If you have settled into a graduate program, then you have likely heard of many different types of student groups. Committees, support, clubs, and interest groups are ways that graduate students can organize meetings and other events in the pursuit of a common goal. These goals may range from community-building to self-care to social justice. Although many programs already have established groups, grad students may have difficulty finding their particular niche.

Well, if you can’t join ‘em… why not start your own? My hope is that this article will give you a frame to work with as you nurture your idea into a thriving Student Interest Group.

Why Start a Student Interest Group?

Why should you invest your highly valuable time and energy into founding a student interest group? I can give you three good reasons:

1. An Opportunity to be a Leader

A faculty member in my current program told me that “leadership is often about learning to be a leader.” In other words, being a leader allows us to pick up some of the less-teachable skills for guiding a group. As the leader of your group, you can discover your own leadership style and gain new tactics.

2. A Way to Contribute to Your Program

Many of us hope to make our mark in our program and be remembered after we graduate and ascend into the professional world. Creating a student interest group is one way that you can provide future cohorts with a place of sharing and cooperation.

3. It Looks Great on Your CV!

How to Start a Student Interest Group

Now that you are nice and motivated, you are ready to start the founding process! Here are a few basic steps that should help you along your way:

1. Choose a Topic

If you are not sure what your student interest group should be about, start with your passions!

You will need to choose something that does not already exist in your program, so be creative. Founding and running a student interest group can require a great deal of time and effort. Choose a topic that is both life-giving and motivating, preferably something that you are familiar with or an area you have experience in.

Alternatively, choose a topic that confuses you and gives you more questions than answers! A student interest group can also be a great way to engage in a topic that you want to explore further. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Professional Development
  • Addiction
  • Gender, Identity, and Sexuality
  • Religion / Spirituality
  • Health Psychology
  • Language-Specific (Spanish, French, etc.)
  • Technology
  • Trauma

2. Gather Support

I highly recommend reaching out to some of your peers who may share your interest in this topic. Tap into your cohort-mates as a resource; graduate school provides us with the opportunity to interact with some of the brightest minds in our field.

I also recommend connecting with a faculty member who specializes in your topic (and/or perhaps someone you click with).

3. Create a Mission Statement

As a student interest group, you should have some sort of common goal or theme as a telos for your organization. A mission statement should be a sort of one-liner that captivates what your group is all about.

For example, a Technology Student Interest Group’s mission statement may be as simple as “to provide skills and education regarding the use of technology to the [YOUR SCHOOL] community.”

4. Take Initiative

Do not be afraid of having your idea turned down. Your desire to build something new in the community will impress faculty as well as your peers.

If your program does not already have student interest groups, approach the head of your department in a one-on-one meeting and propose this as a system. You may even get to weigh in on how future groups are created and led for your department!

If your program already has some student interest groups, meet with the faculty member who will be a liaison to the rest of the staff. Your department may already have a structure for student interest group creation, and so you will need to comply with those instructions.

5. Recruit Members

A student interest group is not much of a group without members. A great way to collect interest is to hold some sort of event that offers free refreshments. Where there is food, there too shall be graduate students.

Another easy way to reach out is to send around sign-up sheets during class (with the professor’s permission, of course).

6. Establish a System for Leadership

How leadership works in your student interest group may be up to you, especially if you are starting something completely new for your program. I suggest developing leadership collaboratively with members, but you are also welcome to make some executive decisions as founder.

7. Host Events

Now that your student interest group has attracted some interest and has good leadership in place, you are ready to begin hosting events and/or meetings. An event may involve reserving a conference room and bringing in a guest speaker or expert on your topic.

I have also invited fellow students with experience in the topic to be guest speakers. For example, my colleague Daniel Wendler recently was a guest speaker for our Professional Development Group on “How to Build Your Own Website”.

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Kyler Shumway, PsyD

Dr. Kyler Shumway is an author, speaker, and doctor of clinical psychology. He is the founder of KeynoteTherapist.com, a site dedicated to helping students and professionals in psychology find their mission, build a brand, and change the world through speaking and writing. Dr. Shumway works at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy, one of the largest outpatient practices in Austin, Texas. To learn more about Dr. Shumway, check out his website at KylerShumway.com.
Kyler Shumway, PsyD

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