The Many Benefits of Joining a Graduate Student Organization (Review)
When I was a graduate student, I was voluntarily told to join the graduate student government at my university. I reluctantly agreed to participate because no one else was willing to represent my department and we needed representation on the school board. I didn’t expect to like the experience at all. I thought that I should better use my time in the service of my research instead of attending graduate student organization meetings and committee work. I decided to get involved only that year and planned to convince someone else to take on the role the following year.
To my surprise, once I started participating, not only did I really enjoy being part of the organization, but it also turned out to be an extremely valuable experience. It has helped me gain new skills and knowledge that serve me well in my current role supporting the career and professional development of graduate and postdoctoral students. I developed such an appreciation for the work of graduate student governments that I continued to be part of the organization for many years to come, and I still stay in contact with the graduate student organization at my institution. current as a staff member.
Due to my own personal experience, I encourage those of you who are graduate and postdoctoral students to become active within your own graduate or postdoctoral organizations. You might share some of the same concerns I had as a grad student: it would be dull work, it would take time away from your academic responsibilities, or it wouldn’t generally add value to your life.
I want to address each of these concerns because I believe that as graduate students you are missing out on a great opportunity when you pass up the chance to get involved in your graduate student government. I’ll outline some of the key benefits, and while I’m primarily focusing on graduate student organizations due to my personal background, most of what I’ll talk about applies to postgraduate organizations as well.
Make an impact and make your voice heard
As a graduate student, I was not fully aware of the scope of the work that the graduate student organization at my university was doing. I had imagined long, boring meetings about topics that only touched me tangentially.
In contrast, I have learned that graduate student organizations often play a critical role in weaving the graduate student experience into an institution. They represent the interests and voices of graduate students at various levels of university administration. For example, as a member of the organization, you may choose to advocate for issues that impact graduate students at the departmental level. You could also serve as a graduate student representative by communicating with the university’s president and board of trustees.
The scope of issues with which these organizations engage is wide, ranging from social or cultural events to the development of policies and procedures governing the lives of graduate students and the institution as a whole. While the specifics vary with each institution, you may have the opportunity to serve on task forces or committees on many topics within graduate student government.
Let’s say you care about durability. You can probably volunteer to participate in the Institutional Committee on Energy and Sustainability to learn and contribute to the university’s strategy related to it. Perhaps you are passionate about advocating for the needs of veteran students or international students or want to help with parking issues on campus. You can find out if a specific workgroup is struggling with these issues and join it. If not, you can propose to create a new committee to discuss issues related to these concerns.
Additionally, administrators often look for representatives who can share the graduate student perspective on various forums. You can contribute to the university’s budget discussion committee or join the faculty council. You might even have the opportunity to serve on the hiring committee for a new provost search. The knowledge you glean from participating in any of these opportunities would be invaluable, regardless of your discipline.
Whatever your interests, you can probably find or design an engagement opportunity that motivates you within the context of your graduate student organization. By joining, you get the chance to contribute at an institutional level and have an impact on issues that matter to you.
Develop professional skills and competencies
The value of involvement in graduate student organizations goes beyond the many benefits of advocating for something you care about. It provides an excellent opportunity to develop additional skills and skills.
Alumni organizations serve a variety of functions within the institution and student life. They need help with all sorts of tasks, from planning a marketing strategy to managing budgets. By engaging with these groups, you gain not only leadership experience, but also a number of other skills. If you want to learn certain skills that you are not able to learn through your studies, you can often turn to a graduate school organization to gain practical experience. For example, as a member of a graduate student organization, you will need to interact with people from different disciplines and backgrounds, including administrators, faculty members, and graduate students from other departments. It’s a great way to hone your collaboration and communication skills.
Many of the skills you gain by engaging with these organizations will be valuable in careers in different sectors, both within academia and beyond. Involvement in graduate student organizations also demonstrates to an employer that you will be an engaged member of the community. This signals that you have taken time to invest in your professional development outside the limits of your domain knowledge. Often your involvement in these groups also provides you with life experiences that serve as good examples to share in response to interview questions on a number of topics, from taking initiative to managing conflict or to balance different priorities.
Invest in personal well-being
Many graduate students worry about how long it takes to become actively involved in graduate student organizations. The way of thinking about the time you might spend serving in graduate student organizations is best understood as an investment in your professional and personal growth. I just described how it relates to professional development; now, let’s explore how graduate student organizational engagement can also lead to improved personal well-being.
Being part of graduate student government can help you find a community of passionate and motivated people. If you join a graduate organization, you’ll likely meet other graduate and postdoctoral students who might be going through a very similar journey and struggling with issues that you might be able to relate to. It’s a great way to meet new people and make friends. Getting involved in these groups can help foster a sense of belonging and brotherhood among graduate students. Through my graduate student organization, I have met some inspiring people. We shared resources and information, listened to each other, and supported each other in navigating higher education as best we could.
Additionally, people from diverse disciplines or with different backgrounds than yours can enrich your life by exposing you to a whole new perspective on research or life in general. Finally, taking the time to immerse yourself in something other than your academic work or other responsibilities can help avoid burnout.
In short, as I have discovered, there are many important ways you can benefit from joining such an organization. So go ahead and take a look at the graduate student engagement opportunities available at your institution and get involved!