Welcome Letter from the
President of the Graduate Student Association
Dear Prospective Graduate Student,
As president of the Graduate Student Association, I’ve been asked to write to you about the “graduate student experience” at IU. You have already received information from the sociology department about things such as course requirements and funding opportunities. However, you may want to know more about what actual graduate students think about the program. While everyone has his/her own unique experience, I hope this letter can give you a general sense of graduate life.
Academics, of course, are going to be the main focus of any program. Ours is highly structured and requires a substantial amount of coursework, typically taking three years to complete. The advantage of this is that we receive extensive training in a range of areas and methods. The breadth of graduate student (and faculty) interests is documented on the department web page (http://www.indiana.edu/~soc). The required methods sequence at IU emphasizes quantitative methods and is intended to provide the preparation necessary to be both a producer and consumer of quantitative research. This is not to say that qualitative methods are neglected. There is a core of faculty and a rapidly-growing contingent of graduate students who do primarily qualitative work, and the department offers several advanced courses in qualitative methods.
At IU, we are trained to be adept researchers and often have opportunities to conduct research in collaboration with faculty members. If you do not have your Master’s Degree, you will be involved with a research project in the summer of your first year as part of IU’s Sociological Research Practicum (SRP). In addition, there are other funded research projects and fellowships made available to graduate students that provide experience and financial support. Due to the quality our training, it is not surprising that many of us have presented our work at regional, national, and international conferences and published in some of the most prestigious sociology journals.
Teaching is also a high priority in our department. Sociology was one of the first IU departments to implement a specialized program called “Preparing Future Faculty” (PFF). The program encourages the development of professional socialization at all levels, but emphasizes teaching. If you choose to do so, participation in a sequence of three courses and various colloquia and workshops will lead to a certification in college pedagogy. Regardless of whether you participate in the PFF program, you will likely have various opportunities to teach at IU. Beginning in the third year, students are expected to work as Associate Instructors (AIs) if they do not have alternative sources of funding. AIs are given complete responsibility for preparing and teaching an introductory or advanced undergraduate sociology class. Most students teach at least one year before finishing the program.
The graduate student network in the sociology department is exceptionally strong. Formally, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) represents the interests of all students in the sociology program. Members elect representatives to serve on departmental committees, and take action on issues relevant to graduate students. The Graduate and Professional Student Organization (GPSO website: http://www.indiana.edu/~gpso) serves a similar purpose for graduate students university wide.
There are also less formal avenues of support. While expectations of students are high, and both students and faculty work hard, life is made easier by the atmosphere of camaraderie here. Thanks in part to the availability of positions as instructors or assistants, sociology graduate students at IU have been able to avoid the sense of intense, “cut-throat” competition that often arises among students when funding is limited. The department has also initiated a mentoring program designed to link older and younger graduate students. Through these relationships, older graduate students will help incoming students negotiate the social and academic terrain of graduate life. Students here have a variety of opportunities to work and relax together. Many students choose to work daily in the departmental graduate computing labs (either at the Institute for Social Research or in the Weatherly Lounge) or in their offices in Memorial Hall. From there, groups frequently form their lunch breaks and/or make plans for happy hours or movies. Throughout the year, there are numerous parties, cook-outs, and other social events, including a departmental wide picnic at the end of each year, where professors and graduate students can get together informally. There are also many opportunities to get together for informal (e.g. working out, volleyball, basketball) or organized intramural sports (in the past few years, the department has fielded teams in women’s flag football and basketball, men’s basketball, and co-ed softball, flag football, basketball and volleyball).
While academics are obviously important, they represent only part of the graduate student experience. So, what is Bloomington like? From August through April, it is a city of 75,000 people, of whom 30,000 are students. Having such a large university in a relatively small city makes Bloomington a unique place. The University makes available many cultural opportunities that one normally would find only in much larger cities. IU’s nationally renowned School of Music, for instance, produces first-rate concerts, recitals, operas, and plays. Yearly events such as the Little 500 Bicycle Race and the Lotus World Music Festival are also notable local happenings. Within the Bloomington community, there is a wide variety of bands and a popular series of foreign and independent films, many sports and dance bars, and a wide variety of unique restaurants and coffee shops. Bloomington has a lively downtown, local farmers’ markets, lots of trees, and a friendly atmosphere. Nearby lakes and state parks provide opportunities for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities, and IU has a large, state-of-the-art exercise and recreational center. Sports fans can also enjoy Hoosier football and basketball games. There are also many opportunities to volunteer with local organizations.
Housing in Bloomington generally is not the problem it can be in larger cities. The University offers a number of housing possibilities, but most graduate students rent off-campus apartments or houses. On average, you can expect to pay $400-$500 for a one-bedroom apartment and $500-$600 for a two-bedroom apartment, depending on the distance to campus. Many people make their housing arrangements in the spring or early summer to ensure the greatest selection, but good finds sometimes can be made at the last minute.
The employment situation in Bloomington can be difficult. If a partner is accompanying you and wishes to find work in the area, keep in mind that there are a number of skilled people in Bloomington working in jobs that are not commensurate with their qualifications (this is a problem endemic to college towns). Jobs are available, but the competition for higher-level jobs is keen. The partners of some graduate students choose to work in Indianapolis, which is an hour’s drive to the north. The pay rates in Bloomington are lower than in many parts of the country, although the cost of living is lower here as well. Information concerning employment with IU is available from Human Resources, Poplars Building, Room E165 at 400 E. Seventh Street, Bloomington, IN 47405. The phone number is (812) 855-0406 and the website is http://www.indiana.edu/~uhrs/.
I hope this letter has been helpful in giving you a better feel for our program. At the same time, it may have raised more questions for you. If you have any about the program or Bloomington, please feel free to contact me or any of the graduate students on the Department website. We would be happy to help you in any way that we can.
Emma Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Peter Lista (email@example.com)
Co-Presidents, Graduate Student Association
Department of Sociology, Indiana University