In this guest post, Demetra Schoenig, Direct of Academic Enhancement in the Office of the Provost and the Graduate School, helps us gain some perspective as we ram up for the start of another semester!
To conclude his graduate student orientation remarks on August 19, Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., encouraged students to “learn from one another.” It is no small thing for a philosopher and university president, skilled in the craft of argument, to emphasize collegiality and community as key components of one’s trajectory from student to scholar. I don’t pretend to know precisely what Fr. Jenkins had in mind when he offered this suggestion, but I’ve been part of the Notre Dame community long enough to conjecture that there are two reasons why his suggestion is a natural derivation of our institutional aspirations, while also, quite simply, why it’s advice worth repeating. Both of these are captured in a phrase you’ve probably come across already, one that you may be wearing on a t-shirt right now.
Your Research Matters. You Matter.
It matters when you’re still in coursework, when you’re rotating through labs, when you’re slogging through the literature. You are engaged in inquiry that has the potential to open new areas, elucidate long-standing divisions, or get your lab one step closer to a breakthrough. There is value in your work, potentially in the effect it will have in your discipline, but more immediately, in the way it will refine you as a scholar. Your faculty members, those teaching your courses and mentoring you as a TA, those writing the grants and running the labs, have all been where you are. As you plan your graduate training experience, take a look at the “Shared Expectations”, which serves as a quick reference guide to enable you to initiate and sustain productive dialogue with your faculty mentor. (https://graduateschool.nd.edu/graduate-training/intellectual-community/sharedexpectations/). What Fr. Jenkins was pointing to in his exhortation to learn from one another, however, is that your colleagues, your fellow students, your friends, will form you as a scholar as profoundly as your faculty mentors.
Your colleagues in your program, and those who you meet across the world through your scholarly network, will often become the friends who remind you that while your work is important, more profoundly, and simply as a human, “you matter.” It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to predict that your peers and colleagues will likely be those who you can confide in, those who will walk closely with you the inevitable moments of adversity. As you tailor your particular approach to graduate training at Notre Dame, keep your eyes open for the innumerable ways you can find the wholeness within “Your Research Matters” and “You Matter.”
Some of these are formal professional development opportunities, whether serving as a department representative on the Graduate Student Union (https://gsu.nd.edu/official), expanding your intellectual community via a writing accountability group (https://gradlife.nd.edu/events-programs/wags/) or developing the skill of grantsmanship through consultations with fellow students in the Office of Grants and Fellowships (https://graduateschool.nd.edu/graduate-training/research-communication/the-office-of-grants-and-fellowships/contact-the-team/). Know that there are individuals across the University who are deeply invested in your success. By listening well and speaking thoughtfully in the classroom, you will inevitably develop expertise in your field. By extending these habits of mind to the student and campus community, your growth while in graduate school, and your ability to mentor those who follow you, will be even more profound. Learn from one another.