This article is an excerpt from the ICSMSU July 2021 Council Report which can be read in full here.
Too often we are loudest during our campaigns and fall quiet once we take office into our positions.
So, it’s time to go back to where it all started. I’ve cracked open the archives and pulled out my old campaign website and manifesto and will go through each line and openly reflect on what I personally feel we have achieved and what is still outstanding. These are all my own personal reflections on what we as an entire SU team have accomplished this year, and of course others are more than welcome to reflect themselves on where they feel we have succeeded and where we have fallen short. This is of course, non-comprehensive and I’ll only talk about work we have done where it directly correlates to one of these aims or objectives.
I wrote my manifesto with 3 overarching aims in mind, focusing on how I wanted our SU to run, not on what I wanted us to run.
- ‘Back to Basics’ – Do a better job at the fundamental roles of a Students’ Union, reaching out to a wider range of students, enhancing our transparency when changes are implemented and on what we accomplish throughout the year.
The most fundamental role of a Students’ Union is to represent and advocate on behalf of students. We wanted to carry forwards the existing momentum we have with our events and Clubs and Socs, but also re-engage trust from our students that we’re there for them and are on their side when it comes to backing their corner, particularly on issues of academic and pastoral representation, after all we’re just fellow students just like they are!
As I said on my website, “I want to see us become more inclusive, transparent and representative than ever.”
I’ll leave it down to others to decide our level of success, but personally, more than anything else I really think these are the 3 big areas we’ve made huge strides in and it’s how I would summarise the cultural change we’ve been able to shift towards in the past year as ICSMSU. We’ve made sure we openly engage our students, fought a lot behind-the-scenes, helped support and implement ideas but also respectfully challenged decisions not made in the best interest of our students which overall has led to a lot more wins we otherwise wouldn’t have had. One of the comments arising from my 360 review in January was “Muntaha represents the student body -rather than the Faculty of Medicine. He makes every effort to reflect the views of the medical and BMB students as he understands them- despite those views not always being palatable to the Faculty” – and whilst this focuses on myself as an individual I think it’s testament to the wider culture of the teamas a whole. No matter what we do, I don’t think anybody could ever doubt our intentions. We’ve been able to keep hold of our integrity and keep representing our students honestly throughout the year and haven’t been afraid of even being the lone voice in doing so.
On transparency, I think this year has been our most transparent and open ever. Transparency has been present in everything we do. Every week in our newsletter I’ve written up a comprehensive President’s message detailing everything our SU including myself has been doing in the preceding week. We’ve openly published all our SU meeting minutes and SSLG minutes on our website, we’ve published termly stream updates across our social media – bullet point summaries of our main accomplishments by stream, conducted termly interviews with our Gazette, and even ensuring these very Council reports are as comprehensive and accountable as possible and well-signposted to everyone at ICSM. Even the Feedback Boards we’ve trialled and will be implementing are fully open and transparent for everyone to see and comment on! We’ve also been keen on pushing Faculty to be more transparent which is something we have much less control over, and this has included pushing for items to be included in their own bulletins, organising Q&A webinars, and even publishing minutes of the BMA charter task and finish group.
So all the detail on everything we’ve been doing has been there for those who want to see and access it. And we’ve also been more than open to discuss anything with anyone. After all, transparency is a key lead to accountability and showing all that we do.
This has directly helped to facilitate communication in a 2-way direction with some students, many of whom would not traditionally engage with our SU, placing their trust in us that their issues will be taken seriously and so taking heed of the many “get in touch if you have any thoughts or queries” type messages we place around and often replying to our newsletters or contacting either myself or one of our SU directly to do just that!
- Facilitate the ideas our SU are most passionate about by being active, empowering others, and being a strong, professional pillar of support.
I always recognised that as an SU we don’t have direct power on a lot of areas that are owned and run by faculty/College, only influence. And I knew that regardless of my ideas, a huge part of the role is facilitating and overseeing the priorities and vision of others within our SU on the areas that come under their remit. Having done this before when leading other teams, it’s an area I felt quite natural and in my element in. I’ve always been conscious of not stepping on others’ toes, and where I do have ideas, I’ve always preferred to empower my team by giving them the ultimate say and autonomy over what they do, and work with them to onboard them with any suggestions.
Again, I’ll leave it to others on our SU to determine how successful this has/hasn’t been, but as far as I feel, there’s been a huge focus on committee development this year. At the start of the year, I told all of our committee that we’ve got their backs in everything we do and we’re always no more than a message away, and that’s a message we’ve kept pushing. Every day of the year so far, I’ve gotten at the very least 1 thing from our SU committee to deal with/help on/advise on/answer, which I think is nice testament to that culture. We also redesigned our training day with a good emphasis on soft skills, and even introduced new compulsory welfare and active bystander training, held regular 121 catch-ups with our committee throughout the year, and I’ve always prioritised checking in and helping our committee whenever they’ve needed me. Not just as members of my committee, but as individuals. My 360 review in January was again really helpful for me to benchmark my abilities and it’s an area I think I’ve continued to develop in since; comments on my leadership style included “managing and leading each member well, and adapting my support style depending on the officer”, and “Muntaha has some admirable leadership qualities – he has integrity, honesty, clarity of purpose and able to communicate his vision. he should be applauded for having these qualities at this early stage of his career”. Which is always heartwarming to read as whilst I’ve been continually trying to introspectively reflect and empower my understanding of my own strengths and values, only those around me and who work with me can really connect the dots in a way I never would. Of course this year has been a constant development, driven by many adrenaline-pumping moments, and allowed scope for real self-reflection and refining! I’ve always got a way to go and I hope I can continue to develop!
- Streamline our activities against COVID and mitigate against its long term far-reaching effects – whether they be on academics, welfare, our clubs and societies, Freshers’ Fortnight or beyond.
Nobody thought COVID would last the whole year. We all thought it’d probably be over by about July, and then by freshers, and then January, and somewhere along the line we all soon figured it’s probably going to be considerably longer… We’ve ended up being locked down for pretty much all of the year and sadly it’s certainly been a far bigger resource drainer, shackling us all down in hugely greater workloads and reducing our social contact to nearly zero than we ever expected.
I think we’ve done what we can to mitigate its effects. We’ve worked as hard as we can to try to focus on stability – ensuring our students have the information they need as soon as possible, and that we are able to pass on their queries and concerns in an effective way. With every big announcement that has come our way, including our changes to Freshers Fortnight and A-Level results day debacles, Lockdown 2.0, the introduction of Tier 4, and the more recent national lockdown, we have been on hand to cascade information via our formal and more informal channels such as through our social media with Q&As and our group chats to provide clarity. We also introduced COVID Updates as a standing item in our weekly newsletter with a breakdown summary for any new developments – whether from us as an SU, ICU, Faculty, College or even nationally.
We have been liaising directly on behalf of our students with our Faculty, ICU, College, and even in a few cases, speaking with the government to make sure our students have the information they need and as much certainty as we can provide. We’ve engaged with the Faculty continuously and have been meeting with them before-hours every other day since the start of the year at our Faculty of Medicine COBRA meetings where we have been able to escalate the student voice and a vast number of concerns to the highest level, and also at the weekly staff ‘COVID forums’. Since the announcement of tier 4, these meetings also continued throughout the Winter break with planning ahead for various eventualities for both teaching and assessment given the uncertainty of the crisis leading into January. We also worked to organise new weekly All-Student Briefings open to all Faculty of Medicine students, both Undergraduates and all Postgraduates. Each week, we were joined by our Vice-Dean for Education, as well as an Imperial-based expert such as Professor Peter Openshaw, Professor Robin Shattock, and Professor Wendy Barclay, and also myself to update us on the current COVID situation and new guidelines nationally, and at a College and Faculty level, along with any new announcements and a student-led Q&A session.
And now for all the more specific points I hoped to accomplish. Of course, these areas relate to aspects overseen by members of our SU team whom I always wished to give complete and final autonomy – my vision aligned very closely with many of their own manifesto points and priorities which we discussed through soon into when we took office, and so I will be reflecting not specifically on myself but as a whole on what we have accomplished together as an SU:
Completed In Progress Incomplete
Review the long-term storage facilities available to our clubs and societies and push for the completion and allocation of the Reynolds storage refurbishment. ✔️
Huge credit to our Clubs and Socs team, this long overdue project was completed back in late August at the start of the year. It’s been home to storage space for the equipment of our over 65 CSPs ever since. This also ties in nicely with the wider space review of the Union.
Encourage more cohesion and collaboration between volunteering and academic (V&A) societies, including an inaugural V&A dinner to celebrate their achievements.
This is still in progress. We specifically created a new Announcements chat, akin to our Sports and Arts club captains chat, to allow easy access between our Clubs and Socs team and all of our V&A presidents. We also established a new source of grants from the St Mary’s Development Trust, to provide parity with our S&A clubs who have access to the SMHA for grant money. We’ve seen many of our V&A societies make use of this and receive funding for new equipment and new initiatives in a very difficult financial year.
However, the specific idea of an inaugural volunteering and academics recognition dinner is one to be handed over, unfortunately the pandemic has prevented us from being able to run this event and although it’s been floated for some time, it remains overdue.
The Coronavirus situation is ongoing and there is a chance it may have far-reaching effects on the smooth running of club/society events at the start of the academic year. I want to initiate early communication with ICU and work with them to explore avenues available to us to mitigate potential issues in the event we need to adapt, and communicate any updates to our clubs/societies as quickly and swiftly as possible. ✔️
A lot of this is already discussed above under the 3rd aim.
Until recently, a lot of CSP related activity has been mostly inactive, although there’s been spurts where certain events can run. We’ve been in constant communication with ICU, well-facilitated by close relations with the DPCS, and our Clubs and Socs team have been on hand to trickle this information out to our CSPs and answer all their, often many, questions.
We’ve been meeting regularly with ICU on a minimum of a fortnightly basis throughout the whole year, and more frequently with the activities team when we first took office at the start of the year in order to plan our Freshers’ Fortnight and liaise regarding other events.
Better signposting of financial support available to students. ✔️
I do think this has improved, not to say it’s perfect. It’s been raised in many of our SSLGs and resulted in reminders in dedicated Welfare bulletins by Faculty, along with a new dedicated page on MedLearn listing all the support available. Our SU Welfare team ran a dedicated Finance month campaign in November which included a livestream with the Faculty’s student services manager to talk about the Hardship fund, with example cases, and top tips.
The provision of the NHS bursary was specifically an area that students have complained about a lack of information in the past, and so we set up an NHS bursary talk with College for our 4th years, and compiled an NHS bursary FAQs document on applying. Additionally, we crowdsourced a step-by-step video on reclaiming placement and travel expenditure. We’re also redesigning our Welfare page on our SU website with a greater emphasis on signposting of the available College, Faculty and external sources of financial advice and support.
Provide greater holistic support, including both welfare and academic, to those students who are resitting exams over Summer.
Our Welfare team have introduced a new results and resits campaign, and last year launched a lockdown lessons campaign over Summer. This has helped to empower and deliver advice to students undertaking resits. However, there’s certainly more that can be done in this area.
Better representation of the diversity within ICSM, particularly of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic students, and ensuring they are fully-supported at all times. ✔️
Clearly there is always going to be more that can be done in this area and cultural change often takes much longer than a year, but I wanted us to make progress towards tackling this important issue and I believe we have. Our Welfare team sent out a survey to encapsulate students’ experiences of racial harassment at ICSM and their ideas for change, with hundreds of students stepping forwards to disclose a range of their first-hand experiences of racial harassment and microaggressions on the wards – whether by NHS staff, Faculty, patients or peers, and throughout their day-to-day life around campus. We’ve since presented these results to Faculty, and have been representing our students on the ICSM Faculty’s BMA charter group and the Faculty of Medicine-wide Black Lives Matter working group.
We’ve made representations on a lot of key issues including the wearing of headscarves in theatres and consulted on the implementation of the new raising concerns policy, and pushed for this work to be as transparent and student-facing as possible. After recommendations from us, Faculty also agreed to order an independent enquiry into racial harassment in ICSM, led by an external professional consultant.
Within our SU itself, we’ve also had a stronger display of religious and cultural festivals in our newsletter, and we’ve put in a lot of work to deliver compulsory Welfare and active bystander training to all of our SU committee, and compulsory club culture and inclusivity training to all of our Sports and Arts club captains and social secretaries.
So overall, we’ve more than got the ball rolling and made some good strides in the right direction, I hope we will continue to build on this important work in the years to come.
The transition into clinical medicine is a difficult one. I want to work to provide better study skills support to 3rd years to help ease them through the change. ✔️
We’ve fed into a new academic tutoring scheme for 3rd years which was rolled out by the Faculty with a focus on coaching and study skills tips.
We also spoke with the 3rd years in their induction week, with a focus on academic advice and navigating clinical placements. On an individual basis, we’ve also had students contacting us directly, particularly at the start of the year, and have provided tailored advice.
Again, there’s always more that can be improved but we’ve made steps in the right direction for sure.
Communication of developments and changes as a result of your feedback from Student-Staff Liaison Group meetings. ✔️
For the first time ever, we’ve openly published all the feedback reports presented by our reps and all meeting minutes openly on our website to directly close off the feedback loop. We’ve also included breakdowns of the main points discussed in our newsletter and encouraged some of our reps to post on their group chats with bullet point updates after each SSLG.
Ensure students on clinical placements and receiving remote teaching are fully supported and kept up-to-date in relation to changes resulting from the ongoing Coronavirus situation. ✔️
Again this is as discussed above in our 3rd overarching aim. To summarise, we’ve had 2 directions of communication between students – escalating the student voice up to Faculty, and disseminating information the other way. In the height of the pandemic, we’ve been meeting with the Faculty’s leadership at least 3 times a week and our reps also additionally met with their clinical heads of years on a weekly basis to efficiently tackle any issues that arose each week so they can be resolved asap.
As also mentioned before, we’ve tried to keep students as up-to-date as possible through standing COVID update items in our weekly Newsletter, on our social media, running Instagram Q&As, Zoom drop-in sessions and more. So those who have needed to engage with them have done. When we haven’t had all the updates, we’ve been providing reassurance and working hard to get that information from wherever it might be – if not faculty, then College, and if not College like in the case of Tier 4, even contacting the government!
Continue the high standards of events in ICSM and build on feedback from the student body to continue refining them.
With a changing demographic to ICSM, this year I had the pleasure of organising the first Film Night – a new collaboration between ICSMSU and Muslim Medics as part of Freshers’ Fortnight. I want to continue building on this foundation and use my own expertise as well as engaging with the student body to provide inclusive events and ensure the social needs of all our students can be met.
These 2 points are similar, so we’ll address them together.
Simply, we haven’t been able to make all the changes we’d like to our events because the pandemic has prevented nearly all in-person events from taking place this year. No doubt, these will be good areas of priority for future. Where we have been able to run events, our STFYD has been a good example of listening to student feedback during the organisation where we made the difficult decision of cutting the prices of our tickets and adapting the event to ensure our students get the most value.
On the inclusivity front, this needs to be a major priority to ensure our SU can offer something to everyone and create a comfortable environment no matter how much people wish to drink. By reasons outside of our intentions, this year’s adapted Freshers’ Fortnight was naturally our most inclusive ever (a very minor silver lining of lockdown), but as we move forwards to more traditional in-person activities, we definitely need to keep working and I know next year’s Ents team are looking to further adapt our Freshers’ Fortnight by including a greater range of events including mini golf and bowling for all to partake in.
There’s also financial inclusivity for students from more disadvantaged financial backgrounds. A tremendous stride we’ve been able to make has been redoing our financial model and introducing our events bursary scheme, where we can offer up to 86 free passports to incoming students with the lowest bands of household income, and cut prices for everyone across the board for our large events. This will hopefully help significantly in preventing finances from being a barrier for students getting involved with our social activities and events.
Follow-up on the years of Reynolds bar consultations to ensure the space can meet the needs of our students. ✔️
Funding has always been perhaps the biggest source of contention for a refurbishment of our Bar and Café. As previously mentioned in this report, our Reynolds Bar and café refurbishment project is now confirmed, with all the funding coming directly from College. We’ve since used our previous years of consultations to write up the user narrative and identify our key areas for ensuring the space can be better utilised. This has been a significant win and a newly overhauled space is nearly in touching distance.
I want to see us working together with our Alumni networks to build a mutualistic relationship, providing them with opportunities for teaching, better student engagement, CPD points, and to maintain a closer connection to ICSM, and in doing so provide equal benefit to our students through increased centralised mock examiner recruitment, careers support, portfolio advice and more. ✔️
Again, I’ve spoken about this previously in this report. We’ve been able to work closely with our Alumni Association and engage their help with mock examiner recruitment and other campaigns throughout the year, and introduced new associate membership to engage as many outgoing students as possible with their mailing lists. We’ve also had conversations both within our SU and with the ICSM Alumni Association and SMHA on the future of the organisation, and have now initiated the work to combine the 2 to create a new Phoenix Fund charity with an aim to better support our students/our SU. There’s many more specific ideas on standby for how we can better engage our recent alumni which I’ll be handing over and it’ll be exciting to see how this new-look alumni network will grow in future!
Enhanced careers support for medical bioscience students. ✔️
Our BMB Society has run online workshops on therapeutic genome editing, and centrally careers support has been raised in our SSLGs by our year reps. Faculty have continued to provide their course-related careers support. We’ve also had separate conversations with the careers team, who have put in a lot of hard work to run many sessions, drop ins, advice emails, and events throughout the course of the year.
With the unwelcome St Mary’s sale, it’s absolutely vital we now push for funding invested into student life and provision of services at both the St Mary’s campus and Charing Cross.
This is an ongoing project that will likely keep still be ongoing for many years in the near future. Faculty have now run focus groups for each yeargroup of MBBS and BMB, as well as targeted ones for recent alumni and on inclusivity. I attended all of these groups and students fed in with their ideas on what facilities and services make up their campus experience. We’ve since taken the outcomes of these groups, consulted with some of our societies, and as an SU come up with our own floor breakdowns to give the foundation of how the Reynolds Building developments can work and provide much-needed student services at CX. This is now, as we understand it, forming the basis of the floorplans for the overall developments. Of course, we now also have the move of our MDLs in mind as another challenge to have in mind which may call into question the provision of our ICSM student services beyond teaching space in South Kensington.
Improved, more open communication with our students through a restructured newsletter and a honed communication and social media strategy. ✔️
I think this is one of the achievements that has been most visible. We’ve entirely overhauled our website and newsletter and created a strong and visible visual identity that’s consistent across everything we do, including this very report! We’ve updated our brand identity and been very open through all the transparency measures mentioned earlier under my 1st aim.
Review and update the practices and SOPs of the SU where required to ensure we’re consistently working in the most efficient way possible.
We’ve certainly made advances in this area. We’ve updated our brand identity, signatures and banners, reworked our training day, revamped our financial model, asked ourselves why things are the why they are and in doing so, took the decision to scrap the ‘snogweb’ from STFYD and created new SOPs our Zoom booking system, adding content to our newsletter for both students and internally for other members of our SU, and for acquiring sponsorships with new packages and a professional brochure. However, with lots of our SU activities running remotely or unable to happen such as our retreat, I feel this is still an area where there’s got to be an ongoing process that carries on to continue refining how we work.
Nurture the development of our SU members for them to advance student life for both Medicine and BMB students to the best of their ability, be on hand as a professional pillar of support throughout the year, and most importantly of all, work to ensure it’s an enjoyable experience for everyone!
As above, I’ve reflected on this with our 3rd aim and my response would be the same. I really feel our committee have shown immense resilience in the last year, despite very few of the regular socials and “fun” parts of being on the SU taking place yet astronomically greater workloads. It’s certainly been a worthwhile experience, if not challenging, and if there’s one thing I’ve seen it’s that all our SU have truly become better people. I’ve watched them all grow and develop in many ways in the past year – I’ve seen it and couldn’t be more proud of them all!
Overall, one year is extremely short in an institution’s timeframe and just not enough to make long standing change in all the areas we’d like, but we’ve definitely more than made the most of our time and been able to make strong steps and secure significant advances in our main priorities. What’s equally amazing is the amount of work we’ve done in so many more areas that just didn’t feature in our manifestos, which shows just how unpredictable and bigger the learning curves are than any of us could ever imagine when running for the SU!
Ultimately, I didn’t do this role because I thought it would be fun. I certainly didn’t believe it would be easy.
Despite the difficult year it has been, I would not hesitate to do it all again.
The last year has demonstrated why our SU exists, and it has been needed probably more than in any other year in our history.
We’ve been there for our students when they’ve needed us most.
And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.