In my previous posts, I have regularly exalted the importance of finding and establishing a sense of community while attending graduate school. This is especially true when you are attending a graduate program online, where your interactions often occur over a learning management system (LMS), through video conferencing software or applications, or via email, text messages, and/or social media groups. It can be hard to rely so heavily on these technologies every day since human interaction, by principle, relies on the ability to form connections and relationships with people right in front of us, regardless if they are at work, at home, or around the communities we all live in. It can also be hard if you are someone who is completely new to online learning and was not exposed to it much, if at all, during your previous academic experiences. So, how can someone who checks one, if not both, of these hypothetical boxes find the same, if not similar, sense of community in an online graduate degree programs that they may have been able to in the past? Well, based on my experiences, there are many ways to overcome these difficulties with little extra effort.
During my undergraduate career, I completed most of my degree online because it was more cost-effective and fit my schedule the best at the time. In fact, it was not until I transferred from community college to university that I regularly attended classes on campus and interacted with more than a handful of people face-to-face. Now, fast forward to graduate school and I am back to where I was format-wise with my education, where I regularly use technology to communicate with professors and classmates instead to interacting face-to-face. I will be honest and admit that this change, while I had experienced it before while transitioning from high school to my first years in college, took a little bit of time to reacclimate to since I had gotten so used to commuting to campus when my schedule required it and interacting with dozens upon dozens of people regularly between attending classes, moving about campus, and just being present in the campus environment via participating in campus events and groups. However, I do not feel I have lost anything in experiencing this change because I have found community online just like I did on campus. It may not look like it did before, but it is still there to provide me invaluable support when needed.
So, for those just starting their graduate school journeys or considering taking the first step in get their journeys started, I would like to take some time to discuss how I have found community during my MLIS degree program so far and how you may find it, too. First and foremost, I have found it in my immediate family, adopted “framily”, and friend group as they have been there for me since day one. They have been there for me since before graduate school was even on my mind and they have provided me the strongest, healthiest, most regular support system I have as I have navigated my way through my first year of graduate school. It has not been an easy ride so far; but knowing I have had them has helped me more than words can express and I am forever grateful to have them by my side. I know not everyone’s core support system may look alike depending on their relationships with those around them; but when you find it, it is indispensable. So, if you do not have it yet, please keep looking. Surround yourself with people you trust and love that respect your boundaries and, most importantly, you and do not compromise and/or settle for less just to have people around you. This will play a crucial part in your success in your program, as well as your overall health and well-being while in school. So, you deserve to only have the people in your corner that support you without any self-serving ulterior motives.
Secondly, your classmates, professors, and other peers provide another important support system that is invaluable during your time in graduate school. There is no other feeling than connecting with people who are experiencing or have experienced the same, if not similar, feelings and emotions you are as you navigate your coursework. Being able to bounce ideas off of your peers and know that whatever you are experiencing in your coursework, your degree program, your job searching process, and your life are all experiences that others have had before you is an invaluable resource that can be found within program-related groups on social media, student groups sponsored by your university, and field-related professional opportunities like Hack Library School. Being able to connect with people like me through all of these means has made a huge difference in my graduate school journey since they have all provided me with the ability to connect with other people that I may not have met otherwise as we are all living in different geographic areas throughout and beyond the United States. So, while being an online student may have its drawbacks, it also has its positive aspects as you can establish a sense of community larger than you may have originally dreamed in places you may not have originally considered while attending graduate school via another format. Thus, finding a sense of community while in graduate school is not only important, but is available through multiple different sources of support across all mediums.