Recently, I received a message from one of my former lecturers on behalf of a student who wished to reestablish the MMU Computing Society. I'll go over the exact advice I gave in this blog post in the hopes that it will be useful to those looking to start student societies. For context, I was a volunteer for the computing society during my first year of university (2016/17), secretary during my second year (2017/18), and chair during my last year (2018/19); roles of which I will breakdown later on in this blog post.
In broad terms, at the Computing Society, we hosted and promoted events that would be relevant to anyone who wished to learn digital skills, covering topics such as coding, games development, animation, etc. These covered socials, workshops, hackathons, and other forms of engagement with industry experts, both inside and outside of the University.
Before I break down the various types of events we used to host and promote at the Computing Society, I will give some general advice and list some pieces of information that might be useful to know if you wish to run a society. It is worth noting that it is not crucial to know every piece of information that I am going to discuss before even thinking about creating or getting involved in organising a society, and the Students Union is there to assist you in every step of the process.
It must also be noted that all I am giving is advice. There is often a resources page on your students' union website, such as the MMU Students' Union Commitee Resources, which covers topics more in-depth and gives more official guidance.
There are a variety of different roles that a society can and may have; there are some traditional roles that every society has, and it's common across universities for either two or three of them to be mandatory to form a society; at MMU, this was the Chair and Treasurer. Societies can also have other uncommon roles; for example, a Dungeons and Dragons Society could have a "Dungeon Master" who is in charge of the games that they organize.
This is the main role and is usually the first mandatory role that must be filled in a society. The chair should be in charge of the decisions made by the society and head any meetings that the society organises. It is worth noting that even though this is formally the case, there is no reason why a society can't be run democratically, where all organizers, regardless of their role within the society, have an equal vote on decisions made.
This is effectively the chair's backup; if the chair is unavailable, the vice chair takes over; it's that simple.
This is usually the person who takes notes during meetings, does what needs to be done to make sure things happen, and controls social media, just like a company's secretary.
Because societies can have and apply for money, this is usually a role taken by an individual who has the ability to sign off on items purchased on behalf of the society, which leads onto the next piece of general advice on finances.
Each university is different. Although it is common for students to have a certain amount of free credit when they start university to spend at the Students' Union, at MMU it was £20. It was common to have a registration fee to join a society, usually between £3 and £5 per member, which is usually spent during Freshers' Fair where students get to be introduced to the various societies they can join. If a society set a £5 registration fee and received 50 members during Freshers Fair, which is not unreasonable, they could have a balance of £250 to spend on anything that can be assigned to the society through the Students Union.
Commonly, our balance would be used on items to organise events for societies, such as refreshments for socials and hackathons, which I will discuss further in this blog post. There were two main methods by which we purchased items: either making the Students Union pay directly for them or paying for them ourselves and getting them reimbursed. The former is usually a much longer process that must be organised weeks before the items are needed, whereas the latter must be generally agreed upon before the purchase to ensure that it is successfully reimbursed (to the person who purchased the item) and may take a few weeks for the payment to be processed.
Societies such as the Computing Society usually have a close connection to a facility, which often has staff who have the ability to book out entire rooms for you. You can book a room in the Students' Union through the Students' Union to hold events, but we often found it easier and more convenient to ask a relevant member of staff in the faculty to book a room in the faculty. We frequently consulted Marie Caroll at MMU, but this will most likely change over time and will be very different at other universities.
Types of Events
These are usually the simplest types of events to organize; they are often hosted in the Students' Union, a room within the faculty, or a nearby pub. There is often no agenda to these types of events; depending on where they are hosted, we would order pizza via the Students' Union using the society's money, run a gaming session, such as an Unreal Tournament, or have discussions over a pint and burger, all of which are true examples of social events we organised during my reign.
Various organisers of the Computing Society used to host "Intro to x", such as introductions to "HTML & CSS", "Git & Github", "Cryptography" and much more, some of which can be found on the old website. These were often developed by ourselves based on the interests and experiences of the different individuals that used to run the society.
We also contacted other lectures within the faculty to see if they had workshops that they could teach under the Computing Society; they were happy to do so. One example of this is An Introduction to Lua by Huw Lloyd.
Outside of events we used to host, either being taught by ourselves or staff within the faculty, we also used to promote other such activities and events that would be of interest to those who wanted to learn digital skills. Within MMU, we have the Science and Engineering Extra-Curricular Awards, which hosts a number of such events.
The best events, which included talks from experts in the field, were outside ones on Meetup and Eventbrite. We promoted these events, which eventually led to the CompiledMCR platform, which I made in 2017 when I was in my second year of Univeristy as a Computer Science student to aggregate events.
On the topic of Meetups, at MMU we specifically had an event called "Meet the Meetups" organised by Richard Eskins, which happened from approximately 18:00 to 21:00, introducing around a dozen organisers of such community groups across a variety of different topics, usually hosting regular events that could be attended by students.
Beyond external events, at the MMU Computing Society we also specifically organised a yearly event called "Get in the Game", which was targeted at Games Design & Development and Games Technology students, bringing in experts to give general advice and conduct CV reviews.
Please don't be overwhelmed by the advice I have given. Running a society is meant to be fun, and the Students Union is there to assist you in every step of the process. If you wish to learn more or gain further clarification on the points I have made, please do not hesitate to contact me.