Universiteit Leiden

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‘You can get a lot done in an hour, but you do have to get started.’

Laura van der Plas is the spider in the web – as the Dutch expression goes – for all the students at our Faculty. Alongside her own studies, she is the student member (assessor) of the Faculty Board, so she takes a seat at the boardroom table with the Dean, Hanna Swaab, and the other members of the board. And she’s just embarked on her 2nd term of office. ‘I’d really love it if more students came to me with their ideas for the Faculty.’

Is it fun to be involved in university governance as a student?

Definitely! It’s the best student job there is. You get the opportunity to present the students’ perspective throughout the university. Admittedly, for the first few weeks I did feel a bit lost. There were so many acronyms, management terms, and organizational units. Some of the people you meet have been around the Faculty for 30 years of more. But luckily I picked it all up as I went along. One thing that surprised me was how informal everyone is with each other. There’s always room for a joke, and colleagues often stop by for a chat (probably because my office is right next to the lifts). That sort of informal contact is one of the things I like most about my job.’ 

What has exceeded your expectations ?

‘I’ve met so many new people, got to know the whole gigantic organization that is the university, and got to discuss hundreds of matters from our perspective as students. One example is a presentation I gave at the Strategic Conference, together with one of the other assessors: we put in a light-hearted quiz, which included a joke about Carel Stolker, the Rector Magnificus – that got a good laugh. If you’d said a year ago that that would happen, I probably would have been the one laughing.’

What student matters have come up over the past year?

‘To make sure that students get the most out of their studies (and out of student life in general), and that any questions or grievances they have get to the right person as quickly as possible, we need well organized and well-informed study associations, committees, and student representation bodies. So one of the things I’ve done for students is to set up more training and consultation sessions. They can now all attend a communications training session, for instance. And I’ve also organized things for the University as a whole. Together, all the Student Members of the 6 Faculty Boards shone a spotlight on students’ psychological wellbeing. We even organized a symposium on taking the stress out of studying. That moved the issue higher up the University’s agenda.’

So students now know where to find you?

‘Most of the students who come to see me are actively involved in one of the study associations, the education committee of their Institute, or the Faculty Council.  They often have specific questions about points on the agenda, Faculty regulations, or problems they’ve run up against. Sometimes students come to me with an idea about changes they would like to see at the Faculty. Those ideas are so worth hearing – they really give a good insight into students’ needs. So I’d really love it if more students came to me with their ideas.’

What are your plans for the coming year as Student Member of the Board?

'What I’m probably most excited about is the new Student Sounding Board – from this year it will bring together students from all the various committees, associations, and the Faculty Council to talk about any matters that come up at the Faculty and among our students. But the nice thing about a second term in office is that I can now follow through with all my earlier plans and activities. Like the new University-wide taskforce for psychological wellbeing that has just been set up to look into how the University can help students to reduce stress.'

What’s it like combining the job of Student Member of the Board with actually studying?

I’m now in my 5th year of studying. Last academic year I completed my BSc in Political Science, and this year I’m hoping to finish my BSc in Psychology. It’s not always easy to juggle 2 degree programmes at once, let alone trying to combine that with a job for 24 hours a week. But luckily I really enjoy both my work and my studies. The other Board Members really listen seriously to what the Student Member has to say, and you have a chance to really change things. You get to know the ins and outs of all sorts of educational issues and processes (such as logistics) that you’re not normally aware of as a student. So you learn such an incredible amount from it all. And sometimes the 2 worlds come together: when we have lectures about group dynamics or leadership I recognize lots of aspects I encounter every day in my work.'

So, any tips about how to combine work and study?

‘Don’t procrastinate, make good use of your time, and think ahead. Whenever I have a free hour I get something done. Answering emails, reading an article, whatever. In addition, you need to weigh up what work is urgent and what can wait a bit. Sometimes it’s more important to finish a paper than to answer an email, but other times the email can’t wait and the paper can. The main thing is to get on with things and not waste time. You can get a lot done in an hour, but you do have to get started.’

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