Find out what life is really like at Durham University

CollegesPostgraduateStudent experience

Setting up a brand new college community

Eighteen months ago, I sat in my very first job interview. The job in question was the one I am grateful to be doing now: student intern in the Office of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Colleges. In short, I would be spending my working hours connecting with Durham’s Colleges, and the wealth of wonderful people who work within them.

In my interview, I was asked why I wanted to work in the Colleges Division. I answered that being in a College had taught me as much about who I was as my degree subject had done. Being part of a College community is a curiously cohesive undertaking, even if you don’t necessarily get involved in College life. From the very first day on campus, each student is a member of a ready-made ‘family’ of people from different countries, backgrounds, and academic endeavours. I remember noting that, having been part of a College at both Durham (postgrad) and Cambridge (undergrad), I knew that collegiality was something that would remain with me in years beyond.

I had been asked the very same question in 2013. I had received invitation to interview at St John’s College, Cambridge, and I was terrified. When asked why I wanted to join the College, I mumbled something about Wordsworth having studied there, that the chapel was beautiful, and there was a women’s hockey team. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate what a College had to offer, but I soon realised that it was more than sports teams and accommodation blocks.

Artists impression of South College

Some six years or so later, and College life is the very foundation of why I chose to remain in Durham as a postgraduate, and as a staff member. This year, Durham’s 17th college – South College – opens to students for the first time, and I am utterly thrilled to be one of the first. As one of the first students, I get to play some small part in shaping the College identity.

It is an opportunity far too hard to pass up. A new student community means new Common Rooms, bringing a breadth of new voices and stories; each of which will lay the foundations for the future of South College.

What is a Common Room?

Student life at Durham is shaped by our students, with every college having representative bodies that are usually known as Common Rooms. Each is made up of elected voluntary student officers, including an Executive Committee. They represent the students from their college and organise many of the events and activities.

As an undergraduate you can become a member of the Junior Common Room (JCR) or a Student Representative Council (SRC). Postgraduates may become a member of a Middle Common Room (MCR), Student Representative Council (SRC), Graduate Common Room (GCR) or a Senior Common Room (SCR).

A pioneering spirit

The very first students to join South College are pioneers in this regard and, whilst we have already recruited an enthusiastic bunch of willing students from amongst the other Colleges, there is still chance to become one yourself. Current students are welcome to transfer to South College and apply for a Pioneer Scholarship.

I can’t wait to get stuck in. in a few short months there will be the whirlwind of planning for Induction Week, recruiting team leaders and members, deciding on a Winter or Summer Ball (or both…), and the themes of formal dinners throughout the first term. The list is never-ending, but it is not as daunting as you would think. It is truly the opportunity of a lifetime: shaping a Durham College based on not only the people within it, but with the world around us, and the desire to make an impact upon the life of every student who chooses to walk through the door.

Artist impression of South College kitchen facilities

South College will be somewhere to be inspired and to grow. As a student at South College, there will be ample opportunity to take advantage of first-class facilities within an environment committed to freedom of speech and engagement with current affairs. There will be real partnership with the local community, and a determined drive to make the community in College one that is for everyone who wishes to be a part of the journey. At South College, we will take note of the great residential Colleges we exist amongst, but will endeavour to forge our own path and our own distinct identity at Durham University.

Find out more about South College and the Pioneer Scholarship by visiting the website

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Laura Day

I am currently both staff and a student at the University. When I'm not in the office, I am studying for a PhD in English Literature, focusing on the literature of Cumbria, where I am from. I'm also the first student member of South College and founding member of the Senior Common Room (SCR).
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