Sep 092009
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

Though the semester is still young, people have begun finding their friend groups and clique-ing out.

We’ve met our advisors, pretty much gotten a handle on where our courses are and where to scrounge for food. By this time next semester, we’ll also know when to get food to avoid nasty lines, which building has the cleanest bathrooms on your cross campus route and where to hide out to catch a much needed nap in the middle of the day.

Before you know it, eight (or more) semesters zip by in a flash, you’re a college graduate and you’re starting the whole bit over again on a new campus as a graduate student.

Crap, you’re a TA now, so you have to watch what you say a little more — ‘the man’ has a grip on you.

The sardine can of an office (if you have one) becomes more of a place to avoid at all costs rather than a comfortable work area to be coveted. Life as a graduate student at CSU is hard work.

We’re lucky enough to have access to the top researchers in the country, even the world in some cases, which means high expectations and truly amazing reputations to uphold. Classes, grading, research, commuting and, for a growing number of us, families and home ownership are thrusting us into a pseudo-real world at a pace and understanding that screams: “Suck it up — we all went through it, and so will you (or quit)!”

There are roughly 3,000 graduate students at CSU — about three times more than where I did my masters at the University of Vermont. However, we faced a lot of the same challenges as we here at CSU are facing.

We didn’t have a functional graduate student council, we felt like we weren’t getting the best deal on insurance or stipends, and at times we felt somewhat invisible, like a sub-culture within the university.

Even as a bit of a minority population on campus, graduate students are everywhere. You don’t see us regularly having a table in the Plaza, protesting the latest issue or traveling in herds (other than at Tour de Fat). The nature of graduate studies is such that we hole up in our departments more.

We’re looking toward how to make higher ed a better place, studying the next new cancer treatment, looking for faster and more efficient ways to make urban composing a reality, creating roof-top gardening, inventing indoor biomass cook-stoves that decrease adverse health effects and so on.

This level of work, dedication and concentration doesn’t always lend itself to long, drawn-out meetings with the campus student governments, or never-ending keg stands (although we do work that in here-and-there).

I think what is missing for graduate students at CSU is a little bit more cohesion across departments and colleges and maybe just a tad more opportunity for social and professional networking both on and off campus to meet our colleagues in other fields.

While some departments may be better than others at this, as the economy continues to sputter and I watch my departmental cohort fight for and apply for the same jobs in the surrounding area, it becomes more and more apparent to me that graduate students need to spend more time cross pollinating.

Having a degree, even an advanced degree, doesn’t give us the right to a job, and knowing the right people doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get “The Job.”

But I think knowing a few people from diverse academic fields who know us can help improve the prospects of finding that diamond in the rough career spot we didn’t know about and provide a priceless network of friends and colleagues for the long future ahead.

Phoenix Mourning-Star is a graduate student in Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Work he is doing to help mobilize graduate students at CSU can be seen at or searching Facebook: Colorado State University Graduate Students.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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