Grad Hour, a silver lining amidst the isolation
In our first semester at Rensselaer, a senior graduate student advised us that graduate school is generally a very solitary experience. You spend a lot of time working on your research alone—it is your PhD work after all. We discovered this characteristic to be true ourselves, spending most of our days in the lab. As the entire world moved indoors in March 2020, we reached a new level of isolation: the monotony of daily routine broken only by online meetings. At first the daily interactions with colleagues were awkward, but slowly we got used to the interactions with a screen.
The little respite graduate students had, before the pandemic, was the few interpersonal relations they maintained on campus: conversations in the corridor, light jabs over lunch, slight nods, and a few events where one had the opportunity to meet people in their shoes from different departments thrown in a room with food and music. However, we were all consumed by work when the professional space intruded our personal spaces.
At the Graduate Council, we felt the need to step up, and restore some sense of community among the graduate students. Constrained by the circumstances, our usual events and activities were out of question. Since our virtual events this summer proved to be successful, we decided to continue hosting a weekly “Grad Hour”—one hour where graduate students can come together and connect, even if it is online. Every Thursday at 6 pm, we join the Webex room of Graduate Council President Neha Keshan and wait for our peers to join the conversation. At first, it was just a few students hanging out, but slowly people trickled in to see what was going on and stayed for the laughs, to rekindle friendships, and build new ones. Over time, special events have been organized and remained a part of this program and this event became a mainstay for this year, replacing events that were previously in-person.
One event every month features a specific idea, issue or highlight of the month, such as a Pride Bingo in June (during Pride Month), a virtual mixer for incoming students in August, and a mental health event in September and right now we also look forward to hosting a virtual Halloween party soon. We try to include at least one event every month where we have an administrator join us to hang out with the graduate students, allowing students to maintain a connection with the Institute and helping the Institute to be aware of what is troubling the students. This is generally a drinks-and-dinner event where representatives from the Office of International Services for Students and Scholars, the Office of Fellowship, the Office of Graduate Experience, the Rensselaer Union, and others have joined us previously for informative discussions with graduate students. Additionally, we incorporate a monthly event to hang out and play games, talk about some graduate specific issues, share memes, or listen to music. We look forward to organizing more engaging events in the future, and hope to invite many more people from the Institute, including some members of our distinguished faculty to guide us in our pursuit of academic careers.
The Grad Hour is headlining the Graduate Council’s activities this semester, guiding us through a very difficult time, and helping us connect with the cohort. We hope that it has and will continue to benefit the graduate student community in a meaningful way. The success of this program has inspired us to continue it in some way when we return to in-person interactions. Perhaps we can book a room in the Union for graduate students every Thursday at 6 p.m. for similar activities, or continue activities online. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ideas, and in the meantime, please do join us for Grad Hour held weekly at 6pm on Thursday at Keshan’s Webex room.