According to a recently released study from the Urban Institute, approximately 12 percent of U.S. adults older than 25 has an advanced degree. While that's up rather notably from 10 percent in 2005, it still represents a distinct minority of Americans who can attest to the experience. But in today's highly connected society, technology is enabling more graduate students - both current and prospective - to touch base and offer advice to one another about dealing with the various stresses associated with seeking a master's, doctoral or other professional degree.
While it may not always be easy for individuals to find advanced degree seekers within their immediate network, a new tool makes it easier than ever. They can do it through a mobile app called Grad Student Slack. Appropriately titled, the collaboration resource that smartphone users can download to their devices allows students to interact with some of their contemporaries, whether they're from the same grad schools or attending universities on the other side of the planet.
Brittany Jack, who recently completed her freshman year at the University of Kansas Medical Center in pursuit of a Ph.D., told Science magazine the app enables her to get a read on what other people like her are experiencing.
"I just wanted to have a community and … camaraderie with graduate students across the world," Jack explained. "We are all going through the same thing, and we can give each other advice."
Jack teamed up with fellow University of Kansas Medical Center graduate students Brae Bigge and Rosalyn Henn to create the app, which is still in its relative infancy. Yet despite its newness, Grad Student Slack boasts about 300 members already, according to Science magazine, who hail from all over the world, including Asia, Australia, India, Europe, Canada and the U.S., which is home to most of its members.
How the app works Similar in concept to how people connect through social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, members speak to one another electronically by creating various discussion threads, or channels. As noted by Science magazine, the topics for the more than three dozen channels run the gamut, most of them related to curricula taught in colleges and universities such as ecology, computer science, molecular biology and the humanities. Other threads involve more day-in-the-life discussions, like how students prepare for exams, develop a thesis, participate in journal clubs or cope with the occasional bad day.
Ankita Patil, who recently wrapped up her third year in Drexel University's neuroscience Ph.D. program, told Science magazine Grad Student Slack serves as an electronic means for heart-to-heart confabs, yet in a group setting.
"It is a space for open and honest discussions about graduate school, both the personal and the professional aspects of it," Patil said.
Patil noted she's been both the giver and the recipient of advice, offering tips to others for how to prepare for conferences and picking other members' brains regarding how to balance the graduate school grind.
"It's also nice that there are plenty of students who actively engage in the conversations," Patil hastened to mention. "It definitely allows you to voice your opinions or ideas without feeling like they may be singled out or dismissed."
Mutual respect is a touchstone for the app's developers Respect is a top priority for the creators of Grad Student Slack. As noted at the company's website, it has a zero-tolerance stance toward any and all form of discriminatory behavior, harassment and/or victimization. Forms of sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia are also strictly forbidden.
Additionally, while members must register their full names and their expected year of graduation for corroboration purposes, anonymity is a founding principle for the makers of the collaboration tool, mainly because they want to ensure that members can feel like they can be honest about what they're feeling without fear of reprisal.
Henn told Science magazine she's hopeful that members will use the app she helped develop for the duration of their graduate school tenure, encouraged that people - like her - will find it to be an ideal outlet for when studies grow more intense as commencement draws closer.
"Knowing that later on, we will be able to have this community that is going through the same experiences at the same time, will be really beneficial," Henn said.