Many of you might be wondering what a PGSA is; it’s your Post-Graduate Student Association. Most departments have one. They are the hard working graduate students and post-docs that organize a number of different types of events and are your representatives at PGSS council meetings. If your department doesn’t have one, talk to PGSS. It’s likely you could start one up!
Different PGSAs have different levels of presence just like how students of different departments have different levels of participation. They might run a variety of events; some run conferences, or social events, or even trips. I’m currently an executive member of BGSS (Biochemistry Graduate Student Society) and as our council year draws to a close I thought I’d write about the benefits (and frustrations) of being part of a PGSA.
Make new friends. This was probably the biggest benefit of joining BGSS for me. Grad school can be isolating at times, but having joined BGSS I’ve meet many other students from different labs. Even if we don’t all become besties, it expands your professional network and helps with collaborations. I’ve found it much easier to ask a BGSS colleague for help than approaching random people with only a cursory introduction. Plus, the professors and administration begin to know who you are, which brings its own set of advantages. Conversely there are challenges with this too, you won’t get along with everyone but dealing with interpersonal friction is a learning experience in itself.
Resume builder. Frankly, an executive position looks good on the CV. I mean, don’t join just to put it on your CV, you need to participate and do the work. And then you can put it on your CV. Furthermore, you gain a lot of “soft” skills by working in a team environment. It’s something tangible you can point to when you want to talk about leadership, organizational or communication skills, as well as actually developing those skills.
Managing Expectations. This is the frustration part. Not everyone is going to be as invested as you are, both fellow council members and all the other students in the department. It can be a big letdown when you spend the time and energy organizing these events and your turn out is lower than expected. Worst is trying to get people to participate and everyone tells you they are too busy. But as discouraging as it is, that’s life. I try to remember that even if only a couple people get something out an event, well then that’s enough! Being able to managing expectations is a valuable lesson.
Make a Difference. It’s corny, I know. And I’m not saying our bi-monthly Pub Night or our Valentine’s Day CandyGrams are going to change the world. But I think there is real benefit in our Poster Day events that allow students to present their work and offer travel awards or our Career events I’ve talked about before which strive to increase awareness of non-academic career options, something I think is lacking. These sort of events were helpful to me before I joined the council and I appreciate the effort that goes into them more now. And if you have an idea for an event, you have the support and (usually) funds to make it a reality.
And it’s fun!
So if any of this sounds like something that might interest you, I encourage you to reach out to your departmental PGSA. Different councils have their elections at different times, some take general members on all year round.
And since I can’t resist but promote my own council, BGSS elections will be starting in a couple weeks. If you’re in Biochem, we’d love to have you!
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