March 2018

Why You Should Get Involved With Student Organizations teaser image
As graduate students, it’s easy to make schoolwork the center of our existence. After all, continuing onto post-bacc implies a certain level of commitment, especially if you’re thinking about trying to go all the way towards becoming a tenure-track professor. In undergrad your relationship with academia is casual. Kind of like a high-school romance, you’re dating, but you’re doing so with the understanding that things probably aren’t going to continue on past graduation. Once you make the leap and continue onto post-bacc, though, there’s a palpable sense of commitment. While all your peers are trying to find jobs in the “real world” (or already making bank) you’ve made a job out of writing papers and reading textbooks. Plus it’s so different from when you were an undergrad, with class sizes of a dozen or so students who range from the twenty-year-old fresh-faced overachievers all the way to the adults who manage to churn out papers while working full-time and raising three children. School, it seems, is no longer an exploratory fun-zone… but maybe it should be.
            I think that there is a lot to be gained when we try to apply a bit of an undergraduate perspective to our graduate experience. I believe that opening ourselves up to participating in the full range of student life, particularly at A&M, can be transformative. Before I go on, though, it should be noted that I am one of those aforementioned fresh-faced overachievers who has almost no responsibilities compared to many of the students I share my classrooms with. I don’t have children, the only “job” I have comes in the form of the occasional side-hustle and I haven’t even been legally allowed to drink for a full year. All of this is to say that my perspective might not be as applicable to those students who type out their papers while sitting in folding chairs on the sidelines of their child’s soccer game.
            Now that we’ve established some minimal self-awareness, lets get onto the reasons why you should consider adding the commitment of a student organization to your graduate studies.
 
#1 There just isn’t a lot to do in College Station
            If you’re from a rural town where Friday-night fun consisted of throwing tortillas into the local lake and watching ducks descend upon your offering, you might not relate to this one. If you are from the sprawling metropolitan areas of Dallas, Houston, Austin, or San Antonio, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you’re not even from Texas and instead are used to living in the kind of cities that grow upward instead of outward, you probably think this is the epitome of litotes. The truth is, if you have ever been faced with trying to plan an exciting date night or entertain out-of-town guests, you have felt and lived the reality of our entertainment opportunities (or lack thereof). Getting involved in student organizations is honestly the best answer to this.
            Back when I was a hyper-involved undergraduate student, I didn’t even have time to be bored. I was far too busy trying to juggle the socials, philanthropy events, conferences and meetings. While you might not want to cough up the $35-$150 in dues, it gets a lot easier when you think about the fact that it is a semester-long investment in expanding your limited entertainment opportunities. Also, how fast would you burn through $150 in the city? The last movie I went to in Dallas was $20 for a single movie ticket. And no, it was not 3D nor was the venue any nicer than the $5/ticket theater in College Station.
            This brings up another point: join something you’re going to have fun doing. Student organizations should be fun and fulfilling. Commit yourself to a cause you care about or write for the Battalion so you can finally see your name in printed in a newspaper. Think about student orgs through the lense of having fun while also being productive and you’ll start to see the attraction. Sure, it’s not the same as vegging out in front of Netflix but I can promise you... When you raise your first $10,000 for a charity you care about (with people you love!) vegging out is going to lose a lot of its appeal.
 
#2 Graduate students can join many (or even most) student organizations
            There are plenty of organizations specific to graduate students, but you shouldn’t feel the need to limit yourself to those if you’re willing to spend some time hanging out with the undergrad crowd. You might walk through MSC open house or rudder plaza and assume that most student organizations only accept undergraduates, but the reality is that unless they are a freshman leadership organization (FLO), then they probably don’t have any policy against graduate students joining. Many probably haven’t even had a graduate student apply and would be excited to have one show some interest. While you might risk feeling a little awkward at first around students who may or may not be in a dramatically different stage of their life, you might also find yourself being sucked back into the relaxed-undergrad vibe—if you can relax long enough to smile and crack a joke, that is. Sure, you probably won’t be able to stay in this mindset after the meeting/event ends (after all, your research is calling) but even being able to take an hour-long vacation into the pre-professional world of student orgs can revive your spirits in a major way.
 
#3 The community is small enough to actually feel
            If you play your cards right, this campus of 50,000+ students can actually start to feel quite homey. You start an 80 member organization, put on a 100 participant charity-walk, dedicate a year to working with 25 other counselors so you can help welcome in 150 new freshman and before you know it, there isn’t a place where you can go without seeing someone you know. I say this with confidence, because I’ve done all that (and more).
            That might sound like a lot of work, but if you refer back to #1 you will remember that this isn’t actually work, it’s more a side-effect of having fun. And maybe you think that trying to manage dozens of unpaid volunteers sounds like more of a chore than anything, but the great thing about A&M is that the students are so motivated that—if you find yourself a part of a good team—you can start to make a noticeable difference in the community. And I’m not going to sugar-coat things and say that I haven’t had plenty of sleepless nights and tears shed over trying to pull off some almost-impossible event, but I’m pretty sure that’s more related to my role as a functional workaholic. Okay, fine… A mostly functional workaholic.
            Plus if we’re being honest, graduate school often results in a blurring of the lines between recreational activities and professional ambitions (or is that just me?). Like that time I sent my boyfriend the draft of my first blog article for OPAS to read over, only to find it littered with comments like “I can’t tell what your thesis is” and “you need more research to support this”. And to be fair, the writing did sound like more like a research paper than a blog post.
My point is, using student organizations as a temporary escape from academia can sometimes be the best way to relax, entertain yourself and make an actual difference in this little community. It might be uncomfortable at first when you don’t know all the unspoken-rules but, if you try hard enough, you might actually find yourself regaining the ability to have a little fun. Plus, after all is said and done and your two-to-six year degree is finished, you’ll be all the better off when you’re able to walk into a job interview without the dead-eyed stare of someone whose only company has been lab-rats or Cushing library’s Shakespeare-folio collection.

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Jessica Skrobarczyk
Jessica is a masters student in the Education & Human Development's Teaching, Language, and Culture department.

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