University campuses can be like mini-communities unto themselves. They have recreation centers, dining halls, libraries, computer labs, and much more. But most students are unaware of the wide breadth of services financed by school-related fees. Here are the five campus resources that every graduate student should know and use.
One of the best pieces of advice I received as a student was "Take your librarian out to coffee at least once a semester." Universities hire full-time librarians assigned to the major subject areas. These librarians are particularly knowledgeable of rare documents, collections, and uncatalogued resources waiting to be processed. Additionally they have the ability to order books, journals, maps, data, and other resources graduate students may need. This semester the African American studies librarian was instrumental in identifying multimedia and encyclopedic sources pertinent to my course, and I plan on working closely with the Anthropology and African studies librarians when I begin writing my dissertation.
2. Writing Center
Graduate students, especially in their upper years, have a tendency to dismiss the writing center as a resource reserved for undergraduates. While you may not need to take all of your papers there, the writing center is a particularly good place to take your conference abstracts and statements of purpose. The writing specialists are good at identifying jargon and offering suggestions to make your writing more pithy and concise. If you have a longer document like a dissertation, it may be worthwhile to pay a professional copy editor for his or her services. I regularly refer my students to the writing center and use the service to review my publications before sending them off to prospective journals.
Many universities provide some sort of gym access to their graduate students, and some public gyms offer student discounts. We know the importance of staying healthy as graduate students but the gym is one of the least understood resources on campus. Aside from access to the standard equipment, campus gyms offer a number of services like free group classes and diagnostic tests. For a few extra bucks -- and cheaper than a regular gym -- you may be able to purchase additional services like a professional massage, personal trainer, or specialized fitness classes. Since I've been a graduate student, I have taken Tai Chi classes and plan on establishing a weekly routine when the semester slows down.
4. Professional Services: Tax, Legal, and Dental Services
The law school and medical school are other resources that we, as graduate students, should visit more regularly. Once a year I pay a visit to my university's law school to take advantage of their free tax preparation services. Many of the aides are students themselves and have a keen eye toward identifying ways for college students to maximize their return, including how to properly claim school related expenses and income from fellowships on your exemption. In some cases universities may also provide legal services for their students. When confronted with a bad landlord, I turned to the university's legal experts to delineate my rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Finally, medical schools can be equally as valuable for graduate students. While all universities provide some sort of student health services, dental students have to accrue a certain amount of clinical hours and usually provide basic dental services such as cleanings for free or at a reduced price. Not all universities offer these services but it’s a good idea to inquire as many have established partnerships with independent institutions that offer reduced rates for similar programs.
5. Student Government and Graduate Student Union
When I first came to graduate school I never considered participating in student government. However, I recently discovered that our student government had senate seats designated specifically for graduate students that go unfilled every year because no one applies for them. While many of us are strapped for time, working in student government can be a great way to give back to your university and help make some critical decisions that affect everyone's education. Over the past two years our student government has voted to finance our library staff so that it can remain open 24-hours/day. Similarly, some universities have full-fledged Graduate Student Unions that can be invaluable for handling grievances and negotiating better contracts for graduate assistants. Last year our graduate student union lobbied on our behalf to grant us better healthcare and maternity leave, and just last month, we received a 4.4% increase in wages due to the union's bargaining efforts.
Bonus: Your Local Library
Although not situated on campus, your local library is another important resource that many of us fail to use. I frequent my university library on a regular basis and have been known to sleep there from time to time. However, I have found it useful to maintain a library membership at the local public library as well. While the university has most of the books I need, the local county library offers digital subscriptions to popular monthly magazines that can be downloaded on a computer or tablet. As a member of the Alachua County Public Library I get access to the latest electronic editions such as Men's Health, The Economist, Macworld, and Smithsonian Magazine.
What are some campus resources you have used as a graduate student? How have they helped you through school?
[Image by Flickr user Gates Foundation used under creative commons licensing.]