“Grad school is tough”, said Captain Obvious. Grad students spend hours upon hours in lab, experimenting, analyzing, mentoring, teaching, grading, writing, and sometimes weeping silently while we question our life choices. It’s incredibly tempting to stay in our little boxes, to meet the high expectations set for us by our mentors, and to leave any other obligations for someone (anyone) else. Extra-curriculars are nifty, sure, but they don’t get you closer to your degree, and grad school is hard enough, right?
Wrong. Every time you engage with activities outside of lab, you meet someone new, learn something exciting, or just plain have fun. I’ve been on the SPAG executive board for 2 years, first as the VP of External Affairs and then as the President. Yes, it takes time away from lab, yes, it adds stress and responsibilities, and yes, I’m somewhat relieved to pass the mantle to the next President so that I can focus on graduating. But I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned on the SPAG exec board for anything. I’ve learned about leadership –how important it is, and how challenging. Especially in a student-led organization, where participation is on a volunteer basis, the challenges are great but the rewards and the lessons learned are invaluable. Moreover I’ve been granted the opportunity to meet incredible people, both my fellow SPAGsters, students at other universities, and especially the speakers hosted by SPAG. All of these people have expanded my view of science and society, helping me to remember why it’s such an exciting and wonderful thing to be a scientist.
Getting involved outside of your lab is like exercising. Exercise doesn’t make you a better scientist because it makes you smarter, but it relieves stress, keeps you emotionally balanced, and helps to maintain perspective. Similarly, making critters out of pipe-cleaners and googley eyes with middle schoolers doesn’t make me a better scientist because it teaches me about virology, but seeing kids get excited about viruses is fun –it makes me happy and reminds me why I’m still in grad school. Being a leader in a student group won’t (necessarily) get you a job because of the networking opportunities or the lines on your resume, but rather because it will make you a more confident leader and a more passionate scientist and professional.
-Julia Dunn, SPAG President, 2015-2016