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Self-Advocacy 101


It's midway through the semester. You're getting what seems like hundreds of emails about student organizations, grants, and meetings, and it feels like your computer (and head) is about to explode! But, nothing seems to fulfill your research or personal interests.

Take a breath, close your email, and get out a piece of paper. Other than your classes, what sort of research do you want to do? Do you feel that it's represented by already existing groups, meetings, or courses in your department?

Graduate school can be defined by your ability to advocate for yourself. In a department of many, sometimes you have to make your own opportunities in order to meet your professional goals. There are several ways to go about this, but let's start with the easiest:

1.) Ask other students.

There's a good chance that you are not the only one feeling a sense of scarcity and lack around certain subjects. Talk to your peers, especially older students to see what

2.) Talk to your advisor

Visit your prof's office hours and take the time to tell them what you are interested in, what opportunities you are looking for, and learn to ask for help finding and making those opportunities! I cannot tell you how many amazing things I have been able to experience as a grad student simply because I sent my advisor an email that started with "So, I have been thinking about a project..." If you wait for the occasion to appear on its own, chances are, you will miss out on things that you didn't even know existed. Grad school is a wonderful place to take risks in your field, so start asking for things!

3.) Venture outside of your department

Believe it or not, but there is life beyond your building! Look at your research closely, and I'll bet that there is some overlap with other fields that could be cultivated into relationships with other grads and faculty on your campus. Ask someone for coffee, visit someone's office hours, and try to make some connections. Often, graduate students participate in small symposiums that are by nature somewhat limited to their own departments. Getting an invite to present as a guest can help open you up to feedback from differing perspectives and even publications!

The bottom line: self-advocacy means that you boldly believe in what you are doing, and that other people should get involved and support your venture. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. Got any advocacy advice? Let me know what has worked for you!