Running the MMU Computing Society
Recently, I received a message from one of my former lecturers on behalf of a student who wished to reestablish the MMU Computing Society. In this blog post, I will share the advice I gave to help those looking to start student societies. For context, I volunteered for the computing society during my first year of university (2016/17), served as the secretary during my second year (2017/18), and acted as the chair during my last year (2018/19). I will provide a breakdown of these roles later in the post.
Broadly speaking, the Computing Society focused on hosting and promoting events relevant to anyone interested in learning digital skills, including coding, game development, animation, and more. We organized socials, workshops, hackathons, and engaged with industry experts both within and outside the University.
Before delving into the various types of events we hosted and promoted at the Computing Society, I want to provide some general advice and share useful information for those interested in running a society. While it's not necessary to know every detail I'm going to discuss before starting or getting involved in organizing a society, it's important to remember that the Students' Union is there to assist you throughout the process. Additionally, your students' union website often has a resources page, such as the MMU Students' Union Committee Resources, which offers more in-depth guidance and official recommendations.
A society can have various roles, with some being common to all societies and others specific to certain interests. Typically, universities require two or three mandatory roles to form a society. At MMU, this included the Chair and Treasurer. Societies can also have unique roles; for instance, a Dungeons and Dragons Society might have a "Dungeon Master" in charge of organizing games.
The chair is the primary role and is usually the first mandatory position to be filled. The chair is responsible for making decisions on behalf of the society and leading meetings. It's worth noting that societies can be run democratically, allowing all organizers, regardless of their role, to have an equal vote in decision-making.
The vice-chair serves as a backup for the chair, assuming their responsibilities when they are unavailable.
The secretary is typically responsible for taking meeting notes, ensuring tasks are completed, and managing social media, similar to a company's secretary.
The treasurer manages the society's finances, including signing off on purchases made on behalf of the society. I will discuss finances in more detail later in this post.
Each university has its own financial policies. When starting university, students often receive a certain amount of free credit to spend at the Students' Union. At MMU, this amount was £20. Societies commonly charge a registration fee for joining, usually ranging from £3 to £5 per member. These fees are often collected during Freshers' Fair, where students can explore different societies. For example, if a society sets a £5 registration fee and attracts 50 members during Freshers' Fair (which is reasonable), they would have a balance of £250 to spend on society-related expenses, facilitated through the Students' Union.
Typically, our society's balance was used to organize events, such as providing refreshments for socials and hackathons. I will discuss event organization in more detail later in this post. There were two main methods of purchasing items: either having the Students' Union directly pay for them or purchasing them ourselves and seeking reimbursement. The former option is usually a longer process that requires advanced planning, while the latter requires pre-approval to ensure successful reimbursement, which can take a few weeks for processing.
Societies like the Computing Society often have a close connection to a facility with staff who can book entire rooms. While you can book rooms in the Students' Union through their designated system, we found it more convenient to approach relevant faculty staff to book rooms within the faculty. We frequently consulted Marie Carroll at MMU, but it's important to note that staff members and processes may change over time and can vary at different universities.
Student socials are usually the simplest events to organize. They can be hosted in the Students' Union, a faculty room, or a nearby pub. These events often have no specific agenda. Depending on the venue, we would order pizza through the Students' Union using the society's funds, organize gaming sessions (e.g., Unreal Tournament), or simply have informal discussions over drinks and food. These examples reflect the social events we organized during my tenure.
The Computing Society used to host various workshops, including "Intro to x" sessions covering topics like "HTML & CSS," "Git & Github," "Cryptography," and more. We developed these workshops based on the interests and expertise of the individuals running the society.
Additionally, we reached out to faculty members to inquire if they could teach workshops under the Computing Society, and they were often willing to do so. For example, Huw Lloyd conducted an Introduction to Lua workshop.
Beyond our own workshops, we also promoted other activities and events that would interest those seeking to learn digital skills. At MMU, we had the Science and Engineering Extra-Curricular Awards, which hosted several events in this regard.
The most valuable events included talks by experts in the field, often found on platforms like Meetup and Eventbrite. We promoted these external events, which eventually led to the creation of the CompiledMCR platform in 2017, during my second year at university as a Computer Science student. The platform aimed to aggregate events from various sources.
On the topic of Meetups, at MMU we specifically had an event called "Meet the Meetups" organised by Richard Eskins, which happened from approximately 18:00 to 21:00, introducing around a dozen organisers of such community groups across a variety of different topics, usually hosting regular events that could be attended by students.
At MMU, we also organized a yearly event called "Get in the Game," targeting Games Design & Development and Games Technology students. This event featured industry experts offering general advice and conducting CV reviews.
Please don't feel overwhelmed by the advice provided. Running a society is meant to be enjoyable, and the Students' Union is available to support you throughout the process. If you have further questions or need clarification on any of the points discussed, please don't hesitate to contact me.