Megan Buntin, University of Central Florida
February 20, 2017
Every graduate student I have known has had a moment where they think, “Where do I fit in?” Graduate students are constantly balancing two realities – performing like full-time professionals but, adhering to the student way of life. I was able to overcome my constant questioning by creating a space in which I could be a graduate student; I could be a student, an advisor, an employee, a leader, and a learner – at least for a little while.
The idea of creating a grad forum came about when a peer and myself were voicing troubles we were having due to not being able to have certain conversations with supervisors and, feeling as though the classroom was not the place to discuss these topics. Both the workplace and the learning place didn’t seem to fit the environment we wanted because we would constantly face scrutiny instead of speaking freely with peers.
I thought about the things we were receiving in our program and through our various assistantships. The one thing was constant among everyone in my program was that there was no time for graduate students to get together to discuss what was going in the world of Student Affairs without having to worry about wording things correctly. After all, we are still figuring out who we are as professionals and leaders and it is hard to navigate that process if we have apprehension about who might be listening in.
So what did we do? We built our own table to sit at. Through our Student Personnel Association and informal get-togethers, we were able to construct an air of understanding amongst each other that we would not be limited by discomfort, thought of ramification, or misunderstanding to discuss the topics that we didn’t spend much time on anywhere else. We talked about the realities of our program, things we wished we had known earlier, our internship and practicum opportunities, dealing with students in distress, how to approach difficult supervisor situations, what we would like to see for future cohorts, and anything else in between. It was hard to convince some individuals to come out, but if you invite everyone bowling or over to someone’s house, it becomes easier to talk about what has been bothering us with likeminded individuals who also happen to be your peers.
The “table” we built was intended to be for the students in our program. But, we quickly learned that talking about the same things with the same people hindered our learning. So, we invited others to the conversation. We brought in professors to discuss their experiences in the field and internationally and professionals working across functional areas on campus to gives us insight. Even though we needed our own space to talk, we relied on introducing expertise and new ideas so that we could continue to learn as a group.
My advice for other grad students looking for a way to connect with others in their program, or a way to discuss topics among peers, is to create it yourself. You get to design that space, create an atmosphere that lends itself to the culture of your program and peers, and gives you ownership of a unique opportunity to learn about your peers through professional and personal opportunities. Don’t keep to a strict schedule and remember to have fun with those around you. If you have a student organization, use it to your advantage. And, lastly don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. We are a part of a dynamic field that is currently changing at a rapid pace, so it will be important that we create a sense of self to hold onto throughout the job search and professional positions. Creating your space now will encourage you to own your space later.
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