Mario Savio speaks at a rally held by the Berkeley Free Speech movement, December 9, 1964.
Many graduate students may feel isolated or over-extended. For most of us, nearly all aspects of grad school can seem solitary: research, writing, comprehensive exams, etc. But there are opportunities on campus that can help us overcome our solitary nature while also building important skills for our future. Beyond campus government and administration, student organizations provide us with opportunities to demonstrate our skills while addressing the world’s sources of injustice or organizing events with like-minded people, and there are few better qualified to start these kinds of organizations that graduate students.
I encourage grad students to become active in student organizations or found them because the time we are actively involved with campus life is a rare time when we will be able to interact and organize with a diverse multitude of like-minded individuals and groups. As with student-led movements in history, being on a university or college campus gives us the potent opportunity for engaging in activism that may produce noticeable change for a better world. But student organizations have secondary benefits that will help you become a better scholar, giving you marketable job skills, building your CV, engaging with the campus community, networking with other students, and interacting with national organizations.
- Build your leadership skills: Many careers now demand leadership skills—and employers often list leadership in job descriptions. Student organizations, whether formed for service, activism, or fun, allow you to develop leadership skills by working with other students. Organizing events, coordinating with other groups, fundraising, and sponsoring activities requires leadership and interpersonal management. Moreover, motivating group members, keeping members interested, and inspiring action are critical to student leadership, and building these kinds of skills will make your future endeavors much easier.
- Broaden your résumé: Becoming the leader of a student group is an excellent way to expand your résumé and show future employers that you’re serious about getting things done. You can illustrate humanitarianism, organizational prowess, attention to detail, or leadership simply by including your student activities on job applications. As fellow GradHacker DeWitt Scott observed, service is a crucial part of scholarly development, and student organizations help foster that growth.
- Engage with the campus community: If you feel isolated or lonely, here is a great way to meet people that have similar interests as you. Starting a student group or joining an existing group is a great way to interact with the people around you and break out of your shell. And if they like the same things as you do, then you have an easy icebreaker for making new friends. As Anjali Gopal noted, student groups help you bond with your peers as well. Joining a group like an honors society or an organization for people who have the same major can help you make friends who care about the same stuff you do.
- Join national organizations with local chapters: Many student groups are actually branches of national or regional organizations. These organizations often hold conferences, workshops, training seminars, and other gatherings to bring together members from across the country (or world). These meet-ups may give you the opportunity to give a conference presentation, share research, and network with other scholars. And these organizations also provide scholarships and grants, meaning that becoming a member may put you in contention for some much-needed funding.
- Become a better scholar: Student organizations will help you become a better scholar through service, building skills, engaging with other students, and participating in national organizations. It’s difficult to overstate the value added to campus life by student groups, not only in terms of service opportunities and networking, but also for building tightly knit campus communities that bring all kinds of students together. Grad students should be at the hub of these organizations, who usually possess strong interpersonal, leadership, and organizational skills.
Student engagement starts with the students. In this case, student organization can and should start with grad students, who not only have many of the desirable skills needed for student groups, but also need to engage with various scholastic communities to ensure career viability in the future.
What did you learn in student organizations? How can grad students better utilize student groups on and off campus? Let us know in the comments.
[Image from Flickr user Sam Churchill, used under Creative Commons license]
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