Undergraduates make up a majority of the University’s student population, so it’s easy to forget about the small group of students enrolled in the University’s graduate studies programs. But Wesleyan’s status as a university rather than a college is a key feature that distinguishes it from peer institutions.
The University’s Graduate Studies Program offers masters and Ph.D. programs in the sciences, math, computer science, and music. Through the Graduate Studies Program, the University also offers a B.A./M.A. program, colloquially known as the “fifth-year master’s program,” for a B.A./M.A. in the sciences. Accepted University undergraduates begin masters coursework and research their senior year. After graduation, these students can enter a one-year master’s program at the University, tuition-free, in their field of study. Including these B.A./M.A. students, there are currently 168 graduate students in the Graduate Studies Program.
An important feature of the Graduate Studies Program is the Graduate Student Association (GSA). Katie Sagarin, a Ph.D. student in the Devoto Lab and current GSA president, explained the purpose of the group.
“The existence of the Graduate Student Association is important because it’s the next best thing to having a union,” Sagarin said. “It’s a way for us to act as a body to represent our interests instead of having no representation.”
Sagarin explained that one of her goals is to promote inclusivity and community in graduate programs through the GSA.
“In the last three years, we have all been trying to get more socialization going because we do tend to just work and not have a social life,” she said. “The GSA is trying to make it super easy to get together. So we do stuff like happy hours, ‘Game Of Thrones’ viewing party on Sundays, board game nights, and hiking…. If you want to make your own event, you can do that and we can provide funding as long as [the event is] open to all graduate students.”
But where do all of these events take place? Unlike undergraduates, graduate students are not required to live on campus. The University does offer on-campus housing, such as the Park/Washington Complex, but many graduate students also commute to campus from nearby.
That being said, these students have little free time to socialize. Besides taking their required classes, many graduate students serve as teaching assistants in undergraduate classes or spend their time in research labs on campus.
“Graduate students spend most of their time performing research,” Stephen Lanno, a Ph.D. student in the Coolon Lab, said. “My research is in the areas of ecological and evolutionary genetics and genomics, investigating the evolution of toxin resistance in insects using Drosophila as a model system…. Some time is allocated to taking courses and teaching, but the majority of our time is spent in lab.”
“All the departments are pretty small, so we only have one or two graduate students per lab,” explained Andrea Lee, a Ph.D. student in the Westmoreland Lab whose research deals with transition-metal magnetic resonance image agents.
In addition to the students in the University’s Graduate Studies Program, there are about 175 students enrolled in the University’s Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS) Program. The GLS program is part-time and awards a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) and a Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts (MPhil), as well as non-degree study for students who just want to take classes without necessarily working toward a degree.
Jennifer Curran, the director of GLS, described the difference between this program and the University’s other graduate programs.
“There are two main differences: The first is that the GLS curriculum is extremely varied and flexible,” Curran wrote in an email to The Argus. “There are no required courses, and students are encouraged to explore a mix of topics across the liberal arts and sciences (course subjects include creative writing, history, photography, psychology, film, biology, art, data analysis, and more). The second is that the program is a part-time, commuting program, so that working adults can take courses with a schedule and pace that works for them.”
“Most GLS students are working professionals,” Curran continued. “We have a lot of public and private school teachers (Grades K-12) and a lot of administrators from Wesleyan and other institutions in the region. We also have recently-graduated BA alumni from Wesleyan and elsewhere, in addition to engineers, medical professionals, artists, stay-at-home parents, writers, retirees—you name it. The variety of people, professions and life experiences in every classroom makes discussions really exciting.”
Because of the part-time nature of the GLS program, there is not much interaction between students in this program and those in the Graduate Studies Program. That being said, graduate students on campus are able to form communities within their particular areas of study, especially with the recent work done by the GSA.
“You have really close contact with undergraduates and Principle Investigators [the lead researcher for the lab],” Lee stated. “Through that, you’re able to build better relationships. Especially for me, it was good that I was here because I feel more supported than if I had gone somewhere else and was left to my own devices.”
“The graduate programs here are super inclusive,” added Melissa King, a Ph.D. student in Chemistry who is in the Personick Lab. “This is a small school, and it’s a small program which means you get to interact with people from different disciplines. You’re not in a 60-person lab where you’re competing all the time. It’s a nice experience to have, where you’re not fighting with all of your colleagues, and rather building friendships what will last a lifetime.”
Hannah Docter-Loeb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.