How to manage a real, grown-up organisation

Econometrics student Saina Abeshzadeh flew to Singapore, sat next to the Dutch king, attended meeting after meeting, and exchanged text messages with the RUG’s rector magnificus. She was the board of director’s student assessor. Now she’s looking for a successor: ‘I’m hoping for someone who can bring a new perspective.’
By Thereza Langeler

What’s it like to help manage a university when you’re still a student?

‘To me, it was really exciting. It still is. The president, vice president, and the rector are all thirty or forty years older than I am, and they have a lot more experience than I do. It’s not at all easy to go against them. On the other hand: it’s no use to them either if I just agree to everything all the time. They want my advice.’

So you didn’t agree to everything all the time.

‘No, absolutely not. Whenever it concerned important things I would ask students from various faculties to discuss the issue. We came up with a plan for employability, for instance, that allows both the RUG and the study associations to organise events.’

‘I also discussed internationalisation and possible branch campus plans with other students. I had no actual say in Yantai, but I did inform students about it and asked them their opinions and what they felt could be improved or done differently. I also talked to them about internationalisation in general: why we do what we do, and what does that mean for regular RUG students? I’m quite happy with what I accomplished in that regard.’

Do you get along well with the board? I mean, they’re forty years older…

She laughs: ‘Yes, they’re all really open, and the atmosphere is informal, which is nice. We communicate over the phone and by text, tell each other what we did on the weekend.’

Speaking of weekends, do you have any free time left these days?

‘My predecessors would say that the student assessor job takes fifty or sixty hours a week. I didn’t spend that much time on it, but then again I didn’t go to all the events, especially not those at night. But it is a full-time job. I have meetings with the board of directors, I’m on committees, I have to meet with other assessors, and my own work groups. I’m in meetings practically all day. And in my first month here I had to read up on board documents all the time.’

‘But the past year has also been really amazing. I got to go to a conference in Singapore and give a workshop to university managers from all over the world. The Tata Steel Chess Tournament was held at the university, and I happen to be a huge chess fan. On King’s Day I was in the audience for Ben Feringa together with the Dutch king. And I learned how managing a real, grown-up organisation works, which is really cool.’

Unfortunately, all cool things come to an end. Who’s taking over for you?

‘I’m still looking for a successor. The selection committee had a candidate in mind, but the board didn’t feel confident he could bridge the gap between students and the board, which is very important for student assessors. They need to serve as a liaison between students and the board.’

‘Other important characteristics assessors need to have? Erm… integrity, honesty – I’m not the best with these kinds of words. You need to be dependable, and not play games with the people you’re dealing with. I hope it’s someone who brings a new perspective, who’s new to the world of managing, and who truly represents normal, everyday students.’


04 July 2018