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Farewell from Nikita Hari, Vice President 17/18

last modified Nov 30, 2018 09:59 PM

Beginning with the January 2018 issue, this bulletin has been a regular feature in the GU communication with our membership. Writing as the Vice-President/Chair of the Executive Committee, it has given me a unique platform from which to share campaign updates, important announcements, and generally reach out and engage with the students. When I finish writing for this issue, I will figuratively roll it up and pass it to the next pair of capable hands. Time and tenure aside, I believe this to be the perfect occasion for a new voice and a fresh perspective.   

 

This one-year run has been a challenging, yet exciting path for me, and I have rich learnings to take away with me. There have been many positive outcomes and experiences, but the most rewarding times are when I receive an email from a student who felt they now had the opportunity to share their experience with their supervisor with us. When a student contacts me to praise the relevance of this campaign, in particular, praising the bold work done by the team in lobbying for accountable and responsible Ph.D. supervisions, it reminds me why we do what we do. Every one of these student feedbacks and shared experiences makes all of my work worthwhile!  

 

Coming to the end of my term, it is my first and foremost hope that I will be remembered as the Vice-President who made 'Postgraduate Voices and Postgraduate Rights' crucial to everything I did.

 

Ph.D. supervision issue is often buried in secrecy and denial, and my main focus in this post was to change this culture of silence surrounding this problem - which is both a personal interest of mine and crucial for Ph.D. students. My other priority this year was to specifically work on making the Graduate Union’s voice heard amongst the noise in the University – In terms of communications, this year I revamped the bulletin and social media sites, making them more engaging, and more personal, which allowed me to establish trust with our membership. This led to an increased outreach and exposure for the GU – most notably during the Freshers’ week when we had reached thousands of students on social media. This complemented well with 600+ students directly visiting GU for the events conducted by the part-time officers and the President.

My other focus has been on:

  • Structuring the Executive Committee

  • Devising a Code of Practise for EC and

  • Revamping the Portfolios.

I introduced the submission of detailed written reports by the VP and team to GU Council, Executive Committee meetings and to Board of Trustee meetings to ensure accountability, transparency and effective modus operandi to GU functioning.

 

More widely, for the university committees, policies and postgraduate body – I have worked very closely with the PVC of Education Prof. Graham Virgo, Kerri Gardner of Board of Graduate Studies (BGS), Alice Benton of Education Policy Office (EPO), Office of Scholarly Communication and University Service Providers; lobbying for inclusion of and increased support system for post-graduates. I’m very pleased with my contribution to the consultation process for

  • E-thesis policy

  • Fieldwork training

  • PhD supervisor eligibility policy

  • Educational strategy

  • Data ethics policy

  • Self-Reflection  & Well-being strategy.

 

My pet-projects and initiatives finally culminated in the launch of ‘Graduate Rights Campaign’. I designed and devised this campaign along with a core team comprising of interested students. The kick-off came with the GU council passing the motion supporting this campaign aimed at changing the Ph.D. supervision culture in this university.  In the two days after launching, we reached thousands of students with 500+ reads on social media. More than 25 students came forward to report serious experiences via the 'Anonymous Submission Service'.  I collaborated with each of the university services, collectively and individually introducing them to our membership via social media and campaign media sites. This is to ensure that postgraduates are well aware of the 'University Support System'.  I partnered with the Students’ Unions’ Advice Service (SUAS) in designing the ‘Conflict Navigation Flowchart’ for Ph.D. students with inputs from the Board of Graduate Studies and Education Policy Office.

 

As a knock-on effect of this awareness campaign, the university higher admins, MCRs, graduate tutors and individual students came forward to share their experiences and suggesting possible solutions to this complex problem. The campaign found that Ph.D. supervisions at Cambridge can be unfair, mental health is getting worse, vague legal rights afford us little to no protection, and the code of practice is ignored - all this needs to change. Identifying the core issues, I along with Hugo and Richard wrote a paper to the Graduate tutors committee and is currently working on a more detailed report to the VC, PVC Education, BGS, EPO, Service providers, Graduate tutors and Dept Heads.

 

My major project of the year, which I wish will be my legacy, is the 'Code of Practice (CoP) Review Initiative'. The CoP is a very important guiding document which is not widely known amongst both students and supervisors, and in other cases, neglected and overlooked. I along with Hugo Larose (student trustee) and Darshana Joshi (ex-President) lobbied successfully to have a signature page included in the CoP.  It is expected that this CoP will be read and expectations set out at the start of every year and will be signed by the Ph.D. student, supervisor, and advisor.  Additionally, I  have been successful in having the info about SUAS and links to service providers including SAHA (Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor), fieldwork rules included in the CoP. I have recommended:

  • making the CoP language gender neutral

  • revising info on;

    • working hours

    • conflict resolution

    • intermission & extension

    • maternity and paternity leave

    • data ethics

    • fieldwork practices

    • vacation and sick leave

Most importantly, I have worked hard to increase awareness of CoP amongst the student and academic community.

 

Beyond all this, my work alongside strong representation in committees by the past and present Presidents, I trust has started a top to bottom level conversation in the University in acknowledging the culture of harassment and bullying surrounding PhD supervisions; and the need for proper parity of care support for PhD students. During handover with the incoming team, I will emphasise the need for continuing to push this initiative and the many recommendations the report puts forward.

 

I was very fortunate to have had an incredible team of part-time officers who have all been highly motivated and did an amazing job in their respective offices. The Women’s officer Bridget Shaffrey started PG women’s community, reading groups, ran film events, wrote articles for Varsity and got a liberation officers motion passed by the council. Her major work was on sexual assault of intimate nature and she spoke in the Regent House for disciplinary procedure review. The International officer David Chukwuma Izuogu was quite successful in building a strong international community and backed up my social media engagements increasing GU exposure. He also worked very closely with the International student office and Careers service in running specific events for international students. The BME officer Caroline James actively campaigned for BME representation in the VC’s consultation and submitted a BME strategy proposal to the University. The LGBTQ+ officer Jonathan Birtwell-Vorderman was incredibly successful in forming a strong community for PG’s and established our engagement with the Faculty of Education. The Academic officer Mansoor Ahmed was key in our representation on the PG feedback and reporting committees. The Environmental officer Andrea Reyes worked on forming a Green officer community and supported green campaigns in the university. The ex-Mature-undergrad officer Amalie Ambrosius Høgfeldt was instrumental in trying to build a mature-under community but unfortunately had to intermit due to medical reasons. Marios Christodoulides is the newly co-opted mature-undergrad officer and is working on building a connected community of mature undergrads across colleges and is keen on addressing policy issues affecting them. The Families officer Aditi Vedi worked with colleges to make it more child-friendly, lobbying for baby changing facilities and increased childcare support and maternity leave provisions.  The Welfare officer Mrittunjoy Majumdar is also the VP elect; he initiated the GU welfare hour, welfare document project and ran various welfare events on autism, inclusivity, and conducted collaborative welfare events with many societies. 

 

If you are interested in following in our footsteps, please keep an eye out for elections call in Oct 2019 or reach out to manager@gradunion.cam.ac.uk.

 

Finally, I would like to most warmly thank the GU office team, GU sabbs past, and present (especially Darshana Joshi), the council, the trustees, the part-time officers, CUSU team & SUAS team for all your valuable help and support. Special thanks to our designer Laurel for bringing my ideas into life through her wonderful creativity and art. Many thanks to our reception team especially Sarah Garwood for being very helpful and for making me feel at home with her kindness. My sincere gratitude to my campaign team members Hugo Larose and Richard Dent without whom I wouldn’t have been able to run the initiative so effectively and engagingly.

 

I owe it to the courageous voices of many students whose stories inspired and shaped the structure and direction of my campaign and my work in general – a massive thank you to all of you! Reflecting back, I’m happy to have fulfilled much of my manifesto goals - it has been an incredible experience serving the GU.

 

I wish the incoming VP Mrittunjoy and his amazing team well as they take over from Jan 2019.

 

Festive regards and best wishes,

Nikita Hari
Vice President 2017/2018