Books and Bevs: The Importance of Your Academic Society

This week our Society Editor, Rose Crees, caught up with the LUU English Society to suss out why getting involved with your School’s society is so important. Connie Lawful, the society’s President, and Don Pickworth, one of the Social Secretaries, explained how handy academic societies can be for those new to Leeds.

The move from an intimate sixth form classroom setting to a massive university lecture theatre is a huge jump. Transitioning from a small class where everyone knows each other relatively well to a huge room with hundreds of people in, none of whom even know your name, is sometimes unexpected and usually terrifying. Fortunately, Leeds University Union offers a network of societies representing the schools across the University of Leeds that help students, both old and new, integrate themselves amongst their peers.

Leeds University Union English Society is just one example of the student-run groups aimed at making your academic experience about more than just the books. Running socials from club nights, Otley Runs and pub quizzes to trips within Yorkshire and abroad, a Christmas ball and intramural netball and football teams, they are breaking down some of the seminar-room stuffiness with fun.

Connie, the President of the English Society, and Don, one of the society’s Social Secretaries, stressed how such opportunities to socialise within one’s school outside of lectures and seminars is crucial. “We’re always open to collaborating with the School and last year we did quite a lot with the weekly English Teas,” Connie explains.

EngSoc run a free weekly tea and biscuits morning where students can come to chat, relax, read and meet with the committee and staff. They added “if staff in the School of English had new work coming out r they were running a particular event, they came and spoke to students and promoted it at the English Tea which we think is a great opportunity. It can be very anonymous studying a subject like English when you’ve got one lecturer but to them, you’re just one face in a sea of 300, so it is vital to enable these more intimate, face-to-face interactions.”

This sense of allowing students the space to express themselves runs through the society’s ethos. “Seminars are intense with the need to squeeze the discussion of multiple texts into just one hour. They can be a source of dread for some people so anyone you meet could give you a strange impression of themselves – they might seem really awkward or overly loud and come across as obnoxious!” expressed Connie.

Links with the School of English have created unique opportunities for students to seek more contact time without academic pressure. Last year saw the beginning of the ‘School of the Night’ run by the University’s award-winning Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage, comprising regular poetry readings. Furthermore, this year’s Equality and Diversity Secretary, Serena Smith, is collaborating with the School’s new diversity panel to ensure that the society are offering the support its members need.

However, English Society is not just about the books. Offering a wide range of socials on an almost weekly basis, the society are cultivating a very welcoming environment with a community feel. “It’s great because you end up seeing the same faces week-after-week” explained Don. “One of the key elements to supporting friendships on courses with few contact hours can be trips. If you’re new to the area or if you’re only here for a year, you might want to see some things that are quintessentially Yorkshire and Northern with literary ties. We offer trips to Howarth for Brontë fans and Whitby for those who love vampires.”

The society offer excursions further afield too. Connie mentioned “we usually do two overnight trips per year. In the past we’ve been to places like

Budapest, Prague and Amsterdam and so far this year we’ve organised our first trip to Dublin. I went to Dublin in my first year not knowing anyone and I was put in a random dorm but I met some really nice people and that’s how I made friends on my course. I think the trips are really good for that because it’s an intense weekend away to really spend quality time together.” Don cut in here, exclaiming “but not too intense!”

This intensity could be a concern for students when joining a new society, especially in terms of drinking. When describing the kind of socials he’ll be organising, Don was clear to emphasise how “this year we’re trying to make sure that we get to meet up in more chilled out settings. They are mainly alcohol-orientated socials which can be great and an easy way to make friends.”  

“But they’re a quick fix and not for everyone” continued Connie, “some people find that they’re a bit different when they’re drunk so we’re putting on a film night soon in addition to the English Tea. We want to do one dedicated, non-alcoholic social per term, which is a step in the right direction to cater for everyone’s needs.”

While most of the society’s events are aimed at Freshers, postgraduates and busy third years are welcome to any and all events too. “Most of our events tend to be aimed at undergraduates earlier on in their degrees simply because there’s so much more of a need for that support at the beginning of a low-contact hour course like English. We’ve all been there and it’s really daunting!”, they explained.

Academic societies help integrate students both academically and socially. They are integral to satisfaction with one’s subject if they’re able to seek support from committees and peers. With something out there for everyone, studying at Leeds is as much about enjoyment as it is about education.

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Rose Crees