Three ways to spot the right student organisation

October 3, 2017 | Aaron Tam

Two years ago, I first stepped into university with high hopes that three years in Cambridge would completely turn my life around, challenge me with new perspectives and expand my horizon in ways I have never imagined before. I wanted to put myself in difficult situations, I looked for new experiences and I searched for student organisations where I could make a difference.

I must admit this sort of bold ambition is idealistic and may seem unrealistic. Many students first arriving in Cambridge want to party hard or study hard (with most somewhere in between)! That is completely fine – everyone finds their own way in student living and I have learnt to respect and embrace the different paths that people take.

Nonetheless, it has become increasingly clear to me that a vast number of students are also looking for something more than studying and partying.  Lots of us seek opportunities for both personal and professional growth. Some invest their time in developing transferable skills, some actively attend career events and some others work on independent projects or even become entrepreneurs. Knowing people who made these kinds of choices motivated me to rethink about the roles played by student organisations and how they can best support students in pursuing their respective goals.

This is a season where students (new and returning, undergrad and postgrad alike) scour through promotional emails and Freshers’ events looking for student organisations which they can join as a committee/team member. Here are three tips to help you find those organisations that will enable you to thrive: 

  1. Its mission should inspire you. The most successful and rewarding experiences often come from believing in what you do. While it is tempting to go for uninteresting positions just to earn the status, it is unlikely to provide you with any lasting value. When you join an organisation because you are passionate about its aims, you’ll enjoy the experience much more. 
  2. It helps you learn and grow. It is the responsibility of any student-based organisation to address and take care of the needs of its members. For most scenarios, this means putting a strong focus in training and development, for each individual and for the entire team. People should feel supported by their organisations and their voices should be heard across the team. If you do not see yourself learning much from the role, it is time to rethink whether the organisation is truly suitable for you.
  3. Their culture attracts you. Humans are hardwired to cherish relationships; it is the team environment and friendships which create most of the enjoyment we derive from commitments to student organisations. The way in which the team works and the culture of the organisation you join will have a large impact on how much you enjoy spending several hours a week with your team.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to spot a student organisation that was just right for me. It ticked all three boxes: it seeks to create and sustain social impact; it allows me to learn more about innovation, development and entrepreneurship; and the people there are simply very friendly. This year, I am privileged to lead it as the president. As you are reading this, you can probably tell that this student organisation is Bridges for Enterprise (BfE).

Since being founded in 2015, BfE has grown to become much more than a student society. Originally we were a CUSU-registered organisation with several team members. Now we are a global network of purpose-driven students, professionals and entrepreneurs. Our mission is to collaboratively design and scale business ventures that help create a more inclusive and sustainable future. At the core of what we do is the BfE Programme – an incubation programme in which students and professionals join hands in advising social enterprise startups in the developing world. In the past two years, we have taken in more than 30 startups from over 15 countries into our programme. Beyond this incubation programme, we were recently incorporated as a nonprofit and have been setting up international chapters across Europe, Asia and America.

There are many exceptional student organisations around in Cambridge and in other universities. However, identifying a good student organisation is insufficient – you should find the one that suits you. Do not underestimate the potential benefits of joining an organisation that aligns to your interests and aspirations.

If you are still lacking ideas on how to begin – ask yourself what you are looking for in your student life. Start from there and surely there will be people who can point you to the right direction. I sincerely hope that you will find a community of students which empowers you and inspires you.

BfE is currently recruiting for students (both undergrads and postgrads) to join our team to bring our initiative to new heights. Come talk to us at the CUSU Freshers Fair or on our event on Oct 7. Alternatively, you can find more information about us and available positions on our website.