Olga is a second year Data Science student; she is also a Project Leader for the UCL Leaders Conference SLP, part of the Polish Society. During our conversation, she shares the challenges and achievements for this year, don’t miss Olga’s inspiring story!
Can you tell us a little bit about the project that you lead?
I've been leading the UCL Leaders Conference, which is an interdisciplinary international conference that brings together current and future leaders in different disciplines, including technology, arts, business, and politics.
UCL Leaders was founded seven years ago by the UCL Polish Society, and it's been happening annually since then. Originally, it was a Polish event, but it has now developed into an international event, welcoming everyone interested in joining from different universities, backgrounds, and nationalities.
The Conference involves 2 days of workshops, networking sessions, and panel discussions, as well as a networking ball. In terms of the team involved in organizing it, each year there are two Project Leaders who recruit a team of volunteers that is divided into smaller teams such as finance, marketing, legal, speakers team, etc. We all work together for a year to deliver the event.
And who are the people that attend the Conference?
Mostly students and young professionals, not only from UCL and the UK, but from different universities, and from around the world.
This year we had over 450 participants - 250 in person and another 200 online. They came from 17 different countries on 3 continents, some of them were international students in the UK, and some came all the way from India, The Netherlands, and Lebanon.
Can you tell us about your Project Leader role?
As a Project Leader, together with my co-leader, I was responsible for recruiting the team organising the event, as well as guiding their work throughout the year and contributing with my own ideas, skills, and work, of course. Basically, overviewing all the work that we have done, so that we would be able to deliver the event successfully.
Why did you want to become a Project Leader?
It all started when I joined UCL in my first year. I heard about UCL Leaders through friends, and I joined with the role of a logistics officer.
I joined because I thought that by participating in a project that lasts for almost a year, I would be able to connect with the UCL community and other people more easily, which I think is especially important when you're in your first year - you want to make friends, and you also want to make valuable connections. So participating in such a project allowed me to feel more a part of the community and of course gain some new skills.
Throughout that year, I felt like my commitment kept increasing and I enjoyed it more and more, so then when the time came, I felt like I was ready to step up and be a Project Leader, because this was something I really enjoyed during my first year.
What difference do you feel you’ve made by leading your project?
Like I mentioned, UCL leaders was originally organized by the Polish Society for Polish people. Then last year, the previous Project Leaders started to make that transition to a more international event, and I feel like this year we really managed to achieve that.
The biggest difference was that we promoted it amongst international students rather than only Polish students, and we also invited many international speakers so that the whole event was more diverse in general.
Also, I guess partly because of the diversity, this event brought a huge range of opportunities to students, ranging from gaining valuable connections, because there's this direct contact with the speakers and other participants; to securing internships, because of the involvement of our sponsors and partners.
What impact has volunteering, and leading a project had on you?
For me it was creating that network around myself, which means that following the event you're generally more recognized and there are opportunities for creating other projects with people you meet along the way.
I made so many new connections and I would say maybe even friends in the process that I hope will last for a long time.
On top of that, the learning curve was just so steep, I had the opportunity to gain many new skills and learn many things, starting from those that will be useful in my future career, such as negotiating new contracts, to things that I feel will help me in my daily life, like writing emails. I also gained a lot of confidence in myself.
Do you have anything to add about how your network developed whilst being a Project Leader?
Apart from other students, you meet and become friends with because you're organizing this event together, you also meet a lot of influential people from media and big companies that I think might remember you in the future and may want to help you fast forward your career.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered? How did you overcome this challenge?
Probably the biggest challenge that we face every year, but this year it was even more apparent because of the economic crisis, is conveying the message of UCL Leaders to our sponsors, partners and speakers to get them involved in the project, which is in a big part dependent on their involvement.
But because we included the whole team in the process of reaching out to different people they knew or thought would be interested in this kind of initiative, we managed to establish connections with a couple of organizations that wanted to support us. Unfortunately, in the process we received a lot of rejections or no responses at all.
I feel like the more people take part in the project, the more likely you are to eventually find someone who will support you, in a way you probably wouldn't have expected, but that will have a major impact.
Tell us something memorable that’s happened to you whilst being a Project Leader?
A major event for us, or at least for me, was when we received an e-mail from a BBC Global News journalist who had heard about us through social media, saying that he wanted to participate in the event.
At the time, we were reaching out to different media outlets about our event, to promote it and gain some recognition and although it was not an easy task, we managed to get to a couple of important media outlets like CNN and Polsat News in Poland. However, I feel like this e-mail that we received, without us reaching out to them first, was a great recognition of the work that we had done so far and an indication that we were on the right track.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about being a Project Leader?
I would say that if you are passionate about something, then no matter how time consuming or challenging it is, you will enjoy it and it will be rewarding. I feel like the scariest part is just making this decision of becoming a Project Leader, but once you're in the process, everything comes naturally, and there are people to support you.
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