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Every day, right across every UCL department, some of the over 1600 Academic Representatives work to make your education better. They represent your views in your course, your department and faculty. If you’re a Postgraduate Research student, we have reps for you too. Reps make big and small changes, whether it’s helping to tackle loneliness on a course or fixing a broken toilet door, being a rep at UCL matters. You can become one too. Nominations are open right now so nominate yourself, or a friend now

Here are some of the things your Academic Representatives have done this year. Academic Reps do so much that we couldn’t fit it all in one article, but here are some of our highlights. 

Fair pay for PGTAs

I raised the issue of appropriate payment for PGTA hours for certain modules. I am happy to say that this has been improved to accurately reflect seminar preparation hours for the coming academic year. I also raised the issue of PGTA training and academic support for research students after the first year (there is a weekly doctoral seminar for first year research students) and there are now plans to develop in-department seminars addressing teaching and continuing PhD research for second- and third-year students.

Hannah Smyth, Research Student Rep, Department of Information Studies

Mental health support

During my time as a rep I felt it was really important to build upon the mental health initiatives that UCL have been developing since September. I wanted to ensure there were more office hours to be dedicated to focusing on students’ mental health, as this year has highlighted how difficult times at university can be for many of my peers and how hard it can be to talk about them. My approach to working on change emerged through constant following up of problems with students, to discover whether issues were being addressed in a noticeable way. The thing I’m most proud of is the fact that the department now has a well-publicised office hours that are dedicated to students discussing problems they’re facing with their personal life and mental health.

Finbar Aherne, Academic Rep, BA Geography

A buddy system for Department of Psychiatry

The main change I made was to introduce a ‘buddy’ system for incoming PhD students at the beginning of the academic year. This was to try to ensure people settled in more easily both practically and socially. I had good feedback on this and believe that it really helped the new students and that it will continue in future years.

Tayla McCloud, Research Student Rep, Division of Psychiatry

Decolonising the curriculum

The primary changes I have overseen in my time as a rep are the curricular changes called for by our decolonising movement. A number of the core courses taught in first and second year have or will be overhauled considerably to account for student concerns in regards diversity and accessibility. We achieved this by compiling a systematic report about the failings of these core courses, opening a dialogue with senior staff, rallying their support, and providing detailed and plausible suggestions for change.

Katja Holtz, Academic Rep, BA Anthropology

Better social spaces

I tried to improve the social environment of the department as a way to strengthen collaboration between PhD students, researchers, lecturers and professors of the department. Specifically, I proposed the design of a new social space inside the department which has been designed and is now being constructed. This space will provide an area for social gathering, group lunchtime and spontaneous interactions.

Valentina Marin Maureira, Research Student Rep, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis

Replacing staircases

I was also rep in my first-year. During that year I pleaded for the replacement of the old and dangerous staircase at the back of the department. This was noted by the Head of Department, who communicated it as student concern to UCL Estates. At the end of the academic year this staircase was replaced. Furthermore, the long-standing discontent about the absence of a microwave in the department was alleviated by the creation of a new basement common room with a microwave.

Alexander van Dijk, Course Rep, BA History

Tackling loneliness

One of the changes in which I personally took part was addressing feelings of isolation of students studying a postgraduate degree or PHD. I participated in establishing a psychology society (funded by the Union) with Dr. Ouzia and other student rep volunteers - open to undergraduate, postgraduate and PHD students studying psychology-related subjects. Students would be able to socialize by coming to monthly sessions. 

Hana Tomaskova, Academic Rep, MSc Child Development

Getting in touch with lecturers 

For one of my modules students found it difficult to contact the lecturer due to lack of Moodle forum, very rare email responses and the only office hour being at the same time as one of the chemistry lectures. We also faced technical issues with the lecture theatre in Student Central, lecture notes were uploaded with a significant delay, the gap between what was taught in lectures and coursework, and hard copies of coursework causing massive queues. After two unsuccessful attempts to discuss this with the lecturer, I and the other representative raised the issue at the SSCC meeting. Following that, we worked with the departmental tutors of both the Chemistry and the Mathematics department and the feedback was forwarded to the lecturer. As a result, the lecture theatre was changed, multiple folders for collecting the coursework were used to reduce the queues and Moodle forum created. Some changes, like coursework level will be made for new students because the end of term was approaching, however, we were assured that the difficulty of the exam will resemble that of the lectures.

Kristina Kostadinova, Academic Rep, BA Chemistry

Selecting the right supervisor for dissertations 

As students, we were not entirely satisfied with the arrangements made in selecting a supervisor and initial preparations for the dissertation topics seemed rushed and congested. As a result, we made these complaints clear in the final departmental meeting and changes will be made for the next cohort, particularly with regards to the initial consultations on the topic choice.

Simon Perry, Academic Rep, MA Applied Linguistics

Useful exam feedback

I helped to change exam feedback. In an exam with four essays, we were given four grades. However, we could not be told what the questions were for the grades we got due to questions being in a pool for future years. I highlighted that it was useful to know which topics people did/didn’t do well in, in order to improve. From this, we are now told the lecture/topic that each question came from.

Marni Andrews, Academic Rep, BSc Psychology with Education

Advice on how to get funding for PhD’s

MSc students always ask for advice on how to choose a PhD and how to get funding for it found but resources were lacking. As someone who has gone through the PhD ‘hunting’ progress I decided to address this. I met with the education lead of our department and arranged meetings for MSc students to hear how PhD students received funding from different funding bodies and from different disciplines. Using what was discussed, I created a document with guidance for PhD funding applications for MSc students.

Medina Guliyeva, Research Student Rep, Division of Surgery & Interventional Science

Anonymous feedback 

For most programmes the usual method of communication is via Facebook groups. On top of that we innovated and implemented an anonymous feedback system to accommodate the many students who might not want to use their full names due to shyness, fear of humiliation or being singled out. Our anonymous, password-protected form instantly sent notifications to all reps. This way we ensured that someone would immediately notice a fellow student having a problem.

Konstantinos Dagklis, Academic Rep, MSc Economics

Improving lecture conditions

This year, the intake for biomedical sciences was much higher than expected with not many rooms accommodating such a large class size leading to the use of large lecture halls which did not have the seat inclination required for proper viewing (especially for students sitting at the back of the lecture theatre). As a transition mentor for my degree, many of my mentees have voiced out about this problem. I brought this up during the SSCC meeting and it was well accepted. As a result of this, many modules in the first year have lecturecast recordings to make sure that all students have equal access to lectures.

Chan Ming Chak, Academic Rep, BSc Biomedical Science

Getting our first choice 

We found that the course selection process is such a rush that students don’t usually get their first choice. Some seminars would be full in just two minutes. We suggested the adoption of a more soothing method in course selection. In Term 2, each student in our department filled out a form and submitted it to the convenor who assigned us to modules according to our first and second choices. This time, everyone got their first choice.

Yiming Gu, Academic Rep, CMII

Education Officer: Ashley Slanina-Davies

Ashley is your Education Officer this year. She believes in the transformative power of education and will be working with the university to make sure you get the best education possible. Have a look at her bio to see how she’ll be helping you out this year

Nominate yourself as a rep