ASP Graduate Working Group (GWG)

 

Background and Motivation

The inception of the ASP Graduate Working Group (GWG) was fueled by a blend of experiences and realizations among graduate students and the African Studies Program (ASP) leadership. The initial spark came from a publishing workshop held by Carli Coetzee, an Oxford scholar who was featured as a Spring 2023 Africa at Noon speaker. While the workshop’s primary focus was on publishing, the collaborative atmosphere it fostered highlighted the benefits of working together for the graduate students involved.

The founding leaders, Tolu Akinwole, Fauzi Moro and Olúwadámilọ́lá Ògúnmúko, drawing from their own journeys as graduate students, recognized the profound need for a community to brainstorm together. This realization was timely, aligning with the ASP’s aspirations to deepen its engagement with graduate students. Aleia Mccord, the Associate Director of ASP, was particularly receptive of this idea when the leaders shared their vision.

Therefore, the establishment of GWG can be attributed to a collective effort, including its founding leaders, members, Carli Coetzee’s inspiration, and the support provided by the African Studies Program.

Objectives and Goals

The primary objective of this working group is to act as an invaluable resource for graduate students by offering a community and space conducive for collaborative work. It aims to enable collective thoughts on emerging ideas, while also providing peer support for writing and navigating the challenges of graduate school. The group’s efforts are designed to enhance the graduate experience and facilitate academic and professional development through a focus on fostering writing and research, peer support, interdisciplinary collaborations, and community engagement.

Structure and Activities

The GWG meets every Wednesday from 4 to 7 pm, adopting a flexible “drop in when you can” approach to accommodate the busy schedules of graduate students. Given the timing of the meetings, which fall during dinner hours, the group acknowledges the constraints of time and budget faced by graduate students. As such, dinner is provided to ease the burden of meal planning and additional expenses, ensuring that participants can focus on their work and collaboration.

A typical meeting unfolds in three phases: The first segment, from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm, is dedicated to individual work, such as reading or writing, allowing members to focus on their personal academic tasks. This is followed by a 30-minute break for socializing and getting dinner, offering a relaxed environment for members to connect and recharge. The final hour, from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm, features self-guided group sessions where students with similar research interests can collaborate and exchange ideas.

While most sessions are led by students, the group also hosts a special monthly session titled “Conversations with Faculty and Friends,” where a faculty member or an expert graduate student guides the discussion on a specific topic. This structure ensures a blend of independent work, communal interaction, and educational enrichment, tailored to the diverse needs and schedules of graduate students.

Impact and Success Stories

With the GWG community’s support, numerous students have successfully prepared for their preliminary exams, advanced their dissertation projects, and submitted applications for jobs and grants, marking significant milestones in their graduate school journey.

Challenges and Overcoming Them

One challenge GWG has faced is expanding its membership to include more graduate students from STEM disciplines. To overcome this, the group is focusing efforts on outreach, emphasizing that it provides a welcoming space and community for STEM students to work, study, and connect with peers from various disciplines.

Future Plans

Due to upcoming commitments related to research and work, the founding leaders are in the process of identifying co-chairs to succeed them. Leadership transition is facilitated through a nomination process to ensure incoming leaders are both committed and well-suited to their roles, as recognized by the current leadership.

GWG is planning to start an annual graduate students symposium in the coming school year. This event will provide a platform for graduate students to present their papers and will feature distinguished leaders in the field as keynote speakers. The symposium is envisioned as a preparatory space for graduate students, equipping them with the experience and confidence needed for their future professional endeavors.

Institutional & Community Support

The university, affiliated departments, and faculty members have already offered substantial support to the group, especially since it became a registered student organization. The help from the African Studies Program has streamlined the process of engaging with faculty and securing financial support, significantly benefiting the group’s activities. Further support in the form of continued collaboration, additional resources, and increased visibility within the academic community would be invaluable in enhancing the group’s efforts.

Personal Reflections
As a leader of the ASP Graduate Working Group:

Tolu reflects that his journey through graduate school wouldn’t be complete without involvement with GWG. The creation of a close-knit community within the group has not only complemented his academic experience but has also instilled a lasting sense of belonging among its members. Tolu anticipates that this bond will extend beyond graduate school, eventually fostering a resourceful alumni network that members can rely on in the future.

Fauzi shares a similar sentiment, emphasizing the practical benefits of the group, particularly while preparing for her preliminary examinations. GWG offered her more than just a study group; it provided a platform for engaging in deeper discussions, asking critical questions, and exchanging ideas with peers who have expertise in specific research areas or who have previously navigated similar academic challenges.