Collaboration and community were at the heart of the Geography department’s first Graduate Student Forum held on Saturday January 26th. The forum was organized by Graduate Director Jennifer Fluri, Graduate Program Assistant Karen Weingarten, and Graduate Representatives Diego Melo, Erika Schreiber, Kylen Solvik, Tasha Snow, Gabriella Subia Smith, and Xi Wang. Twenty graduate students in total attended the all-day forum that consisted of a series of activities designed to build community and facilitate discussion about how to improve the grad program.
The morning started out with coffee and bagels, short introductions, and icebreakers. Students guessed how images related to the work of other students in the department, and students explained their own research as if they were talking to a seven year-old. The department houses research across the field of geography, yet many students have reported feeling that there are few opportunities to learn about other students’ research outside of their cohorts or respective lab groups. The introductory activities gave students a chance to both explain and understand grad student research in unique and accessible ways.
After introductions, grad students self-sorted into groups based on a number of different criteria in order to find common ground and think outside the box: level in the grad program, international or domestic, favorite seasons, cats person or a dogs (or neither!), and finally by subfield: human geography, GIS, and physical geography. From there, everyone split into groups of four to five with representatives from the different subfields. Each group had to develop a collaborative research project idea that required the use of skills, methods, and research interests of each person in the group.
The final activity for the morning broke students up into five focus groups to discuss important issues such as academic funding, personal finances and housing, geography community, advisors and mentoring, and career development. Students moved around the room so they had a chance to address their concerns in regards to each topic. Grad Reps recorded feedback on posters that were then posted around the room to ignite further conversations.
At lunchtime, seven faculty members joined the event for informal conversations followed by a panel discussion on faculty career paths and struggles they faced in grad school themselves. After the panel the group was split into two groups, one for further discussion on career development and job searching, and the other for more conversations about topics discussed in the morning. The faculty and students discussed ideas for improving the department, such as in encouraging better cohesion and interaction across cohorts and subdisciplines.
Overall, grad students widely considered the event to be a successful opportunity to get to know other students in the department, learn about others’ research, find opportunities for collaboration, and have a space to discuss important issues. Graduate Director Jennifer Fluri and the Grad Reps hope that the department can continue to create spaces like the forum for grad students to build community and conversations across the discipline.