Campaign reveals variety in grad student ranks

Adela Talbot // Western NewsTaniya Nagpal, a PhD candidate in Kinesiology and the chair of the Society of Graduate Students equity committee, explained how focus groups quickly revealed Western’s graduate students were affected by varied circumstances in their academic careers. Some were parents; some were working professionals; some had returned to academia after decades of doing something else.

What do you think of when you think of graduate students on campus?

Not All the Same, a new campaign run by the equity committee of Western’s Society of Graduate Students (SOGS), aims to dispel common conceptions of the graduate student experience and show these students possess a diverse range of life experiences and may require more personalized supports to succeed.

The campaign came out of focus groups run by SOGS over the past two years in an effort to learn more about the university’s graduate student community, explained Taniya Nagpal, a PhD candidate in Kinesiology and chair of the SOGS equity committee.

“We wanted to create an advocacy campaign that highlights the various experiences and backgrounds graduate students come from. We wanted to break the stereotypes, the main ones being we are all young; that we all have all the time in the world to dedicate solely to research; that we come straight from undergrad and go directly into grad school; that some of us never left school; that we have no work experience and only research and school experience,” Nagpal noted.

To highlight these diverse experiences, SOGS is interviewing students who might not fit that stereotypical graduate student bill, then sharing their experiences on the campaign website, nats.sogs.ca, by way of student profiles. The goal is to tackle one stereotype per semester – the current one being age – and expand that to dispelling two or three misconceptions per term, after the campaign takes off. There is no end date for the campaign.

The website will archive all experiences so students can scroll through year-round and identify resources and stories that might help them in their studies and navigation of academia.

“We want to inform faculty members that, within their departments, they will have students who come from a variety of different experiences, and hopefully, that impacts how they supervise students, as well,” Nagpal continued.

“This does not mean one student is better than the other, but that we have different experiences we bring to our graduate school work. This benefits students also by helping them see variety of experiences among their peers and colleagues, and it is a benefit to SOGS and Western, in general. One of the key questions we ask is, ‘What can Western do to better serve you?’ And that’s what SOGS works with.”

Being aware of the different experiences and lifestyles of graduate students is important to ensure all have the same access to supports to do the best they can in graduate school, she added.

“One of the interviewees just wants to expand her wealth of knowledge and that was so inspiring; everyone should be doing that, despite what their age might be,” Nagpal said.

“It also helps to meet people outside of your department, which is beneficial. You’re kind of in silos as a graduate student, but when you get involved with something like Not All the Same, you get to meet students doing research about different things, and I think that helps you grow as a researcher yourself. We’re not saying if you fit the stereotype that something is wrong. It’s just emphasizing we are one big community that needs to celebrate its differences.”