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Reflections on running a student society during COVID 19

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Eight months ago, I sat down with the then-President of the Stirling University Economics Society, Gellert Turkevi-Nagy, where we discussed what plans he had in store for the society for the academic year. Two weeks ago, we met again, this time reflecting on the society’s overall achievements and hiccups that needed to be dealt with.

Part of what made this year such a “phenomenal experience” for Gellert is the committee, which “consists of great members” whom he feels “incredibly privileged to be working with.” Together, they have established an open and captivating platform and strengthened student representation by appointing the society’s first ever Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

“It’s important for students to feel represented both in academia and beyond,” explains Gellert. “That’s why we think it’s important to represent issues that students actually care about. We strive to create an environment that is not only more diverse and inclusive, but which is in alignment with the Union’s and the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion principles.”

Although Gellert welcomed the challenge of running the society during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was no easy feat. Face-to-face plans that the society has prepared, including a lecture series titled ‘The New Normal: The Economics of a Post-Covid World’ and a conference, ‘Bleeding Green: The Economics of a Changing Climate’, had to be adjusted to suit the online world.

The now Vice President highlighted that “going online was the single biggest setback”.

Gellert also noted the prominent anxiety involved in creating online events due to the possibility of there being a decline in engagement from the attendees, or even a lack of interest.

Despite these worries, the convenience of attending events from the comfort of one’s home has had a direct impact on the society’s growth, even going as far as increasing the society’s membership by 40%. Additionally, the online platform advanced transparency, an element the society promotes and benefits the students, for it aids them in further discovering and discussing economics. Even if initiating events via Teams, for instance, may feel overwhelming at first, Gellert claims that once a routine is built it becomes easier to manage

In fact, organising online events turned out to be quite rewarding for the Committee, as it taught them how to effectively respond to crises: “I think that is an important lesson, that no matter how much planning goes into something, we must be prepared to come up with better alternatives.”

He adds that online communication is inevitable, considering that it is “going to play an important role in the foreseeable future”. It is therefore vital “to learn how to interact with others in a productive and constructive way, and to promote online conversations.”

Even though the Economics Society is planning on resuming face-to-face events and even organising Give-it-a-Go sessions in the upcoming academic year, Gellert hopes to keep parts of the society online due to its notable success. While nothing is set in stone yet, Gellert admits that it is much easier to invite prestigious academics to give a talk online than have them physically come to the University.

“No matter how much planning goes into something, we must be prepared to come up with better alternatives.”

Online discussions were much appreciated by the Vice President, as he loved witnessing discussions or Q&As in the Teams chat that took place after an event had been wrapped up. “It’s an amazing feeling,” Gellert notes “to see people being so interested in the topic of the discussion that they cannot even have all their questions answered in the time frame.”

This year, Gellert was keen on featuring topics that are “engaging on a generational level”, such as the conference on climate change, which sparked discussions but also “prompted people to think beyond their studies and to start thinking about incredibly complex things in a more elaborate manner.”

As for the lecture series, there were several topics that struck the society’s members with great interest. The job market presentations that Keith Bender, a professor at the University of Aberdeen, David Bell, a professor at the University of Stirling, and John Scott, a mediator and consultant, have delivered were especially popular among the attendees.

“[The job market] is something people of our generation are increasingly more anxious about: how they can enter the job market and what set of skills they will have to possess when entering the job market,” mentions Gellert.

Similarly, the talk by Eddy Van Hemelrijck – a professor from the Netherlands – gave on how we can rethink our environmental models and approach the environment in the light of Covid, was a discussion the Economics Society’s members were particularly involved in. All events have been recorded and can be found on the Economics Society LinkedIn page.

While the approaching academic year may still be a few months away, the Economics Society Committee, with its new President, Patricia Farmosi, are already arranging what topics should be at the centre of the next two semesters; what topics would spark further debates or curiosity within attendees.

A key custom of the Economics Society is providing discourse, as well as further education, on subjects relevant to all individuals – including students, many of which the future of economics depends on. Hence, broadening knowledge on these topics is of great importance.

According to Gellert, continuing conversations regarding the pandemic remains a priority for the society in the future due to its massive impact on society as well as the economy.

“The more we progress through the pandemic and into the post-pandemic environment, the more we learn about it,” he says. “If you think about how much more we know about it now, and not just economically, than we did six months ago – then you can imagine how much more we’ll learn about it in the next six months.”

The economics of societal injustice and inequality among certain ethnic groups and genders, which have already been a topic of discussion in the society in the past, is something that will possibly be featured again in the future.

The goal of the society remains the same: to help students learn about the world around them, but also to show them how “economics is a lot more important than people outside the world of economics may think.”

All events will be up by September! Keep yourself updated on the Economics Society pages:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stir.econsoc

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stirling-university-economics-society-a93924186/

Twitter: @Stir_EconSoc

Email: stir.econsoc@gmail.com

Featured Image Credit: Stirling University Economics Society: ‘The New Normal: The Economics of a Post-Covid World’ (Stanley Morrice – ‘How COVID-19 Has Affected Business (Episode IV)’).

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