Past Sabbs: What do you do now?

Being a Sabbatical Officer is hard work! So what have past Sabbs done after finishing their year[s] in the role? Straight into work? A holiday? Let’s find out…

Patrick O’Donnell: YUSU President, 2020/21 and 2021/22
I’ve always enjoyed campaigning and bringing people together to make positive change happen. This was something I was really lucky to do everyday as a sabb and I knew I wanted to continue in a role which allowed me to work on wide range of campaigns, where no two days are the same.

I am now a communications consultant at a purpose-driven public affairs and PR agency in London. In short, we work with a range of organisations to help them tell their stories in the media and to influence politicians on everything from net zero to the cost of living.


Rohan Ashar: YUSU Activities Officer, 2022/23
A Sabb year is often someone’s first experience of working full-time in a professional environment. Translating your existing skills into a new environment is a process in itself, and one that everyone probably repeats throughout their careers. Many of the basic skills inevitably gained from being in a professional environment will set me up for my next career moves. Sabb roles are very multifaceted, so I developed a huge variety of transferable skills and experiences which could apply to a wide number of different industries and jobs. My time as a Sabb further helped me to understand my strengths and how I can adapt them to a diverse range of situations or opportunities, which might influence what roles I decide go into in the future!

I actually had to finish my degree, because I deferred a few assessments from my 3rd year and was on a course extension. I have also done some stand-up comedy gigs, which is the more exciting part! Now that I’ve completed my studies, I’m looking to start figuring out my career properly.

 Matt Johnstone: YUSU Academic Sabbatical Officer, 2020/21 and 2021/22 
Being a Sabb gave me such an insight into what career I wanted to go into, but I also feel like I’m going to spend my life chasing that level of job satisfaction! I really leaned into a niche area of policy, and it’s opened up such a specific part of the Higher Education sector for me. Another benefit to being a Sabb is that you get to know so many people across the country in similar roles, as well as those in senior roles in the sector – great for your LinkedIn network, and really helpful when looking for jobs!

After being a Sabb I took a (very well-deserved) 3 week break, and then started a job working on a change project at the University. 14 months after starting that job I came back to the Students’ Unions, and I’m now working in the advice service helping postgrad students. I’m putting all of my institutional policy knowledge to good work and loving it!
Sophie Kelly: YUSU Activities Officer, 2021/22
Aside from giving me some great examples to use on my CV, it helped me to figure out what I wanted to do next and I was really grateful for the mentorship I was given alongside opportunities to meet professionals in the careers I was exploring.

Immediately after leaving YUSU, I joined the Department of Health and Social Care as a government Policy Advisor. Within 12 months I was promoted to the role of Senior Policy Advisor and now work for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I was also elected as a local councillor for Hull Road ward in May 2023, which is a role I carry out in addition to working full time. It is a huge privilege to be able to represent the community where I’ve lived for the past 6 years since moving to York as a student!


Dominic Smithies: YUSU Community and Wellbeing Officer, 2016/17
I’m probably the poster child for seeing a Sabbatical Officer year as a successful grad scheme, as it’s pretty much defined my career so far. I went to university to study Philosophy – a brilliant course that taught me lots of useful skills, but wasn’t vocational. It was from my time as a student and a Sabb campaigning on issues that mattered to me, engaging other members of the community and being able to turn my insights into good policy that opened doors in my career. I could work in policy, community engagement, research, comms, politics, etc. in pretty much any sector – but as the welfare officer, this lent itself to staying in the Education or the VCSE sectors. And I am! And not just on any topic, but I’m still working in student mental health – the primary issue I focused on as a student campaigned and as a Sabbatical Officer.

I went into hibernation for a couple of months to recover before I started my role working for a national student mental health charity. The transition from working local to national was definitely a challenge but it’s been so useful to be able to reflect on my experiences and bring them to the sector-wide landscape.

20th February 2024