Get Involved in Academic Governance

A tip written by: Alex Kuhl, Michigan State University

One of the most rewarding and eye-opening things I've done as a graduate student was get involved in Academic Governance. You may be familiar with your student government as the people in charge of finding a big act for the spring concert. In reality, these governing bodies do much more than organize social events; they often have representation on dozens of university committees, and they probably have a graduate student counterpart. And like any volunteer organization, they have many more positions open than people willing and able to fill them.

I recommend getting involved in some capacity if you can, if only for one year. It is not overly difficult and is only as time consuming as you want it to be, but the potential benefits are numerous. First and foremost, you will get the chance to witness how bureaucracy really works at a college or university. In addition to learning Robert’s Rules of Order, you will observe the steps necessary to make effective change, and you'll come to appreciate why change can be so slow.

You will also have the chance to raise up your voice and represent your peers. If there is something you or your constituents want to see improved about the student experience, as a representative, you'll have the power to propose it and have it be heard. You'll engage with other students from diverse backgrounds and interests outside your field. You will also likely have the chance to interact with some of the most powerful people at the university, such as the President and Provost.

If serving in the capacity of the student government isn't an option, consider what else is available at your institution. There may be similar opportunities to serve as a student representative, either to the faculty of your own department, the dean of your college, or perhaps the teaching assistant's union, if your university has one. Lastly, if you don't see appropriate channels for representation to happen effectively in your department, consider forming a departmental organization for graduate or undergraduate students (or both) to facilitate a dialogue between representatives and constituents.

All of these experiences are invaluable to your growth as an academic - not to mention they look great on your CV. They indicate to a future employer that you are a leader within your community and that you are committed to service.

Questions about my experience? Contact me!

Twitter: @kuhl_hydgeophy