Meet our students: Eleanor Jones

19 January 2012

Joining the University of Sydney debating society comes with a number of potential perks - there's the possibility of world travel and the chance to pit your intellect and wits against some of the best young minds from around the globe.

But if you speak to top University of Sydney debater Eleanor Jones, the pragmatic reason to throw yourself into the world of competitive argument might just be that seasoned debaters shine in job interviews.

"Debating is a skill that definitely teaches you to think on your feet and articulate your opinion in a way not usually demanded of you in real life," says Jones, the current holder of the best speaker title from the Australasian Debating Championships.

Eleanor believes experienced debaters have the edge in job interviews because they have learnt to use words with precision.

"I think in conversations people tend to use their words quite casually, but the one thing debating does is teach you to use your words carefully, so they are not as open to question as they might otherwise be because the one thing you can guarantee is that there are always people who will question what you say in a debate."

Many student debaters find part-time work as government advisers, Eleanor says, adding that in recent years many University of Sydney debating graduates have found work in the behind-the-scenes world of policy development as "high up policy advisers in state and national government".

"It is a natural inclination of debaters to be interested in policy and policy reform because that is what they spend so much of their time thinking about," notes Eleanor, who is studying a combined arts and law degree.

Debating society graduates from earlier decades have sometimes skewed more towards the political class - including the federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, and former prime minister John Howard. Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby and 702 breakfast announcer Adam Spencer are also former society members.

Given her debating success - Eleanor and teammate Daniel Swain have just returned from the 2012 World Universities Debating Championship in Manila, where they reached the grand final- it is somewhat surprising to learn she is an accidental debater.

"One of my friends at O-Week really wanted to go along and join the debating society, and she didn't want to go alone so she dragged me along," explains Eleanor, who surprisingly never made the NSW Schools Debating Team, despite a stint debating for her former high school Ravenswood School for Girls.

Team members train for at least a couple of hours a week throughout the year, and for up to six hours a week and more in the weeks leading up to major tournaments. Although preparing for specific topics is near impossible, they do spend time honing their knowledge of current affairs, such as the Arab Spring.

So what makes a good debater? "Someone who is able to divorce their own opinions from reason," says Eleanor.

"One of the interesting stereotypes about debaters is that they are argumentative and abrasive in person. Whereas I think what makes a good debater is someone who can curb their own views."

According to Eleanor, if you are interested in debating and thinking about which University to go to "you could not find a university that is more supportive of debating than Sydney".

The University of Sydney Union has backed the debating society since it was established in 1874. In recent years it has provided a subsidy of up to $3000 for each student for the World championships, and $2000 for the Australasian championship. The union sent 10 debaters to this year's World Universities Debating Championship and 21 to last year's domestic tournament.

This has helped create a proud record of success - the University has been ranked the best in the world at debating since 2007, ahead of both Oxford and Yale.

Says Eleanor: "That I only became good at debating at the university speaks to how good Sydney's debating program is and how generous the union's support of the program is."

For more information, visit the USU Debating Society website.

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