Beyond the basics of classroom interactions, there is so much more that can (and should) shape the graduate learning experience. One hidden aspect, having open and informal idea exchanges with peers, is a critical though underappreciated part of education and can be particularly critical in graduate school with the added pressure of creating and presenting a capstone project that typically requires extensive individual work and study. Having opportunities for informal interactions can increase a student’s sense of belonging which can in turn have a positive impact on grades, skill development, and program completion. However, just knowing how important informal interactions are does little to actually facilitate the time and space to allow them to happen. Additionally with a lot of coursework taking place online, it can be difficult to foster a sense of belonging or build community in the traditional sense.
Much of the community I’ve been able to build is because of my position as a Graduate Assistant. Without this, I would have little to no time to informally communicate with other grad students, especially this semester as the only course I have with other students is entirely online in professional/academically-centered spaces (D2L, zoom moderated by professor). Another part of the struggle is that informal communities are built not found because there is no community to find – with grad programs only lasting 2-3 years – each community in grad school is being reconstructed by a new set of students to meet their needs every few years. With the added weight of COVID interrupting, knowledge from previous grad students was not passed down to a new generation (the Graduate Student Organization fell apart around this time and has not been able to recover) and I’ve been questioning lately how much of this should be led by students and how much needs to be maintained by the university – because the university should recognize that they have just as much at stake in this as the students. But this is keeping in mind that some parts of the institution are checked out too – it’s not just the students. Teachers, staff, and administrators are all facing burnout with COVID further exacerbating the disconnect for them as well.
While this all may read somewhat cynically, there is a bright side to this –the community we build now will be our own; without the knowledge or lived experience of what previously existed there aren’t necessarily rules or traditions for us to uphold to determine what our grad community has to look like. With this in mind, please take the survey below to provide your feedback for what events, spaces, and platforms you would like to have available to help shape our community and allow us get the most out of our grad program experience.