As I observed in my previous articles from last June and October, as well as this past April, finding, cultivating, and sustaining community is a big part of graduate school. This is even more important now, as we all collectively continue to figure out how to navigate the future our current pandemic is creating for us. Thus, a source of community I have leaned on this past year for support and camaraderie has been the student groups and chapters I am a part of. Having been an online MLIS graduate school from the beginning, I have not had many opportunities to meet other people in my program outside of discussion boards; which largely focus on weekly course-focused topics and often do not encourage more colloquial interactions between students. So, I have tried to take advantage of any and all opportunities to meet people outside of my classes as I did not have the opportunity pre-pandemic to cultivate friendships and professional connections on campus between in-person classes, homework, and other personal obligations.
I have been involved with student groups since my first semester in graduate school; and have been a part of student leadership since the end of my first semester when I was elected to the executive committee of one of my iSchool’s student chapters after seeing and responding to an email sent by my department to students advertising vacancies on the executive committee. So, I have essentially been involved with student groups from the beginning of my graduate school experience; and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded because of them. During my time as a student group member, as well as a student leader, I have been able to not only network, build up my resume, and attend virtual professional conferences like ALA Virtual 2020 and SAA and CoSA’s ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2020 free of charge after my department paid for current student leadership to go; but to also cultivate friendships that have been a great source of support to date as attending graduate school during a pandemic has been a unique experience. So, in our difficult times, I would highly recommend all current and prospective students check out their iSchool’s student groups and chapters.
However, I feel I should mention that, while pursuing student leadership positions is a great experience students should consider, you do not need to pursue them to reap benefits from the student groups and chapters you may join. If you do not feel like you have the capacity to assume any more responsibilities currently, please do not let that deter you from joining any of the student groups and chapters your iSchool sponsors as a student member. I, personally, have assumed student leadership positions gradually throughout my graduate school experience to date as I felt I could do them justice; and I currently hold a multitude of different student leadership positions that range from group chair and associate editor to blogging assistant. So, there is no one way you can be a student leader and benefit from the student groups and chapters you are a part of. Additionally, please do not feel like you need to join every single student group and chapter your iSchool sponsors because, honestly, I do not think anyone has the time to be everything to everyone, especially now. I actually left the first executive committee I was elected to at the end of my term and did not seek reelection because I felt that not only did my schedule not really support it, but that my professional interests were better addressed by other student groups and chapters after doing more research on where I saw myself after graduation.
So, I would recommend researching your iSchool’s active student groups and chapters on their website and on department-related social media accounts to see which ones best fit you and your professional interests. Also, watch for announcements from your department about group and chapter events and vacant student leadership positions to find how you may incorporate student group and chapter membership into your graduate school experience and get involved. Lastly, if you do not see yourself reflected in your iSchool’s active student groups and chapters, reach out to your department and see if you can start a new student group or reactivate a dormant group or chapter as you may not be the only student that is not seeing themselves in active student groups and chapters and may be interested in establishing a connection with other students. So, in closing, I truly hope you find the community you may be looking for in your respective iSchool during your graduate school journey, however you may find it.