Need for this forum?

I brought up the issue of launching this forum to the wider graduate student community today at the @grad-council meeting as a new cohort of graduate students will be joining us in the Fall and we will go through a major cycle of local information exchange where this forum could help. Some interesting questions were raised and I felt the need to answer them here.

JD (@Joseph_Dang) wanted the problems we are trying to solve outlined somewhere, so I am posting here the email exchange I had with @williamsn (initiated during the summer and followed up) almost 6 months ago for the sake of documentation (email IDs redacted):

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Nicholas Williams
Date: Mon, Jul 10, 2017 at 9:18 AM
Subject: Re: Form Submission - Contact Form - Contacting other graduate students

Hi Kartik,

Welcome to UChicago and the Physical Sciences Division! There are a few housing resources that might interest you on campus.

The first is the UChicago Marketplace (let me know if you have log-in issues). Here you can find apartments and other things that students (grad and undergrad) are selling, or post an ad that you are looking for an apartment. It’s how I found my first two apartments in Hyde Park. UChicagoGRAD also has housing resources that are focused on learning about the Hyde Park area and getting in touch with rental agencies in town. Finally, we’ve been considering opening a place on our website ​in the next few weeks ​ where grad students can meet each other, learn about what’s happening on campus, and generally build a more robust graduate community. Stay tuned, our ​site has only been active for about a month, and we are continually adding resources and building our operations this summer to better connect students on campus.

Best,
Nick Williams
Graduate Council Co-President

Name: Kartik Singhal

What is your question about?: Graduate Life Issue

Subject: Contacting other graduate students

Message: Hi

I am an incoming PhD student in Computer Science and am currently looking for housing options and potential roommates. I am wondering if there is any central email list or group here I can communicate with other graduate students who might be interested in having new roommates.

I just graduated with a master’s from Brown University where we used to have a similar list operated by the graduate council called GSBB-L (Graduate Student Bulletin Board - List, see Brown Graduate Student Council – Mailing Lists) which was immensely helpful with queries to the community. I couldn’t find any such list/group anywhere so far. Could you point me to any such group that may exist? If it does exist, it would be a good idea to publicize it through the GC website IMHO.

Thanks.

(Sent via Graduate Council )

Follow up:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kartik Singhal
Date: Wed, Sep 13, 2017 at 10:21 AM
Subject: Re: Form Submission - Contact Form - Contacting other graduate students
To: Nicholas Williams

Hi Nick

On Mon, Jul 10, 2017 at 9:18 AM, Nicholas Williams wrote:
> Finally, we’ve been
> considering opening a place on our website
> in the next few weeks
> where grad students can meet each other, learn about what’s happening on
> campus, and generally build a more robust graduate community. Stay tuned,
> our
> site
> has only been active for about a month, and we are continually adding
> resources and building our operations this summer to better connect students
> on campus.

I have been thinking about connecting to the rest of the graduate
community at UChicago for many weeks now. I have experience running
community sites/forums, operating Facebook groups, Slack workspaces,
mailing lists, etc both in a professional setting and school setting.
See my LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kartiksinghal/ I
have some ideas I would like to present and discuss among the council
executives whenever there is a meeting.

Another of my questions is how can I get involved?

For example, at Brown, the graduate council equivalent had a
Technology Officer to take care of the web infrastructure needed to
run the website or operate/organize mailing lists and a Slack
workspace. I don’t see a similar position available in the UChicago
grad council and I think it’s an important position to have because
such infrastructure affects the whole community and having someone
with the right set of experience can make a huge difference for years
to come.


Kartik

The exchange ended with:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Nicholas Williams
Date: Mon, Sep 18, 2017 at 12:59 PM
Subject: Re: Form Submission - Contact Form - Contacting other graduate students

Hey Kartik,

Thanks for bringing this up! Most of the GC leadership will be around today and tomorrow, and we know that getting our tech/mailing lists finalized is a priority this week. I think this is a role that we want, but had trouble filling at the end of spring. I’ll shop your information around over the next two days, and figure out the best way for you to bring your experience to our group and get involved.

Thanks,

Nick

I did not hear back and did not get an impression that my ideas went anywhere after talking to Nick in person during a grad social, so decided to run for the election for PSD reps and try to make some change from within. But today’s meeting more or less suggested that I have failed to impress upon the council the need for a such a forum or the Technology Officer role.

Further, @kalee pointed out that Admissions/UChicagoGRAD will not endorse this forum without consulting legal. On asking why the issue of moderation came up which we have already discussed before at What are the options for moderation? I am happy to work with both Grad Council and UChicagoGRAD to make this a welcoming community for every grad student and have asked for feedback/questions from both during my proposal and demo to the council and various times here on this forum and on the GC Slack, but I did not see any major concerns being raised apart from moderation as linked above.


For current users of the forum, I ask this do you see any potential for this if it were to become an official UChicagoGRAD or Graduate Council resource? To help you see its utility I point you to Various ways to use this forum with your fellow grad students and just some of the interesting topics we have discussed here before.

What do you think?

Forgot to mention a quick rundown of the features of the software running this forum (called Discourse) is available at:


It’s hands down the best community forum software out there, one that a large and diverse community such as UChicago graduate students deserve.

I think the idea of a technical officer, possibly housed under marketing, to maintain our current resources i.e. the gc website is good. These positions are generally created at the start of the academic year during the transition to new leadership.

Launching a forum for the whole grad community is a complicated undertaking. It would definitely need approval from the university, who have their own ideas and strategies on communication. There’s also the question of how/would it get used? The entire grad population is too large for there to be any sense of community; many departments use their own platforms for discussion.

The fundamental difference in the role of a Tech officer/executive/chair that you are talking about vs what I am suggesting is whose needs do they serve. What you are saying is that it’s for GC and supporting its activities such as marketing. What I am suggesting is the role serves the needs of the larger community such as building and maintaining a usable communication platform which helps a lot more people than just GC directly.

No one is suggesting otherwise. Indeed, it will need cooperation from the university, but I don’t buy the argument that they should dictate how grad students talk to each other. What I am interested in learning is whether there is a problem of communication among grad students on this campus and whether this solution (this forum) helps fix that problem with the cooperation of both GC and admin.

How would it get used has been discussed so many times. Your last statement is exactly the description of the problem – there is no sense of community because everything is so divided!


The need to connect the community across divisions is brought up each time elections are done, here are some quotes from candidate statements for the last PSD elections:

James Franke, Geophysical Sciences
I believe one of the most important functions of the Graduate Council is to break down barriers between the different disciplines and departments at the University. Once these barriers are removed, graduate students can be provided with new avenues of inquiry and new opportunities to answer the big questions facing the world today. …

Rupak Gupta, Financial Mathematics
… I will work hard to … instill a strong sense of collaboration among the students from various divisions. …

Kartik Singhal, Computer Science
My primary interest in joining Graduate Council is to work towards bringing the whole UChicago graduate community together online. As I recently joined the university, I was somewhat disappointed to find that there was no way for me to ask questions from the graduate student body as a collective Wikipedia of local/campus-related knowledge. Further important issues like unionization, which affect the whole grad student body, do not have a platform to be discussed where everyone’s voice can be heard in a written medium. …

I believe the problem is well known. I was elected with that being my only reason to join the council.

Even @williamsn mentioned in his email from July posted above:

Finally, we’ve been considering opening a place on our website ​in the next few weeks​ where grad students can meet each other, learn about what’s happening on campus, and generally build a more robust graduate community. Stay tuned, our ​site has only been active for about a month, and we are continually adding resources and building our operations this summer to better connect students on campus.

Does this forum not seem aligned with those exact needs?

Sense of community is not scale invariant. Regardless, maybe it can work. There’s a long road of lobbying the relevant parties to make it happen though.

1 Like

Personally I like this forum because it fills a certain niche, namely a place to get in contact with people who I might not necessarily know, but who might have interesting things to recommend me/answer my questions. Kinda like Reddit, but for grad students. I think this is different from e.g. Facebook groups or Slack which are more exclusive. Also, mailing lists are not as casual.

This forum needs content in order to stay alive. It seems like there’s not toooons of content that concerns all grad students (sadly, not as many cat photos as Reddit) but maybe if official groups used it for event advertising? E.g. I think this is a better channel for organizing PSD social events than email.

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Exactly the analogy that I like to give; with all the negatives of Reddit removed, that is. Mutual trust for each member as they will each have a UChicago email ID; a set of community guidelines focused on and encouraging civilized discourse and moderation by community members who have been around for a while (trust system).