Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Building a Social Network: Communication for Academic Success and Personal Development

It is no secret that we need social connections to thrive in any kind of environment, and we all benefit from sharing experiences, knowledge and skills. As a student at university, it is no different: effective communication and developing interpersonal skills can take you a long way.

In my experience, communication starts in the classroom. You can discuss subject matter and benefit from different perspectives, and even end up making some good friends along the way. The best part is that this relationship extends beyond the classroom. Student life is stressful, and sometimes you need to be reminded that you are not alone in the struggle. Every time I have faced an obstacle, like a difficult research problem or choosing between courses, I received very good advice from seniors in my program because they have done it all before. Unless you speak up, you will not realize that there may be someone who understands what you are going through.

When it comes to professors and advisors, it is up to you to figure out what communication style works best for you. I have been in two different lab groups and the advisors have rather different approaches towards student meetings. One has weekly group meetings followed by individual meetings for regular updates, and the other has a fixed time allotted for meetings every week, and you may choose to go as you please. It may take a while to figure out what works best, but it is worth it when your research and coursework proceeds smoothly.

It is also important to start building a network of professional connections as a student. There are many networking events, seminars and lectures through which you can meet people in academia, industry and other fields. Networking is one of the most useful skills you can attain at university, and I have seen people get excellent opportunities like internships, co-ops and even jobs because of the contacts they make through various events. It all comes down to how you present yourself and put forth your ideas.

On a personal front, it is quite easy to isolate yourself and focus on nothing but academia. This may seem harmless in the beginning, but in the long run, it can be detrimental to your progress and well-being. I really appreciate the social events organized by my department and the Graduate School, as they are opportunities to go out and unwind with other students, relax and get in better shape to tackle the next big thing. It seems like a tertiary aspect of school, but it helps strengthen your personal connections.

In general, maneuvering through student life is tricky, but we can always support and encourage each other. We may come from different countries and backgrounds but we are united by our experiences at university, and that brings us closer to each other.

Written by Aishwarya Chandrashekar
Summer Orientation Peer Advisor
Graduate Student

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