For Society of Graduate and Professional Students President Adam Grotsky, it’s been a busy five months in office.
On Thursday, The Journal sat down with Grotsky, Law ’19, to discuss what the society has accomplished so far this year, as well as ongoing projects and priorities.
According to Grotsky, the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) has three main priorities they’re trying to address through different initiatives. The first is to strengthen the sense of community amongst graduate students, as they’ve admitted to feeling isolated on campus.
“I was here for undergrad and the community you get at that level is much different than what you have at the graduate level,” Grotsky said. “[Graduate] students feel very isolated, their mental health is worse — so we want to find ways to improve that sense of community at the graduate level.”
Other priorities focus on improving access to health and wellness services as well as increased academic and career support. Grotsky said a variety of events and initiatives have been in the works to address these issues.
Designated graduate student space
“One thing we hear year after year is that graduate students need their own space on campus,” Grotsky said. “Undergrads sort of flock all the spaces, which is fine, but grad students need a place to call their own.”
One way the SGPS is currently improving graduate space on campus is through the expansion and revitalization of the second-floor graduate reading room in Stauffer Library. Grotsky is now working with the library and a donor to have this project completed by the end of the year.
Moreover, the SGPS is involved in ongoing conversations with both the University and the AMS regarding the revitalization of the JDUC to determine how a designated graduate student space will fit into the future building design.
Grotsky said he’ll continue to advocate for a space in the JDUC that will offer graduate students both a lounge for downtime and an area for individual and collaborative study. He thinks it will create “a sense of belonging [graduate students] don’t really have right now.”
Improving graduate student experience
“The graduate student experience from an academic point of view is lagging behind both the national average and what Queen’s has set as its own targets,” Grotsky said.
The Canadian Graduate Professional Student survey conducted annually by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies identifies how people rate their overall academic experience as graduate students. Only 64 per cent of PhD students at Queen’s rated their experience as very good or excellent, which Grotsky said is low.
He said ratings are also below average for professional masters programs. As a result, the SGPS is looking to bring these numbers up through several initiatives.
One way they’re looking to improve academic experience is by enhancing student-supervisor relationships. At an Oct. 13 Board of Trustees meeting, Grotsky pitched the idea of creating a contract between graduate students and their faculty supervisors to remedy this. While not legally binding, Grotsky said the contract would serve as a guiding document for their relationship and serve to establish agreed-upon deadlines and expectations.
Grotsky is also looking to improve professional development among graduate students. According to him, there’s a widespread misconception that most PhD students will follow careers in professorship and academia. In reality, Grotsky said only a small minority do.
Sometimes, graduate students — especially PhD students — face trouble entering the workforce. Grotsky said this is because employers see them as “overqualified” for a position or feel they lack the tangible skills necessary for the job.
To combat this perception, Grotsky hopes to introduce professional development courses within PhD programs to “make the appeal of a PhD more apparent to employers.”
This year, the SGPS has restructured their grants system to touch on social issues. According to Grotsky, in the past there was only one general SGPS grant available to students and it was largely unused due to its aim being “too broad.”
This year, students can apply for three specific grants related to either Diversity and Inclusion, Sustainability or Accessibility. Each of the three grants is valued at $5,000 and is offered to an individual or student group focused on improving one of these issues on campus.
As of this October, the SGPS partnered with I Love First Peoples (ILFP) — a national charitable organization that aims to empower Indigenous youth and encourage them to engage in their education and avoid absenteeism at school.
The SGPS and ILFP are working together to run a shoebox campaign in which donors pack up shoeboxes with items appropriate for kids ranging from infant to high school age. The boxes are donated to Indigenous youth throughout the province.
Furthermore, the SGPS has worked with the Grad Club to implement the “Ask for Angela” campaign, which is already in use at TAPS services. The campaign allows bar patrons to approach a bartender and ask for “Angela” if they feel unsafe or want a safe exit from the bar.
The SGPS has also partnered with AMS to launch numerous sexual violence myth-busting educational videos, one of which has already been released.
“We’re always trying to find ways to proactively address [sexual violence] on campus,” Grotsky said. “Any issue that undergraduate students have from a social lens certainly apply to graduate students too. We’re always trying to work collaboratively as one student population to address those problems.”
In the future, Grotsky hopes to see more collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students.
“It’s important that we try to bridge the gap between graduate and undergraduate students,” Grotsky said. “There’s lots of opportunities for mentorship, for collaboration — I would encourage undergraduate students to recognize that and to seek out opportunities to work together.”
“Graduate students can sometimes [appear] scary or intimidating because often they’re TAs or instructors in some cases. But while they do that they’re also students … they share the same struggles undergraduate students do.”
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