In a Cambridge college, ‘JCR’ can refer to lots of things. Standing for ‘Junior Combination Room’ (but confusingly, in Oxford colleges, ‘Junior Common Room’), it refers to a physical common room for undergraduate students, the body of undergraduate students as a whole and, in many colleges, to a committee of undergraduate students, elected to represent the interests of their peers. In the first term of my first year, I decided to run for election to my college’s JCR Committee, a decision that ended up shaping the following 12 months. Here’s some insight into my experience on the JCR, and more broadly into what it’s like to have one of these roles!
There are a wide range of JCR roles available for students to stand for - at my college, these include Food and Drinks Officer, Green and Ethical Affairs Officer, Sports and Societies Officer, among other things. It is common for JCRs to have officers representing groups of students within the college such as a BAME Officer, Disabled Students’ Officer and LGBT+ Officer, and roles such as President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer exist to make sure the Committee runs smoothly!
The role I took on in my first year was ‘Freshers’ President’, which meant I was tasked with communicating with my college’s offer holders, putting together resources to help them find out about college life, and organising a programme of events to help new students settle in when they arrived in the Autumn. This sounds like a lot of work (and it was), but thankfully the role also involved putting together a Freshers’ Committee, who helped throughout the year and made all the resources and events possible. Sub-committees are a good way to get involved in the organisation of things in a lower commitment way, and often exist for things such as the planning of Freshers’ Week and of big summer events like garden parties and balls.
So what are my reflections after a year on my college’s JCR? Well, it’s important to note that these roles are completely voluntary and unpaid, but can still be a lot of work - on some occasions, it felt like I was putting more time and energy into JCR work than my degree, or the part-time jobs I had over the summer! These occasions were quite rare though and on the whole, it was an incredibly rewarding experience that I’m very glad to have had.
As well as role-specific work, being on a JCR committee also gives you insight into how colleges work - attending weekly meetings allows you to see and discuss issues affecting the student body, and often work towards finding solutions. Depending on the role, you may also find yourself sitting on other college committees and getting to advocate for student interests. I found it very rewarding being able to have these interactions with college staff and see student ideas and initiatives materialise. Also, while I’d advise against running for JCR just for the sake of adding it to your CV, you can gain many useful skills and experiences through it - I feel better at managing my time now, have mastered the art of a Google form, and have gained a lot of confidence through interactions with student committees, college staff and incoming freshers!
Lastly, something I didn’t consider when running for JCR but am so grateful for is the social side of things. Being on committees can be a great way of making friends and strengthening existing friendships through the highs and lows of the year. JCR committees often span multiple year groups and courses, meaning they don’t just bridge a gap between students and staff, but can bring together people from across the student body. While I am no longer on the JCR (and haven’t been for almost a year, because I kept procrastinating this blog post, oops), I know the friendships I’ve built and skills I’ve developed through it will long outlast the 12-month term.
So, if you’re on the fence about running for a position on your college’s JCR, or even just getting more involved with the JCR (or another student society or committee), why not go for it? It can be a lot of fun and open up lots of opportunities. If you’re not yet a university student and are perhaps considering an application, then JCRs can still help you out! Most, if not all, have an Access Officer whose role is supporting the college’s widening participation work, and JCR websites can be a great resource for getting a student perspective on college life. A directory of contacts for Cambridge College JCRs (and MCRs, the postgraduate equivalent) can be found here 🔗.