From the perspective of: Dana Vanderburgh (MA International Studies- Africa regional focus, PhD student in Anthropology, PhD Minor in African Studies)
There are LOTS of opportunities to get involved as a graduate student at IUB; this is particularly true for students in African Studies since we are such an interdisciplinary program. Take this opportunity as a graduate student to get involved in as much as you can. Get involved in graduate student-led academic initiatives, such as the Graduate Students in African Studies association and Graduate and Professional Student Government, get involved in departmental activities, such as the Friday Colloquiums and Pathways workshops offered through the African Studies Program, professional associations like the African Studies Association, and other interdisciplinary groups geared towards grad students such as the Global Studies Graduate Group. All of these provide you opportunities to network with others, practice sharing your research and interests, and develop the hard and soft skills of being in academia. The more you participate (virtually or in person!) in these types of events, the more people will come to recognize you and come to learn about your interests and strengths. While getting involved in academic-related groups and associations, it is also equally important to get involved with other university and community groups that cater to other interests you have outside of your research!
ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF
It is hard being a graduate student! You are an adult but are still oftentimes treated as a “student” by the institution and some faculty members. This often cultivates the “imposter syndrome” feelings that are often associated with graduate student education. Firstly, remember that, as a graduate student, you are a colleague and professional and that you deserve to be here and already know a lot!! While you are welcome to listen to and accept the advice of others (and most people at IUB give great advice!), always remind yourself that you ultimately are the only person who truly knows what is best for you. Do not be afraid to tell your advisors and other mentors what you think is best for yourself and why. This includes letting people know what kind of mentorship you need (a hands on or hands off approach), your research plans, what your desired degree timeline looks like for you, what opportunities you want to apply for and more. The more open you can be, the more you can feel in control of your degree and feel like you have ownership of your own progress.
ASK FOR HELP
Advocating for yourself also includes asking for help when you need it! You won’t ever know everything and there are lots of people at IU whose job it is to help graduate students in various aspects of their graduate experience. When in doubt, ask! You can ask other students, your advisors, your DGS, other faculty mentors, staff members of various institutional entities, such as the Graduate Mentoring Center, and other professionals like mental health counselors. If you have a question or concern, it is likely that others do too and that asking will help solve issues for others. Additionally, a lot of entities have opportunities and processes for disclosing information and asking for help anonymously if you are concerned that asking for help/revealing information may put you in an uncomfortable position or at risk.
ESTABLISH WORK/LIFE BALANCE
Grad school can be overwhelming and all consuming. A lot of the times it feels like the work never ends! While you do have to dig in and put it a lot of extra time and effort into your graduate studies, remember that you aren’t just a graduate student; you’re a human being and adult with lots of other interests. Make sure you build time into your schedule to do the things you love like; working out, reading non-academic texts, spending time with friends/family, being outside, playing music, crafting, etc. By scheduling out these activities into your week, you will be more likely to do them as well as feel like they are as important as your studies (which they are!). Don’t ever feel guilty for doing things that you love and that help you feel like a whole person. Making sure you take some time away from your studies helps you avoid burnout and enables you to do better quality work because you’re happier and less stressed.
When in doubt, apply for that grant, fellowship, scholarship, writing group and whatever else crosses your inbox that you feel is connected to what you do. You never know who might be interested in your work and what might follow from a successful application. Even if you don’t get selected, frequently applying to opportunities helps you develop the skills to effectively articulate your research and goals and advocate for its importance in various arenas (academic, governmental, community programs etc.).
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH FACULTY
Take the time to actively build relationships with your faculty. This includes your advisors but also extends to other faculty members who you interact with. Since ASP is a very interdisciplinary program with lots of affiliated faculty across various units and disciplines, there are ample opportunities to get to know faculty across the university who can help you by becoming a mentor, sharing resources
BUILD RELATIONSHPS WITH PEERS
Your biggest support system is your network of peers! Not only do you have the chance to build incredible friendships with people who share similar passions and interests to you, but these friends and colleagues and graduate school will often become your friends and colleagues in your future career. It is inspiring to learn what they are studying and to put your brains together to think about how you can collectively make an impact in your respective fields. So, go to the welcome events, the graduate student socials, and make the time to grab coffee.
Your degree and research plans will encounter obstacles and things will change. It’s inevitable. There is no way you can prepare for global pandemics, life events, field conditions, funding shifts and changing interests (among others). The best thing you can do is to keep an open mind and be prepared to be flexible. This doesn’t mean that changes and disruptions won’t be hard, but knowing that adapting to changes is part of the graduate school experience is one of the best ways to help you best respond to them. Similarly, keep an open mind to where your degree will lead you! Your graduate degree will prepare you for so many things and does not lock you into a single career outcome. Remember that everything you are learning and creating will serve you in whatever comes next after you graduate and for all the years to come!