Photo courtesy of Bridget Gelms

In our latest post, first year graduate student Bridget Gelms discusses how getting involved is more important than ever as a Master’s student. She advocates for GSAB (Graduate Student Advisory Board) and its commitment to linking life in academia with the professional world. Bridget describes several opportunities she has been afforded through the Board, including a GSAB-sponsored conference, which will be held on February 10th this year. See the full post below.

When I made the decision to come to graduate school, I felt overwhelmed. No one from my family has ever had to navigate this process, so it was important to me as a first-year Master’s student at Ball State to get involved with the department. I wish I had gotten more involved in my undergraduate work, and graduate studies adds a layer of investment that isn’t necessarily present as an undergrad: negotiating a medium between being a student and also being a professional. GSAB is something that helps me do both.

I decided to attend the first Graduate Student Advisory Board meeting with another first year Master’s student because we were both curious as to what goes on during the meetings and eager to meet other students in the department. As soon as we walked into the room, we were welcomed by the group, and the first meeting was spent going over the sorts of activities the group sponsors and attends. In fact, we held a GSAB sponsored party at my house at the beginning of the semester as a way to introduce new students and welcome back returning students to the 2011-2012 school year. We had great food, great drinks, and awesome company—you can imagine what sorts of conversations went on considering there were creative writers, linguists, rhetoric and composition scholars, and literature enthusiasts at the party.

Essentially, GSAB acts as a liaison of sorts between the graduate students and the department, and being involved with the group has afforded me a wonderful opportunity for professional development with the added bonus of being able to meet other graduate students across all the disciplines of the English department. Instructors and other students always stress how English is such a collaborative field, and GSAB is the perfect example. We have members from literature, linguistics, rhetoric and composition, and English studies (that’s me!). One of the things I’ve noticed since becoming a graduate student here at Ball State is how friendly and unified the English department is. Almost immediately, I felt like I was part of a community, and GSAB is the perfect venue for graduate students to bridge that gap between being a student and becoming an active, even professional, presence in the department.

Service is vital to academia, and I can’t think of a better way to participate in service than to volunteer my time to a group dedicated to helping English graduate students, because… well… I am one. As a graduate assistant, I am a part of the T-prep program where I’ve been learning all kinds of things about becoming an instructor and building my professional life. One of the things my teachers have stressed to me is the importance of publishing and attending conferences as a way to simply stay involved. Every discipline in English studies is continuously evolving, so it’s of monumental importance that we stay current. We are the future of these fields. We will dictate where things go from here.

I’ve also learned that conferences allow you to network. You can’t be an island in our field, and conferences are great for collaborating with people who have similar interests. I love it when I’m able to meet people I can nerd out with about the usefulness of Twitter in a composition classroom or about obscure pieces of literature I thought only existed on my bookshelf. I think it’s important to be aware that we aren’t alone in all of this.

I have never been to a professional conference before and am unfamiliar with the culture, but I know that as a Master’s student who has intentions of getting a PhD, conferences will be an integral part of my life. This is another area where GSAB has helped me tremendously. The annual conference we put on, Practical Criticism Midwest, is a venue where Ball State graduate students from each discipline in the English department can gain practical experience with the conference process—submitting proposals, writing papers, presenting, sitting on a panel, etc. I think helping organize PCM (I’m working on the catering and the website!) will ease some of my anxieties over my unfamiliarity with conferences.

My first semester as a graduate student has flown by and looking back on what I’ve accomplished so far, I think my experience would have been vastly different had it not been for GSAB. I’ve met fantastic people who I now consider friends and have gained invaluable experience not only as a student, but also as a newcomer to the professional realm.

*We welcome all English graduate students to attend our meetings. Feel free to contact me ( with any questions about how to become involved with GSAB!

*Practical Criticism Midwest 2012 will be held on Friday February 10, 2012 at the Virginia Ball Center. You can get more information at the conference and view our call for papers at our website Please email your questions to