• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


In Defense of Graduate Organizations

The many benefits to participating in your GSA.

February 27, 2018

Charlena is a former PhD student in Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University who plans to begin a their MPhil/PhD, in Gender Studies, at SOAS, University of London in fall 2018. Follow them on twitter at @cmichelleart or their Facebook.

After undergraduate studies, the idea of joining an on-campus organization may seem ludicrous especially with the other responsibilities entrusted to graduate students. You have deadlines to meet, office hours to hold, and not to mention your own personal life. However, getting involved with your Graduate Student Association (GSA) can be helpful to your overall graduate experience. If you’re on the fence about getting involved in your GSA, read further about the ways in which GSAs can offer support.

As you know, graduate school can be extremely difficult. This is a time when students are dealing with major life milestones such as marriage, homeownership, death of a loved one, or child rearing to name a few, in addition to the responsibilities of our graduate program. I encourage you to reach out to your university or departmental GSA. They can offer support in helping alleviate some of the issues you may face, including organizing around an issue, workshops and seminars for new skills, and spaces for self care. Many work alongside the university’s Graduate School and can help open a line of communication about your needs as a graduate student.

During your monthly student organization meetings, speak up about the problems you have and make suggestions that may benefit yourself and others. Other members of the GSA can help strategize how to best handle situations. Like, many of us have dealt with the never ending question: am I an employee or student? GSAs can be helpful in advocating for and working with the university to ensure that your rights and best interests as graduate student are met. Take advantage of the networking opportunities that GSAs provide via development workshops, because you never know who may be a guest speaker that can help you along your graduate career and after. Many of these workshops and seminars offer free food and who doesn’t love free food? Additionally, many GSAs organize monthly outings or events to recognize the hard work we do. This is a perfect time to spend a few hours away from your research, feel good about yourself, and recharge.

Sitting on a Committee
I am not here to tell you that sitting on a committee for a Graduate Student Association is an easy task, it isn’t. It requires organizing and working with others, meetings, coordinating with Deans, Provosts and faculty, and great time management skills. However, as someone who served as an Executive Board Member for my Graduate Student Association during my Master’s work, I believe the benefits were worth it.

Lindsey Oden’s “Start a Student Organization,” implores graduate students to be in touch with the roots of how many of our programs began—through student lead organizing. I don’t need to go into the leadership skills one gains from serving on a board, but the knowledge I gained from meetings with graduate faculty and staff to the intricacies of budgets and contracts and negotiating documents with university councils was priceless. It helped me see another side of higher education and what I could do with my advanced degree beyond a tenured faculty position.

I was able to be a voice for other students and help implement changes to university life no matter how small it may have seemed. Not to mention that I included this work on my CV, which made it stand out to my future doctoral program. Sitting on the Executive Board changed my graduate experience for the better—I was finally involved on campus and felt that I could contribute to my new-found community. For those of us interested in advocacy work or mentorship, working on the GSA board is a great way to explore some of those interests and ensure you stay connected to campus.

Interdepartmental Communities
In graduate school, many of us stay within our own silo and never venture to the other side of campus or even down the hall to another department. This is mostly due to the limited time we have to graduate, the required seminars, and our tight daily schedule. Taking part in your university GSA is a great way to meet other students from programs different than your own. For instance, my former GSA gave funding to programs that held interdepartmental seminars or workshops. This required programs to find common threads between their students and research. While interdisciplinary seems to be a new hip trend, my Executive Board’s mission to build these bridges helped students foster new relationships and find support during and AFTER graduate school.

Additionally, many university positions as well as professional positions are looking for graduates who are invested in interdisciplinary work. We can learn so much from others in other fields. It shows a commitment to teamwork, innovation, and open-mindedness. For many scholars, building community with others outside of their field is how they came upon funding opportunities or a new avenue within their research.

Speaking or working with graduate students from other departments can be another way to take a break from your studies as well. As mentioned before, we often spend so much time within our program and research, having time away to talk to someone outside of our program can be really helpful to avoiding burn out or even frustration with our work.

What are some of the ways you have benefited from graduated organizations?

[Image from Pexel User, Tirachard Kumtanom, used under the Creative Commons license]


Back to Top