Bringing in my own opinion is the best part
Nadia is an international year bachelor student of computing science and the vice chair of the programme committee of her study in the year 21/22. In this interview, she elaborates on her experiences as a PC member, the importance of a PC in general and brings across a few messages to students interested in joining a PC.
Why did you decide to join the programme committee for Computing Science?
Generally, the biggest motivation for me is the fact that students can represent their peers in decision making processes. It is not just the teachers deciding, it is you taking an active part and deciding what is best for the students. Personally, I really like that as an international student I can help to make the programme even more welcoming for international students. I become part of the organization and can make studying better for the people around me.
You mentioned certain decisions, what kind of decisions are you involved in?
For example, every year, the study programme is discussed within the PC. You as a member can take a look at this programme and can voice your concerns. Think about for example that the workload might not be equally spread or the quality of the teaching is not satisfactory. The PC also reviews the courses and decides if a course needs to be improved or not. Or even things like maintaining gender equality within the programme, making events for that. We do get to vote on and are involved in a lot of different things which is very nice.
For the reviewing of courses, a PC relies on the course evaluations. How is that process going?
Basically, after an exam is finished, students fill in a course evaluation survey and, since this year, the PC hosts walk-in sessions. In these sessions, we talk with the students face to face about how the course went. So literally all feedback we use to review the courses comes directly from the students. The teachers themselves write a teacher evaluation where they react to the students feedback and propose ways to improve the course. The PC considers both the teachers and student evaluation and decides if the teacher's response is an adequate answer and if they really show the intention to improve on problems next year. Naturally, we as students also have been taking many of the courses, I guess that this personal experience also helps.
So you can also bring in your own opinion?
Yes, that is the best part! (laughs)
Great to hear! What is the personal skill you improved most during your year as a PC member?
My diplomatic skills, that is to say things in a more ‘politically correct’ way. You are dealing with teachers and you are representing students, thus you can't just say: “This course sucked”. You have to be more diplomatic in the way you phrase things. And also, as I am the vice chair, I learned to manage my time better and organize myself because I have to attend meetings, fill in doodles, organize the walk-in session… So being part of a PC really contributes to your personal growth and your soft skills.
What do you think are the personality traits of a good PC member? What should you bring or what should you be willing to learn?
The good thing is that there are no prerequisites. However, you should be willing to learn how to talk to people and how to collaborate with people. (sarcastically) When another member of the PC says something you don’t like, you should not just walk out of the room. You have to be able to communicate and also be responsible. We have very strict deadlines and if a course needs to be evaluated before this deadline, you should make sure to read the documents on time. What’s also important is to actually be involved and to have opinions. When someone brings up a topic and asks for your opinion you should be able to both convey the general student body's opinion and also have your own, take a stand and defend it.
You discussed giving your own opinion; Do you have the feeling that your opinion is heard and can you name a success you had during your PC year due to speaking up about something?
First of all, it is not only my own success, because we work in a team of 12 students and teachers. But, there was a course that students have been experiencing issues with for a few years but we finally, with the help of the education board and one of the teachers, hopefully fixed this issue by creating our own analogous course that we can make fit the expectations of our students better. Also, we identified a course that didn't seem to contribute much to the development of our academic skills, which is why we worked on getting it completely transformed. So we do make changes, and that these changes happen depends on our feedback a lot.
Great to hear that you could have an impact like that! Is this impact also your favorite part of being a PC member?
Yes, but I also really like mingling with the teachers. Being part of a PC, you feel as important as them. When you go to a lecture and you see this teacher, you might think that he/she is so much above you. But in a PC you sit at the same table with them and your vote counts as much as theirs. You can bring up issues the same way they can and have an actual productive discussion. It is very nice to feel important and to be able to bring something to the table and thereby contribute to the education. This is fulfilling for me.
Earlier, you also mentioned internationalization. Do you have a message to fellow international students, who doubt whether they should join their PC or not?
Generally, the sphere is very welcoming towards international students. All the teachers can speak English, and it is very nice to actually have students in the PC, who represent the international students. They know a lot more about, for example housing problems and other stresses international students might be going through, which has an impact on their education. So the diverse personal experience is very valuable. Thus, it is of course equally important to have Dutch speaking members in the PC, the balance is important. As of now, unfortunately, there are not enough internationals in most of the PCs. Also, sometimes there are still difficulties with the language of documents, for example during the EER process, which is traditionally a Dutch process. However, different parties, for example the Faculty Student Council, are busy with making student participation as easily accessible for non-Dutch speakers as possible. Having international students taking part in the PCs is an essential step to solving this problem.
Thank you, a lot, for your time and answers!