File this one under “Why haven’t we thought of this before?”
I went to a meeting today to work through the establishment of a student association for PhD students at the GMU School of Public Policy. Now, technically, we already have a student association of which all PhD students at SPP are members – the SPP Student Association, or SPPSA. It’s a great organization that represents all students within SPP.
What is the need, then, for a PhD student association? Why set up an organization that differentiates the PhD students from the masters students? A couple of reasons come to mind. First, since I can remember, the leadership has been comprised of masters students and as a group, it is more beneficial to masters students. And so it should be. We have approximately 800 masters students at SPP and far fewer PhD students. Second, and probably more importantly, the PhD student experience is nothing like the masters program student experience. Sure, we take classes in the first part of our program and some of those are the exact same classes masters students take. But once the coursework is over, the similarities quickly disappear.
I remember professors telling us during the PhD Student/Faculty Retreat right before our first classes began that this experience would be unique. They said that as we progressed to our field work and then to our dissertation writing, we would go from a very social experience during which we saw our classmates regularly to a very lonely experience when we would think we were the only student going through the program. They were right – the transition is very real. And it brings with it a unique set of challenges that requires a lot of self-motivation.
A couple of my fellow PhD students recognized the need for an organization that understands the unique experience of PhD students and started putting things into motion a couple of months ago. They got a group of us together today to gauge the level of interest and to gather ideas about what needs the group would answer. It was a good discussion – there were about 20 of us there, which was a pretty good number. We left with some really good ideas that the leadership will work over the summer with the intention of having our first general meeting after classes start in the fall. At that time, we’ll elect representatives and hopefully work to implement some of the ideas that were brought up today and in emails over the summer.