Outside of their own departments, graduate students at the University of Maryland are generally not involved on the campus, a recent survey found.
While "there's some talking going on inside the labs and inside the classrooms, outside of that, there seems to be a significant number of people who don't get involved in student groups or student activities for a variety of reasons," said Jeffrey Franke, assistant graduate school dean.
Of the more than 2,000 graduate students who responded to the survey, which measured their quality of life at this university, about 70 percent of doctoral students and about 47 percent of master's students said they participate in events sponsored by their departments. High percentages also attended the graduate school orientation — about 45 percent of doctoral students and some 39 percent of master's students, the results said.
However, low percentages of respondents reported attending other graduate school events — about 8 percent of doctoral students and 2 percent of master's students who responded said they have gone to funding workshops, while some 4 percent of doctoral students and 1 percent of master's students who responded have participated in spouse and partner events, according to the survey.
Graduate Student Government Community Development Vice President Jamie Welch said while undergraduate students appear to have a sense of community, there is no such thing amongst graduate students on the campus.
"I wish we had more of a shared identity," he said. "Research shows that belonging to a group and a community makes someone more resilient."
Welch noted that this university is unique in that it has a graduate student life office that offers programming specifically geared toward graduate students. The office's most popular events include Graduate Student Kickoff and Grad Student Appreciation Week, Graduate Student Life Coordinator Sarah Grun wrote in an email.
"My hope is people feel welcomed and identify as a GradTerp during their time at UMD and feel part of the larger community," Grun wrote. "Fostering and enhancing the experiences of the GradTerp community is one of the top priorities for the office of Graduate Student Life."
Robotics masters student Canberk Gurel said he does not feel like he is a part of any community of graduate students at this university.
"We don't have many friends apart from in class," said Gurel, who is an international student from Turkey. "We don't get to socialize much, and that's what a community usually is for, right? We don't have that in our lives."
Welch worries that marginalized graduate students on the campus are those who are hurt the most by the lack of a community. Last year, as a graduate assistant for the Office of Graduate Student Life, he tried to start a weekly luncheon for queer graduate students, but the idea didn't gain much traction — only four or five students showed up, he said.
"But those students came every week," Welch said, who identifies as queer.
The Office of Graduate Student Life no longer hosts this luncheon, but it tries to partner with the LGBT Equity center, Grun wrote. The office will host an LGBTQ Mixer during Graduate Student Appreciation Week in April.
GSG business management representative Liule Han feels international students are especially isolated on the campus. He said the language barrier as well as the cultural difference can make it difficult for international students to get involved.
"You have to get used to here, and the lifestyle in the U.S.," said Han, who is an international student from China. "So you have to adjust. A lot of Chinese students go through these types of problems."
The Office of Graduate Student Life often sees a higher rate of international students attending events than domestic students, and the Graduate School also hosts an International Student Thanksgiving Dinner each fall, Grun wrote.
In his role with the GSG, Welch organizes social events for graduate students that aim to promote participation on the campus and create relationships between students. Since the beginning of the semester, the GSG has hosted three Grad Pub events at Terrapin's Turf and is currently planning Graduate Research Appreciation Day, which will be held in April.
But discordance among student schedules makes it difficult to plan events at times that work for everyone, Welch said, adding that graduate students' days are already packed and many do not have the time or energy to participate in activities.
Jesse Leissa, a chemical engineering graduate student, said he isn't involved on the campus because "I'm just starting research, so everything is picking up for me." But public health school graduate student Dana Buckholz said she could organize her workload around events, but she hasn't engaged in campus life because "I don't really know how to."
The Office of Graduate Student Life publishes a weekly e-newsletter that spotlights upcoming events and activities and also reaches out to graduate students on social media, Grun wrote. For larger events like Graduate Student Kickoff, the office advertises them in the weekly calendar email sent by the University.
Buckholz said she gets emails from the graduate school, but they're about "internships I won't benefit from" and events focused on resume building.
Welch said he also struggles to reach out to graduate students to make them aware of upcoming events. About two weeks ago, he asked GSG representatives to distribute a survey to their constituents to get feedback about Grad Pub, a social event he organized for graduate students at Terrapin's Turf. So far, he has received 10 responses in total out of this university's more-than 10,000 graduate students.
Engineering masters student Sirish Suwel receives the graduate school's emails about weekly events but doesn't attend many of them because he commutes from Rockville, while events are typically held on the campus. Suwel only comes to this university on the days that he has classes or has to work.
Education graduate student Monica Dunsworth said this is a common arrangement among graduate students.
"You come to class, you come to work and that's it," she said. "You don't stay."