Susan Preston

Geography BA (Industrial)
Job title
Project Officer for Athena Swan at the University of Leeds
Talking about
The Commuters' Society

Why did you choose to study your degree at the University of Leeds? 

I enjoyed geography and politics at A-level and wanted to pick a course that offered opportunities to be interdisciplinary but was focused on the human aspect of geography. I wanted to develop my critical awareness of social phenomena, learn how to write and develop my research skills. 

How did you find settling in at Leeds? 

It was a challenge at first. I struggled to make friends at university due to being a commuter student, which meant I couldn’t socialise in the evenings and weekends, as I was also working part-time. It wasn’t until I started the Laidlaw Scholarship in my first year that I found my feet and started to make friends and build connections across the university. The scholarship allowed me to meet other people who were from a similar background to me and it was a great way to make friends from a diversity of subject disciplines. 

I am incredibly grateful to all the students, staff and alumni who have supported me throughout my time at university as a student, and continue to support me in my new job as Project Officer for Athena Swan in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures.

My year in industry as an Equality and Inclusion Project Assistant in Engineering and Physical Sciences helped me to get this role, along with the data analysis skills I had picked up during my degree, and focus group experience from undertaking research internships. 

My role involves coordinating the Athena SWAN submission in my faculty. This means supporting working groups with collecting and analysing data and co-creating an action plan alongside staff and students to advance gender equality, whilst considering other intersectional characteristics/groups. 

What has your experience of university been like?  

It's been a journey of personal growth, overcoming barriers and realising opportunities are out there. My university experience has allowed me to develop my research and interpersonal skills to help me continually push for change in the fields of equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging.

A highlight of my experience has been participating in the reverse mentoring scheme this year. It has been a privilege to share my experiences of university as a commuter student with a senior staff member, something I could have only dreamed about during my first year! 

Around 15 students were paired up with senior members of staff at the university to share their experiences of coming from one or more under-represented groups. My mentee was incredibly supportive and has been incredibly helpful at adding momentum to the commuter student lounge project. They have taken my suggestions to better support commuter students to the relevant committees to improve the student experience. 

In 2018, you set up a society for students who commute to university. Can you tell us why you did that? 

I struggled to find compatibility between my lifestyle (and train times!) as a commuter student and the timing of social activities offered by the students’ union and its societies. 

The Commuters’ Society was created to allow commuter students from across the university to meet new friends and socialise at convenient times for them.

What are the best things about the Commuters’ Society? 

Firstly, the people are so lovely and supportive, I’ve met some of my best friends through the society. The events are really fun, such as games nights, food socials and crazy golf. 

The society will be getting a common lounge for commuter students, which aims to further increase commuter students’ sense of belonging on campus.