Societies at university are great way to utilize your free time. They can serve any purpose from creating a career stepping stone to improving your social life to just giving you a place to unwind that isn’t the library. However, I do have some advice concerning societies that I would like to share with you:
- Consider commitment and expenditure: Sorry kids but life ain’t free most of the time. Many societies will require a membership fee. As the former member of a society exec, I can assure you that this money is not spent on cocaine and handouts for the exec; instead it is spent on events for the society as well as their own expenses, such as transport hire and equipment purchases. This fee can range from less than £5 to near and above £100. At this point, consider how willing you are to commit to a society. In terms of a sports society, are you looking to stay healthy, learn a new sport and stay active during the week or are you looking to be the cream of the crop and represent your university? This decision will affect how much time and money you will need to put aside for that particular society. Furthermore, while the wakeboarding society sounds awesome, will you actually have the time to justify the £50 membership fee? Even low-priced societies will factor into this equation- I spent the most of my first two years as part of my university’s roleplaying society and that particular iteration of a roleplaying society ran tabletop roleplaying games in a ten week campaign structure- there is no point joining a society if you aren’t going to show up half the time. So how do you deal with this? Well, most societies will host an introductory session and I would encourage you to attend these in order to see if the society is for you. It will also give you a chance to meet current members and ask about issues such as amount of commitment and potential future expenditure.
- Societies may not do what they say on the tin: Let’s say that politics or social justice is your kind of thing, I’m afraid to tell you that you’re chancing your arm if choose to specify. Groups that fall into this category, such as political organisations and liberation movements such as LGBT societies and feminist societies, may have a ‘group ideology’. For example, the Labour Society may follow a particularly far-left viewpoint or the feminist society may emphasize a particular branch of feminist thinking. Many of these organisations will utilise an open forum discussion format for their main meeting and so you may feel that it is not worth your time to attend, especially if you hold an opposing viewpoint. There is nothing worse than attending a society meeting were you feel alone and isolated because everyone else holds ‘the society’s opinion’. If you do decide to stick it out, be warned that this may work against you if you choose to run for positions on the exec, as people may feel that you would be a detriment to the society’s image. Just remember that while everyone is entitled to their opinion, that sentiment may be lost on some if everyone around them shares their opinion. Also, as my father likes to remind me when I have issues with societies, most of these groups are made up of young adults and teenagers who have no real world experience and have no idea what they are talking about.
- You don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid: Again, this mainly applies to activist groups and political organisations but, just because you are member does not mean you are automatically obligated to participate in all the society’s events. Imagine that you are a member of the environmental society and the exec announces that they are organising a protest at a local refinery, where they will be chaining themselves to the gates of the complex. It may be easy to hypothetically say no but as a psychologist, I can tell you that everyone else is saying yes, responding with no becomes a lot harder. The society may have done wonders for your confidence and social life but you are still the priority. Keep yourself safe and happy, both physically and mentally. If people think less of you because you don’t participate in some events, that is not a society you want to be part of. Oh, and before we move on, if a society ever asks you to do something illegal or legally dubious, you probably want to get out of there.
- Try new things: Your university experience will depend heavily on what you make of it. There is no obligation to join any societies during your time at university; there are other ways to make the most of your 3+ years. However, if you are interested in joining a society (which you probably are if you’re reading this blog) then don’t be afraid to try new things. The worst thing you can do is join a society halfway through third year, found it’s awesome and then wish you had joined it in first year. University is all about discovering who you are and so trying new things will really help you find the true you. Don’t feel bad if a society isn’t for you, life won’t cater to your specific interests and sometimes things just don’t work out. But try something new, you never know if you’ve found a new hobby until you give it a test run
What advice do you have when it comes to societies? Let me know or comment below!