Activism and Your Career
By Dan Moseson, Ph.D., CPDC Graduate Career Coach
For many students, coming to college means becoming much more aware of the world and of their place in it. As they learn about new complexities, problems, and injustices, many are spurred to action. It’s almost inevitable that they will struggle to balance activism with study, work, and social life, at least for a time. I can’t tell you being a student-activist will be easy. It probably won’t. But I can tell you it will be worth it – for its own sake, and for your career.
My activist experience began when I was a student at Montclair State University in New Jersey. I joined the campus chapter of STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition after a humanities professor told our class about ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region of Sudan. Having had lots of Holocaust education, I felt compelled to get involved. My first year, I gained valuable skills in persuasion as we worked to inform our fellow students and try to get them to advocate to bring international attention to the problem. I also attended an amazing conference in Washington, D.C., with leaders of international human rights organizations (I now recognize this was an excellent networking opportunity).
By my second year, all the original leaders had graduated – and I found myself running the chapter! I worked with friends from other student groups to try lots of ways to raise awareness and funds for innocent people in trouble – movie nights, open mics, panel discussions, and benefit concerts. The concerts were the most rewarding and revealing experiences of my college career. I discovered I loved dreaming up events that brought many different people together for a common purpose. We got a group of local musicians and artists together on the quad, raised a lot of funds, and had a blast. I learned that I could make big dreams real by reaching out to collaborators across campus, and that I have a talent for building relationships that make these collaborations possible.
I gained more activist experience while in graduate school at Syracuse University. I got very involved in campaign work leading up to the 2016 election, and continued volunteering for a variety of causes afterward. I helped organize protests, wrote editorial letters, and participated in a range of campaigns to lobby local, state, and federal policymakers. By the time the 2018 midterm campaign got underway, phone-banking and door-knocking had become welcome breaks from my graduate program – chances to get out of a coffee shop, meet some new people, and do something hands-on to affect change. Getting out and talking to people kept my mind fresh for academic work, and reminded me that there were other legitimate callings besides research. Playing many different roles taught me that my natural adaptability would work in a wide range of settings, giving me more confidence as I considered the job market.
None of this was easy to pursue as a full-time student. It was difficult to make time for it, but it was all worth it.