have laughed at the possibility of shouldering the responsibility of thousands of students. But their support and confidence in me has seen the translation of numerous innovative ideas into tangible ground realities. Today I have much to thank the 4000+ students for!
I'll leave you with this inspirational speech by India's most celebrated Army Chief, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw on leadership. His words remain relevant for all times to come.