Societies are a polarising subject among students - depending on who you ask, you may hear that “You have to participate in a uni society for your career!” or “Societies are toxic and cult-like”. So what’s the big deal? What are societies, why should you get involved, and why shouldn’t you get involved?
In other words, Why bother?”
In this blog post, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on:
- What UNSW student societies are
- Why do people advocate for them?
- Why not?
- If I believe it’s worth it!
What are “Student Clubs”?
Student clubs are communities within the university for students with shared interests, whether they may be professional, educational, or extra-curricular interests. Arc (UNSW’s not-for-profit student life organisation) groups student clubs into a further 8 categories:
- Faculty (these are constituent clubs, often catered for specific degrees. They tend to overlap with educational clubs)
- Making (for example, CookSoc and BakeSoc!)
These are the societies you join to get a head start in your career. They’ll host career-oriented events, like resume building workshops or internship panels. You might also participate to network with industry, or acquire mentorship opportunities. An example would be DataSoc’s recent Meet the Team event with Quantium, where students got to hear about Quantium employees’ experiences and have their questions answered by a consultant, a graduate, or a recruiter.
These are the societies you join to learn something. They’ll often host revision workshops or educational courses, centered around teaching students about a field, topic, or skill. For example, the Personal Finance Club holds courses about budgeting and saving. Of course, Professional and Educational societies have a lot of overlap – DataSoc ran a three-part DATA1001 course this term, as well as the Quantium workshop from earlier.
Of course, I’m lumping all the hobby, making, cultural, charity, and fitness societies together here. At the end of the day, these are activities many people would do recreationally and don’t necessarily link directly to a degree or a career. These are the passion projects and the “fun” societies and often give life to campus and O-Week!
That’s our current careers director, at a DataSoc event last year.
Why do people advocate for them?
Depending on the kind of society you join, the structure, culture, and experience will differ drastically. However, there are recurring themes:
1. The sense of belonging
That being said, what seems universal is the sense of belonging people feel from societies. There’s a special bond we create from spending time with others who are passionate about the same interests, a connection that seems to often outlast our degrees and careers.
2. Motivation to Grow
Being part of the same subcommittee or attending the same event is a great excuse to get out of your comfort zone and meet others. As someone who finds it easier to keep to myself, I’ve found that society activities are a great motivator to get out there and meet new people! If I didn’t have that feeling of duty or commitment, there’s a good to fair chance I may have spent much more time chilling at home!
3. They provide value
Societies as a whole provide students with value. Professional and educational societies give insight and knowledge for our careers which, let’s face it, we are mostly in uni for. Their career oriented events open up a whole realm of opportunities (fast-tracked interviews; networking opportunities; free lessons and advice) that would be completely unavailable otherwise!
Similarly, extra-curricular societies provide us with a place to celebrate talent and passion, a gathering ground for hobbies and interests no matter how niche or how skilled we are.
The downside of student societies
As with most things, there are some downsides to this experience. For every person praising and sharing their positive experience in a soc, there are dozens who just don’t relate. Here’re some of the reasons why:
1. Incredibly time consuming
Joining societies often requires a good level of commitment. There are inductions, semi-regular meetings, duties, responsibilities. Many people feel like it’s almost like a second job! For most events, there are a number of administrative tasks happening in the background that participants just don’t see that often.
2. Added pressure
Because of the added time commitment and level of expectations, it can be overwhelming. In particular, taking up a director role or an executive position can be an unwelcome addition to already high levels of stress - especially in uncertain times like these. As students, our primary goal is to study – and society duties often distract us from our studies.
Although societies can be tight-knit communities for shared interests, there are a small subset of societies that give off the impression of a “cult”: a set of rituals for new members to undertake, hierarchical structures, in-jokes that seem daunting and unwelcoming to newcomers.
4. Toxic cultures
Some societies have a relatively bad rep around campus with tales of hazing, stories from camp, or regular trips to Destination Alcohol that seem to float around and renew each year. This kind of ‘college culture’ is often frowned upon and chases off students who just don’t feel comfortable with those situations.
Ultimately, participating in a society is a part of the uni experience. Whether you engage with it or not, they will continue to be a part of the fabric of campus life.
Personally, I think it’s easy enough to avoid the minority of clubs that seem to have toxic cultures and unwelcome experiences, while the added pressure and commitment is a great opportunity to refine one’s work ethic.
And who knows? Maybe that one co-director could be your business partner, that one recruiter your future interviewer, that one sport the activity that pulls you towards a better and healthier life…