Dinner with Stanford University Administrators at the Lake House

Dinner at Lake house - Saad Bhamla

One of the reasons I decided to serve on the Graduate Student Council (GSC) was so I could influence some decisions regarding the graduate students and hopefully raise issues which would hopefully benefit everyone.

I can say that today was a successful day towards meeting that objective.

Earlier this year, when I was contemplating serving on the GSC, I had the following concerns – One, was that I was a PhD student and I didn’t have time for all this “nonsense”. Second was that I had no clue as to how I would help out and what difference it would make whether I was or wasn’t on this council. Third, was it worth my time and effort?

I justified it to myself in this way: One, that as one of the lucky few to be at Stanford as a graduate student, it was only fair that I give back to the community. Now whether it be through the GSC or some other way, that was something I had to think about. And it wasn’t “nonsense” – I had been to a couple of the GSC meetings and what they did, directly and indirectly influenced my life as a graduate student. So it seemed reasonable to be part of the decision-making body instead of leaving the job to someone else.

And thirdly, I chose out an easy alternative – when I got elected I told them my responsibilities would be related to Public Relations (PR) and specifically, online PR for the GSC. I argued that I wrote a blog and I knew how to spread the message using Facebook etc. They agreed to let me do it.

And you can see what I’ve delivered. With the help of Xi, the GSC website is now regularly updated. I send out weekly emails about grad-events.

So, today we had dinner with the administrative staff of Stanford University and it was attended by the following people:

1.      Greg Boardman, Vice Provost for Student Affairs
2.      Koren Bakkegard, Director of Office of Community Standards
(formerly Judicial Affairs).
3.      Tom Black, Associate VP & University Registrar
4.      Shirley Everett, Sr. Associate VP of Residential & Dining Enterprises
5.      Ira Friedman, Associate VP & Director of Vaden Health Center
6.      Chris Griffith, Associate VP & Dean of Student Life
7.      Patti Gumport, Vice Provost for Graduate Education
8.      Ken Hsu, Assistant VP & Director of Graduate Life Office
9.      John Pearson, Director of Bechtel International Center
10.  Laura Wilson, Chief of Police

Amongst other great ideas and issues brought up by everyone there, I’d like to highlight one specific issue which I suggested I’d be willing to help spearhead.

And that idea is this:

I’ve realized that graduate students can often become stressed out about their personal and professional lives – whether it’s funding, research, relationships etc. stress is inevitable. And being in a competitive environment doesn’t help that fact. I’m one of those people who strive to achieve a balance between my personal and professional life. But that isn’t always easy. And I imagine that just like me, each and every graduate student goes through a high stress point over the course of their PhD.

More than once. And there’s not always an easy solution to some of these issues.

Now, I have benefitted a lot from events organized by the VPGE, like the 12@12 sessions – where 12 graduate students, from different programs across the university, get together at 12 pm over lunch, and have discussions. There is no set agenda but only what we come up with in the initial meetings. The sessions are moderated by a faculty member (Sheri Sheppard) who add their voice.

Then there are other events and faculty lunches and I’ve attended a few- Dave Evans, Robert Siegler – such that I’ve become good friends with them – in fact, whenever I’m running the Stanford Dish and bump into Bob on his evening walks, I stop and join him in his walk and we discuss all random things including research.

Combining my experience of blogging, faculty lunches, faculty walks, and one-on-one coffee sessions with students, I proposed the following:

1. Increased number of faculty lunch events with smaller groups of students. From my experience on these lunches, I’ve realized that sometimes more than finding a solution to one’s problem, one finds solace and comfort in just realizing that other graduate students are going through the same problems. Additionally, engaging in informal discussions with faculty members who are in no way connected to your research field, is empowering in a sense because it gives you a glimpse into the minds of these successful people, you may wish of becoming yourself, one day.

2. An online graduate student community blog. I blog on this website and receive enough feedback to realize the importance of an online communications platform. When new graduate students join Stanford, the Graduate Life Office (GLO) organizes events called Grad 101 – where they gather a panel of senior grad students and having a discussion. But it’s organized only once a year.

I think an online common blog (inspired by this), where different graduate students blog together about various issues, whether scientific, their hobbies (or their cats) would definitely help open up a dialogue between students. And importantly, I’ve noticed that as a graduate student at Stanford, one is pressured into giving the impression that we’ve got everything under control and have perfect life and work balance. Which in majority of the cases is not true.

So, instead of sidelining some of these issues, or addressing them once a year in a 30 minute panel, we could have them on a more regular basis. And accessible to all years of graduate students – because you just don’t need peer-to-peer counseling in the first year of grad school. You need at regularly, from different people and last but not the least, have the opportunity to give back to the community.

Here’s what I’m asking you:

1. Do you think these two ideas make any sense? If yes, do you have anything to add. If no, do you have any alternate ideas? I appreciate criticism, but only if you can suggest alternatives.

2. If you blog or write, would you be willing to be part of this online graduate student community blog with me?


Shoot me an email, or leave a comment below.



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