Originally posted on http://www.pem.cam.ac.uk/kit-smarts-blog/from-one-president-to-another/ on June 27th 2016
This week Alice Ievins (2008) will officially be handing over the reins of Graduate Parlour President to Craig Burns (2011).
The pair agreed to talk to Kit Smart about the past year and the future in the GP.
What have been the best and hardest things about being president?
Alice: In terms of things that I’ve enjoyed, I think Fresher’s Week because it involves a lot of organisation and there’s quite a lot of stress building up to it. I’d finished my field work in a prison in Stafford on the Wednesday before Fresher’s Week began so I’d been organising it from a distance. But once it began, it ran so smoothly and people genuinely seemed to have a good time and so many new people came along to stuff and enjoying it and that was really great. Particularly the Bop that we had at the end of the week, Grad Bops do not have a great reputation for people showing up and enjoying it, but people seemed to both show up and enjoy it and that was just so bizarre.
The Committee have been really good, they did what were supposed to do, there were no difficult personalities, people were very willing to help and were genuinely friendly which was really good.
There were not really challenges but there were things that came up unexpectedly. A lot of work on the Mill Lane site for instance. You need to make an effort with something like that because the College is keen to listen to us but you need to make an effort to say ‘you need to listen to us’ before they think of it. I think if you say something they will listen to you but you need to say something first.
Has it made it easier that you were an Undergraduate at Pembroke?
A: It does help because you already know the terms for stuff which is so helpful, and for me, the two people you work with in particular are Mark and Lorraine. Mark was my DoS when I was an undergrad and Lorraine headed my MPhil and is the deputy-head of my institute ,so I knew both of them really well which has been really helpful. Partly because a bit of trust has been built up and also because it can be a bit intimidating if you don’t know how it all works, because they seem like authority figures when the most effective way of getting things done is to treat them like people.
C: This question came up at Hustings about a lot of the Presidents being undergrads at Cambridge and I think it definitely instils a lot more confidence as you know your way around. I was at the Teaching Committee yesterday and they were talking about Undergrad things and I could input in that. I also think it’s so easy to just assume that anything here is just tradition and it’s always happened like that, when actually you can say, no this used to happen better before or the other way round. I’m sure outside people could bring fresh perspectives but having been here for a while helps when just working out how to get what you want to filter through the 17 or so different committees.
Why do you think the GP is such a great community?
A: I think it’s lots of different reasons. I think that we’ve made a real effort to throw events regularly to avoid them becoming cliquey. Unlike other MCRs where events aren’t organic because you organise something in the common room but everyone lives two miles away, we have a lot of Grads living on site which means that there are actually people in the GP all the time which makes it a genuine community. I think this year in particular, (everyone always says it and not to do down people from last year who were also very nice) there’s a really outgoing group of people which means that there’s a core number of people at events which means that other people want to come.
C: Pembroke has a bit of a reputation established for being generally and genuinely nice, hardworking but also relaxed about it which attracts the same type of people.
A: I think that the GP itself is quite nice whereas other MCRs can be just one big room, or one big bar, which means you can only have one thing happening in there at a time, whereas the GP means you can have three different events, three different groups of people going on in the different rooms.
Now you’re taking on the mantle, what you looking forward to the most?
C: It’s been interesting to see, just from the year that I’ve been on the GPC as treasurer, just how college works, and how things can be changed or how they’re decided. I’m looking forward to being involved with that, and learning about the general politics. There’s so much going on right now, such as with the new Senior Tutor coming in. At the last committee he’s already said how he’s ‘thinking of ways to shake things up’ and those decisions are going to affect several generations of students.
So it’s going to be very interesting from my perspective, because being here I’ve seen how things work and how they can be changed, how it could be bettered, and I really want to give my input on that to keep Pembroke such a lovely place while still working to improve on its flaws.
Are you feeling confident about your new committee?
C: Yeah, they’re really nice people. I’m particularly pleased that we’ve got Greg as Welfare Officer because he’s my college dad and he’s just lovely. He’s also very into Mindfulness, and with the profile of mental health being raised it’s good to know that someone’s on the ball with it.
Any advice that you wish to impart?
A: The key thing is to ask for stuff. Sometimes, there’s the sense that they’re going to say no anyway so there’s no point but if you want something to be different, just ask politely if it can be. I think people are more willing to change things than you expect. For instance, for the last BA dinner of term, we asked if we could go to High Table to increase the number of tickets available, in the end we didn’t need the extra tickets, but it was worth asking. The worst that they can say is no, not for these reasons. Sometimes there will be good reasons why the answer is no and there will be reasons that you haven’t thought of but you can politely say ‘can we try anyway?’ I think that’s probably the key thing.
You also need to treat college like you would anyone else and stay in regular contact with them. If things are unclear from one committee meeting, don’t wait till the next committee meeting next term to find out. Chat to someone for five minutes, send an email, just talk. They don’t expect you to agree with them all the time, the impression I get is that they think the best JP and GP presidents are the ones that do disagree with them, as long as you do it in the right way. You have to get things done through them but you don’t have to agree with them.