What does it take to run a botanical society?

What does it take to run a botanical society? We asked Shamma Rattan, president of the Oxford Brookes Botanical Society and the committee (Preena Patel, vice president; Alex Payne, treasurer; Adam Hall, social secretary; and Diljot Virdi, outreach officer) to give our student readers their top tips about starting and maintaining their very own botanical society. We would love to hear from other student societies too! If you are interested, please drop us a line.

Seeds for thought

Beginning university is a daunting task, from learning to cook for yourself to meeting deadlines; but it also presents a fantastic opportunity to start something new. The idea to start a society began after I attended the Gatsby Plant Science Summer School. There, like-minded students from a range of backgrounds meet, all with a common interest in plants. After returning to university, I was eager to spread the word about my time and experiences at the summer school. I then discovered that the Gatsby Charitable Foundation offers funding to individuals and groups who initiate projects that promote the importance of plant science, such as a botanical society. The seeds were sown. I applied for a grant and was successful!

Shamma, Preena, and Diljot getting ready for the 2016 Freshers' Fair
Shamma, Preena, and Diljot getting ready for the 2016 Freshers’ Fair

Taking root

Now an official society with the student union, a committee needed to be formed! The roles to be filled were: president, vice president, social secretary, and treasurer. These were advertised in lectures and by the biology faculty. Within two weeks I had a committee, a close-knit group of individuals well suited to their selected roles. An essential aspect to our success is how well we communicate. With effective communication in addition to well defined roles and responsibilities, we were able to work together and generate ambitious but attainable ideas and plans. We tried a few different ways (Facebook or email) to stay on top of tasks, but in the end we settled on WhatsApp as we could easily get in touch with the entire committee in a single convenient location.

First bloom

Our first term as an initiated society saw many well attended events including ice skating (joint with the Punjabi Society and Brookes Ice Society), and an excursion to The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew with exclusive behind the scenes access to the herbarium, which house seven million species of plants collected from around the globe! Through our pub quizzes, we managed to break down the barrier between students and lecturers, and engage students who would not get a chance to explore plants within their university course. This was very beneficial for everyone, as students are then able to make connections with lecturers and students with whom they may not normally meet.  Prizes were awarded to those who won the botanical round as well as the whole quiz, and were a great incentive for the students to take part.

We also took advantage of social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to increase awareness of our society and what our goals are! Using social media is great to maintain interest in your society and presents an unique ways to interact with members in a more relaxed environment. A handy tip is to post at a time that students are more likely to go on these sites – for example after lecture/early evening.

A fruitful future

As of now we have organised another trip to Kew Gardens and are organising a picnic in the Oxford Botanic Gardens. We are also arranging several more socials ranging from pub quizzes to bowling sessions. Moreover, we would like to engage younger generations by designing outreach activities in partnership with local primary schools.

What started as a thought has, rather quickly, blossomed into a wonderful and active society attracting many students and staff from faculties across the university.

We, the Oxford Brookes Botanical Society, hope that this inspires you to take action and take part.

Many thanks to Anne Osterrieder for her support and encouragement in developing our society
Many thanks to Anne Osterrieder for her support and encouragement in developing our society