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Grad Life at UF

Being a seventh-year Gator affords me a unique perspective at times. While it is true that many students continue their studies at UF seamlessly from being undergraduates, I find that most are working on masters degrees and, as such, leave relatively quickly. Also, the sheer number of students that did not attend UF for undergraduate (with many, many being international students) makes my perspective stand in greater relief with their perspective and background.

My perspective can be characterized by appreciating what changes UF has made since 2006, and recognizing the different attitude that the university holds toward graduate students. While getting scores of emails can at times be annoying, the number of important, relevant opportunities that are presented to graduate students seems to be greater. Moreover, the support systems seem to be institutionalized. Of course, some of this may be because I have had the time to find these resources and come, but I do seem to remember that receiving better emails happened almost overnight, and other double-Gator colleagues have made similar comments about the increase in respect we feel from the university. (Not everything is roses, but improvement is improvement. And tautologies are tautologies.)

The best example of this respect that I can give is that the administration really seems to listen to graduate students. The three ways I've seen it manifested recently are:

GSC logoGraduate Student Council: At UF, the GSC is an organization affiliated with the Graduate School and Student Government (SG) that is designed to meet the needs of graduate students. The key ways in which their presence has been felt recently are in the awarding of travel grants for students to present at conferences and in the changes made to the support systems for international students post-admission but pre-first day of classes. The administration seems to have been supportive of efforts to help students not be stranded at the local airport (more bus routes), not find themselves homeless the first few nights in Gainesville (specific, affordable temporary housing), and other orientation programs that are appreciated. While their seems to be some confusion about the role played by GSC in the overall university among graduate students (e.g. many people don't understand the need to vote in SG elections despite GSC being funded by SG), the faculty and administration seem to respect the aims of GSC.

I-Cubed logoGraduate Student Advisory Council: While GSAC has an unfortunate name (leading many to confuse it with GSC), it is one component of a coordinated effort by the Graduate School to improve the lives of graduate students. In 2009, several key members of the administration (including the Provost and Dean of the Graduate School) were awarded an NSF grant that has become the Innovation the Institutional Integration (I-Cubed) project. The goal is to improve the lives of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and SBE (social-behavioral sciences) graduate students. One component of this is GSAC, which is a committee comprised of graduate students that work with the administration to identify areas that could be improvement and work to change things. I'm serving on GSAC (a new member as of Spring 2013), and the project really seems to both have an impact on graduate students and have the actual (not just nominal) support of the movers and shakers. Because the grant ends in 2014, the goal now is to institutionalize the changes so that UF continues to have in place the mechanisms for helping graduate students.

"Dine with the Dean": Last but not least, the Dean of Students (apparently) likes to have monthly meetings with different groups of students to figure out what is working and what needs improvement. A few days ago, a group of graduate students (including myself) had a quick lunch with the Dean and were able to share our thoughts. I was able to pitch my idea about allowing students to keep their email address after graduation, and it seemed to be well-received. It remains to be seen if anything will come from this, but the free food and face time with the Dean were both appreciated.

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