I read an article from last year that sparked this blog post. (You can check it out here to get thinking.)
If you took the time to read the article, great, and I look forward to discussing it in the comments. If not, basically graduate students that work as TAs or RAs are considered employees by the National Labor Relations Board and therefore are able to unionize to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Personally, I’m not to the point where I am advocating for a national graduate student union, but I advocate two other actions that can help individual departments and graduate schools.
Let me start this with a story. In my department, I have noticed through my first year of graduate studies that my department hasn’t really included graduate students in decision making on recruitment, social events, or practically anyone else. The graduate students before my cohort basically work in the labs and rode the waves up and down. That didn’t sit well with me. This year we had a discussion on the graduate program in our weekly seminar and some of those issues were brought up, and the immediate response was that the faculty were forming a proposal (without graduate student input) to form a graduate student committee to advise the department. By the end of the meeting, the department head gave us the permission to form our own graduate student committee without influence from the faculty. Less than 24 hours later, We already had a poll going around to set up a meeting to organize. Less than 48 hours later, the graduate student committee has transform into a full-blown departmental graduate student association. A draft Constitution was written, the organization was registered with the university, and we had a name: BcGSA. We came alive with energy and purpose to fill a void that was missing that would give us a full voice in the direction of our department with specific duties and activities that we would sponsor.
I’m not saying that you must organize into a full departmental graduate student association, but you still have to organize to collect the consensus among your fellow graduate students. But, the first goal is to have some sort of organization that allows your opinions to be heard and allow yourselves to be recognizing as an important part of your department.
Once you have organized, your group must outline clear priorities. BcGSA, my departmental graduate student association, has set our priorities in our mission statement: sponsoring recruitment or orientation activates for new students, awarding travel grants for Biochemistry graduate students, directing the student journal club, maintaining the peer mentoring program, and creating a cohesive and fulfilling social experience for graduate students. We know what we want to do, we know how we want to participate in our department administration, we know how to get this done. You may juts want to be a forum to express concerns, and that’s fine, but you need to prioritize that and make it known. Go as far with it as you want, BcGSA has outlined needs in our department and has set out to fulfill those needs. If everything is going well for you and your fellow graduate students, you may still want to for when things start to go the other way. Don’t get caught out in the rain.
As always, I anticipate your comments and any further discussion we may have. Thanks, y’all.