Why did we explore graduate student community?
Understanding that developing a sense of connection and community is important to graduate student retention, the 2014 Student Affairs Graduate and Professional Student Survey included a number of questions related to campus climate, interactions, and community. In particular, in order to explore in more depth and detail the development of graduate student community at UCLA, the survey included an open-ended response item asking “ Where and with whom have you developed community at UCLA?” This brief reports on the analysis of responses to this item and compares 2014 responses with those from 2010 in order to explore potential shifts in responses over time.
What did We Find?
Analysis of student responses revealed six key themes about the means through which graduate students find community and support at UCLA: 1) departmental support, 2) non-departmental support, 3) research activities, 4) co-curricular support, 5) support outside of UCLA, and 6) lack of support. The prevalence and nature of responses identified across these six themes generally mirrored results from 2010.
Key findings from the analysis included:• Students’ academic departments were the most frequently cited source of support and community, but many respondents still listed caveats to that community indicating it was not as strong as they hoped.
• Students’ academic departments were the most frequently cited source of support and community, but many respondents still listed caveats to that community indicating it was not as strong as they hoped.
Comparisons of responses by race/ethnicity, gender, field, and international student status revealed some important differences:
• International students and Students of Color were less likely to report finding community in their department, and slightly more likely to report finding community through students with similar identity and resources/groups targeted specifically to their particular identity.
• Additionally, International students were more likely to report not having a community when compared to their domestic counterparts.
• STEM students were more likely to report finding community in their lab settings.
How Can the Findings Inform Practice?
When doctoral students do find social support at UCLA, it is primarily through peers and colleagues. Although reliance upon colleagues may well be the nature of graduate life, overreliance on peer networks still leaves some students commenting that they have no or limited community. Thus, even though most students seem to rely on students in their program for support, that support may not be enough to make all students feel a sense of belonging. Departments should continue to facilitate connections among students in their programs across cohorts, and faculty and staff may need to take a greater role in promoting a sense of community and belonging among the student population, particularly for non-majority populations such as International students and Students of Color.