18

Student societies are often fantastic fun. At the university I attend there are some members of societies who don't attend the university, they just come along because they happen to like an unusual hobby (Quidditch, table top rpg, fencing...). I have never seen any lecturers or professors however.

Is it considered odd for a lecturer or professor to be part of a society of their own university? Why? Would it still be possible? I would like to work in a university (in a research orientated position) and if there was no serious disadvantage or barrier I would defiantly want to be part of societies there.

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    Quidditch Is it seriously that popular there that you have intramural muggle quidditch? – Compass Feb 13 '15 at 16:40
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    Yes, there are a few teams. quidditchuk.org/teams/find – Jekowl Feb 13 '15 at 19:06
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    Heck I went to college in Texas and our team went to the World Cup my freshman year! :) – Philip Feb 13 '15 at 20:50
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    I had the impression that student societies membership was restricted to students. – Cape Code Feb 13 '15 at 22:14
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    Well my question title starts "In the UK" so... – Jekowl Feb 14 '15 at 19:44
21

In essence there is no problem, here in the UK, for the lecturers/professors to join societies. I experienced it first hand, both as a student and lecturer, and loved it. But you have the following ethical responsibilities:

Socializing and Not Dating: Most social clubs go out a lot. For example, they might go to some other part of the country to do hill walking, or pub crawling which involves loads of drinking. The bottom line is that you can socialize with students, but don't lose your mind and start dating a student while camping somewhere. Some social clubs are hubs for dating, so join them for the cause and socializing, and avoid dating altogether.

Close Friendships: Here in the UK, in my experience at least, some students are looking for an easy way out of studying. They are young, and therefore they just want to get by. Don't create a situation where they can take advantage of you and abuse your friendship.

Overall, know your limitations. Deal with students outside the university in a respectable manner, and don't get too comfortable. At the end of the day, you are the lecturer and they are the students.

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    All correct, but I guess one should distinguish between your students and students at your university. My university, for instance, would have no quarrels at all with me dating a business or psychology student. A computer science student would also be ok, but then some amount of caution would be needed that she does not actually do courses of my involvement. – xLeitix Feb 13 '15 at 14:50
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    @xLeitix In my opinion, it is not ethical to date a student, period. University is our work place and students' social ground. We need to have a life outside our work place. – o-0 Feb 13 '15 at 15:08
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    We'll have to agree to disagree then. – xLeitix Feb 13 '15 at 15:45
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    @ChrisWhite it sounds like administration overshooting wanting to avoid trouble. – Davidmh Feb 13 '15 at 19:10
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    I think this must be very cultural. In a university as wide and diverse as Cambridge University, where I was an undergraduate, much of this would be impossible. Unless you were very very outstanding it would be unlikely for more than a minority of the student body to even know who you were, let alone for you to have a reputation. I'd be surprised if it were any different today. If the student is in a different college and department, there just can't be any ethical problems. – Francis Davey Feb 14 '15 at 10:30
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Student societies are about more than just shared interests: they are also a place for students to escape from the pressure of their studies, to blow of steam, and to relax. Having an authority figure around (and a professor is most definitely an authority figure) generally has a strong chilling effect on these aspects of a student social life. With a professor around, students are likely to feel uncomfortable complaining about classes, bad-mouthing other professors, just plain being profane, and other such things that they would otherwise do---and this goes for both undergraduates and graduate students. Having other non-students there, like alumni or random community members, does not have the same effect, because they are not in authority over students. Likewise, it doesn't matter if they're your students or not: you still belong to the same group, and they generally don't know how much or how little you actually interact with other faculty in other areas.

In short: it's a student space, and a professor in that space can disrupt it. Except in rare cases, then, I would strongly advise not to join: don't harsh on their mellow.

  • Huh? Just avoid the societies with 1st and 2nd years, and anywhere there's anything compromising or controversial going on. Beyond that should be harmless. – smci Feb 14 '15 at 18:52
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    At my university, there are some student organizations that are almost completely run by students, and some that openly and proudly have a mixture of students and professors. (One organization in the latter group takes care of feral cats that live on our campus.) So I would say it's important to understand the dynamics of a group you want to join as a professor before deciding whether or not it would be appropriate. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Feb 14 '15 at 22:18
6

I don't know about the UK, but I can answer for the US. In short, it depends and you can usually find out for the particular society or club you're interested in.

There are some organizations that are deliberately welcoming of faculty. Many of them have websites, and it's common for them to specifically say that faculty and staff are welcome to attend. In this case I think these organizations can safely be taken at their word.

I would be reluctant to join any student society or club that was mostly social. But if the club is centered around some specific activity (e.g. fencing) my experience is that such clubs are more welcome of participation by faculty.

Finally, it's often easy to look up contact information for the (student) leadership of the club. Get in touch, and ask if you'd be welcome to join. If you decide to try it out, it is polite to keep your eyes and ears open for the possibility that you are intruding a little bit on a student space; if you feel at all uncomfortable, it is polite to thank everyone at the end of the meeting and not return. But you might instead be warmly welcomed, and have everyone express the hope that you'll come again.

4

This answer is built upon my personal experience in the Netherlands (A neighbor country of the UK). It basically supports the answer by @Dave Rose.


During my study I attended numerous activities, and though most were just attended by students, some where also attended by lecturers. Some key observations:

  1. Only activities with a very open nature were attended (hosted in a public place & it was also common to bring flatmates for example)
  2. Most activities were without lecturers, and if they were there then always just 1 or 2 at the same time
  3. They did not act as lectures (typically they won't have 10+ beers or stimulate people to get drunk, but will also not criticize those who do)
  4. They don't bring up the activities afterwards in public (especially nothing embarrassing)
  5. They mostly let students come to them rather than approach them proactively (may also be because of their general personality)

Of course it was a bit surprising at first, but given the previous five points, my fellow students and I didn't mind and just considered it to be 'the more the merrier'.

  • In response to @Mozart: The students in my study typically viewed PHD students as students. So this answer is mostly about those above PHD level. – Dennis Feb 17 '15 at 14:20
2

At my institution, all student societies must have a "senior member" who is a member of academic staff in order to be officially registered (which helps with funding/sponsorship).

In practice, there's plenty of postgraduate student involvement in societies, and the youngish academics (esp. postdocs and one year research fellows) don't really stick out if they get involved. Some of the more academic societies have very high faculty involvement, and this does make the socials relatively sedate affairs.

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