By Anna Liz Thomas
The following series of interviews have been collected from some of the outgoing members of the GISA Board. These interviews are not meant to reflect the individuals holding these positions. Rather, they are a way to contain institutional memory: of what it means to represent students at the Institute.
What is your role within the GISA Board?
The GISA Board has three specialised committees, one of which is the Professional Development Committee (PDC) for which I was elected as the president last year. As PDC, we liaison between the students, the Career Services and the alumni and also the admin at some point, to promote professional development for the Institute’s students, irrespective of their discipline. We try our best to make sessions available that really make sure that the students get the professional development that they need. For example, we have CV workshops and the cover letter workshops. We are different from the Career Services department, I believe, because we add a personal touch, because, at the end of the day, we are a student body, led by students and working for the students. We know that everyone is going through a difficult time finding jobs, and we make sure that through our activities, we can make it a little bit easier for them.
And what would you say is the relationship between the GISA board and PDC? To what extent is there oversight or to what extent is the work done independently?
So the PDC is not controlled by the GISA Board, and we’re not technically accountable to the Board. Obviously, to some extent we are, since we are a part of the GISA executive board. I do consider it important to give the Board updates. And the GISA board and the weekly meetings that we have, it’s more of a space where every week, I get to discuss the issues that I have regarding PDC. So it’s a give and take relationship where I get to be a part of GISA board, and I can contribute my insights into the GISA Board’s decision making process, and any administration related issues they face. In return the Board also helps me out with any issues that I might face during conducting activities or in general, just during my tenure as the PDC president.
This is going to be the first time that the PDC is going to have an election that is open to the entire student body. How do you feel about that change?
To be very honest, I feel happy. Because I know when I was elected last time (as a result of an internal vote), it was a huge fiasco. I genuinely don’t want to put anyone else through that. Although I do know that it’s going to be a difficult task to do a handover process if there’s someone external to the PDC who becomes the president, so I have to keep these considerations in mind. But I know that overall, it is the student body who has to vote. They’re the ones who are going to get all of these activities. So I think it’s their right to also choose people who become the President. So yeah, I think I’m okay with it. Although I was worried initially, I think it should be okay.
Okay. All right. So your role is to sort of supplement what the Career Services Department is doing. But it also feels like you’re doing the work that the career services should be doing. Is there a clear distinction between the work that both of you do?
Yes, sometimes it might have come across as us taking over the responsibilities of Career Services. But I mean, the bottom line is that they are really understaffed. And it’s literally two- three people, trying to handle an institution with more than a 1000 students I think. With every student wanting to get a job, I feel like for them, it’s not easy for them to handle so much. Although we do feel the pressure a lot of times, because we’ve done a lot of events, a lot of CV checks, we’ve done over 20/25 events, actually. So that’s a lot of work that we put in.
I would say we’re distinct from the career services team because we’re not just about jobs, we’re not just CV checks or checking your cover letter, we’re more about every aspect of professional development. For example, talking about gender inclusivity at work, this is a topic that Career Services hasn’t really covered. Because they might not have the idea or the other paths to take as to how to organise these sessions. But we, as students, have that network and connections with alumni and other people at the institute. And we also understand the importance. So this is just one example of how our sessions are different. Agreed our name is Professional Development Committee, but there’s a lot to professional journey than just your job. It’s a lot about your personal health too, about your mental health, which is related to your work. So those are also topics that we’ve covered in the past. So I would say in that sense, we are quite different from Career Services.
At the Institute, we have a very diverse set of students coming from many different parts of the world, different age groups. I think part of the struggle, when it comes to finding jobs, is the fact that, you know, there are so many different visa requirements, and different career paths that students are on. How is it possible, really, to navigate that sort of diversity?
So up until now, I feel like we’ve really focused a lot on MINT students. So what has actually been easy for us is that the Institute already has these, like different groups created in terms of MINT, and the different disciplinary programmes. So for us, it became easy to identify who needs what. But I also would agree that initially, I think we were unintentionally focusing more on MINT events. Our whole committee was also mostly MINT students. So we knew what they wanted and our activities went in that direction. This past semester though, we really tried to focus our attention on other disciplines. We just floated a Google form and asked the students what they wanted. So we gave them the freedom to choose the persons, and organisations that they wanted us to contact. Once we had that list, we brainstormed and came up with panellists and people who would actually add value and give that guidance.
Honestly speaking, we’re also students. So it’s practically impossible for us to have an idea of every discipline and every job out there. But as a committee together, we worked to provide those events that could help all of these disciplines. Also agreed there’s so much diversity at the Institute, and it’s difficult for everyone to find a job, but at the end of the day, I feel you just have to keep trying and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past one and a half years.
Something that we’ve also heard often about the GISA board’s role is that it’s to advocate on behalf of students to the administration. So could you provide examples in your tenure where that advocacy in the context of the Career Services Department has actually resulted in tangible outcomes?
Yeah, I think one great example that really jumps off my mind right now is the fact that disciplinary students can soon get credits for their internship. This was something that was not being done before, it was focused solely for MINT students. And for disciplinary students, I think it was just assumed that they want to go the academic route. . But there were people who really wanted to work in IOs and other organisations. So I think this is something where we got Career Services on board, we were able better understand why the administration was initially against providing credits for MADIS students. But thanks to Lorena, who’s the VP of Masters, she really put in the work. So I think that’s a big example. That’s a great task done.
Is there one thing that you would like to tell the incoming PDC president that you weren’t aware of? Something that you got to know, once you entered the position?
It’s a full-time job, and I wasn’t aware of this when I joined. It’s going to take up a lot of your time and a lot of your mental health as well. I think it’s very important to talk about how the current board has faced a lot of mental health issues because of a lot of challenges that have come up during our tenure. We were able to sail through it because we stuck together as a board. So, to the incoming PDC president, just stay true to yourself, don’t get overwhelmed. And also don’t kind of stay away from the PDCs current motto, which is that we’re not promoting the rat race. It’s not just about jobs. We do want students to be happy and realise that everyone has their own path and journey.
If there’s one thing that you would like to change about a) the GISA board and b) the Graduate Institute, as they currently stand, what would it be?
I would love more participation within GISA, especially with the executive board’s side of things. The Specialised Committees already have a lot of support in terms of the team members. But within the GISA Board, for example with the treasurer, the events department or the GISA President, I feel like they constantly have to be on call every single day. From the treasurer’s point of view, it can be a lot because initiatives keep sending emails about reimbursements, and can be difficult for just one person, given that they are also a student. So, more participation from students would be really good. However, I feel like from the elections right now, we see how not a lot of people have applied for positions. So on the one hand, we need more participation, but on the other hand, when the time comes to step up and apply for posts, it’s not really happening. I also really don’t know, what’s the reason behind that. But yeah, if it’s possible, yes, more student participation would be great.
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