Be a student representative – become a local hero

Have you ever felt the need to make a change in your education? Were you frustrated because of a regulation that makes your life harder than it is supposed to be? Have you felt like you want to make a difference? Or ever just wondered what the research or dissertation committee work on and discuss? Then being a student representative is for you. 

As my time as a PhD student is reaching an end, I would like to encourage any other PhD student, who still has some time left in their studies to become a student representative and give some reasoning why it made my PhD life a better one.

Here are 5 good reasons to become a student representative:

1) Know your rights and duties

Many of us might only see what is expected in our PhD studies: halftime review, yearly follow-up, manuscripts – the list is long. But we are unaware of our rights: as an employed PhD student you are e.g., entitled to a yearly amount of money to promote physical activity, you can get part of your medical bills compensated, reading glasses, etc. Our university is actually a great place and we as students have many rights, we might not be aware of. So, becoming a student representative will expand your knowledge of your rights – independent of your position.

2) Improve your soft skills

Being a student representative gives you a great opportunity to expand and improve your soft skill repertoire – may it be of communicational or managerial nature. As a student representative, you will for sure improve your communication skills as you get to be the student’s voice. Joining meetings will improve the articulation of your thoughts, discussion skills and will promote your understanding of different discussion cultures. In case you would like to try how it is to manage people: become a workgroup manager within the DSA (Doctoral Student Association). Independently of your position, you will gain experience that is beyond your skills as a scientist and will be well-perceived by any future employer (both inside and outside academia).

3) Make new friends and expand your network

No matter whether you choose to become a student representative on a local or central level – you will expand your network and get to know new PhD fellows, graduate students, or even higher faculty members of the university. Especially as a department or research school representative you will be in close contact with your PhD fellows, which will give rise to new network opportunities – may it be a new collaborator, a friendly face to help you out when you need a machine/equipment, or a true friend. Personally, the network I’ve built has saved my life on so many levels – most importantly I made amazing friends and one or the other experiment could be realized as well due to the new contacts I’ve made.

4) “Birds of a feather flock together” – interaction with like-minded people

To be honest: many students becoming student representatives are either frustrated about a certain challenge or problem in the educational system or they try to have a better understanding of the university as a whole and how it is run. No matter which category you belong to – you will find like-minded people and together your motivation can lead to amazing things. On a local level, you can organize fun activities such as hikes or an after work that will promote your local PhD student community and feeling of belonging. On a more central level, you get insights into the structure and regulations of the university, and you get the chance to improve those and enforce student rights.

5) Personal growth

Truth be told – many students define themselves over their success in science even though we all know that this is not a healthy behavior. A failed experiment easily leads to decreased self-confidence. Our work as a scientist is characterized by pushback and failures and for sure each of us must learn how to be (more) resilient. Nevertheless, being a student representative is a great way to push your self-confidence as you can easily make an impact. In times of failing experiments, seeing happy PhD students because of an event you organized or pushing for student rights is a great way to see beyond your experiments and that there are other things in life that matter and make an impact.

Many of our current student rights were reached through previous student representative generations and in my understanding, they are local heroes as they dedicated lots of their time and energy to make a difference at our university and improve our life as PhD students.

So, in case you would like to get involved – check out the currently available positions (Application deadline: October 13th):


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