To Be or Not to Be… Involved in Campus Community

Courtesy of Flickr User: nyealumniadvisor

Courtesy of Flickr User: nyealumniadvisor

My calendar is a mess.  I have recently been trying to get myself organized and into a routine for this 2011-2012 academic year, and it has been challenging.  I have taken on a leadership role on campus, I have a Graduate Assistantship to pay for my education, I am adjuncting, and there’s something else…. oh, that’s right, COMPS!

That being said,I have been thinking a lot about service, leadership, and the role that my non-academic opportunities have played in shaping both my personal and professional life.  So often in graduate school, we get swept up in the grind of the academia that we lose sight of the world outside our library, lab, or apartment.  For my Master’s degree, that was certainly the case.  But here in the PhD program, when I most likely should be of singular focus, I have found that such on-campus participation has enriched my experience (and my research) in new and unexpected ways.

As I started my first year as a PhD student, I had taken on an assistantship with the Graduate Life Office.  Looking back, I realize that set in motion a journey of leadership, community connection, and networking that I did not anticipate upon arrival.  Beyond the work I have done for my program, I have participated in a number of committees, events, service projects, and organizations.  Each experience has given me a new perspective on the rich life of a university and the many ways in which the university-community connection is an essential part of the well-being of each student and scholar.

Throughout my time, I have heard a variety of opinions from students on the importance of connecting with the community.  Graduate students are oftentimes at a different stage in life, with different obligations, schedules, and expectations as to what study on that university campus will look like.  Sometimes advisors warn students away from too much on-campus participation, for fear it will detract from their studies.  Others are commuting and by that logistical barrier, they simply do not have the time.

Despite these challenges, there are so many ways in which one can get involved in their community, and the positives far outweigh the negatives.  Serving in a leadership role gives you resume-worthy experience that defines you as a job seeker.  Service to your community is oftentimes an immediate reward of connection and pride amidst a trek (your PhD process) that sometimes feels like a marathon without milestones.  Even attending a coffee hour or Graduate Student Senate function allows you to meet new people and to establish cross-disciplinary ties and applications for your research.  What we as grad students aspire to is not just to trudge along and get the work done, but to have our research yield benefits for the world at large.  Taking that time to meet those in other fields will allow you to think of new applications for your work, and to see the potential in collaboration and innovation for your work.

In sum: do something that challenges you.  Undertake a project that nourishes your soul as well as your brain.  Take on a leadership position to help affect change in your community.  Make an effort to move beyond your lab or office to meet people across the university.  If you do, you will discover that it is not merely another drain on your time, but a valuable opportunity that enriches your graduate student life (and possibly the life of those around you) for the better.


One Comment on “To Be or Not to Be… Involved in Campus Community”

  1. KRED says:

    While pursuing my Master’s degree, I must admit that I wasn’t very involved in campus life. Between working my regular retail job and not living on-campus, it was really easy, in fact, to be completely oblivious to any on-campus activities. I was technically a member of the local ALA student chapter, but did not seriously participate. No doubt, this contributed to my feeling of detachment from the program, university, and student body.

    I think the key is, as you explain, to not just look at other activity on the campus as a whole or within the student body and find something fulfilling to do. Tutoring, volunteering with a service organization, giving tours of the campus, taking water aerobics or learning badminton, these activities help you (re)connect with people outside of your program. Otherwise it’s all too easy to forget that there are other people out there…

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