No matter what school you attend, there are going to be many opportunities to get involved and build your personal and professional profiles. Conferences, lectures, department gatherings, and social events will call for your attention, and there will be tough choices to make as you fill out your resume and experiences. But what opportunities are worth taking advantage of, and which are best left passed over?
The biggest question to ask yourself is whether or not an activity or opportunity will be valuable for your ultimate goal. Everyone goes to grad school for a different reason. For some it’s to get a Masters as a stepping stone to a Ph.D.; others are at the Ph.D. level, and they want to become professors after graduating; even others just need a graduate level degree to progress in a career they’ve already started. So identifying your long-term education and career goals is a must.
Once you have successfully done so, it should be fairly clear how involved you could be in the academic and social communities associated with your school. For someone who is trying to move on to a Ph.D. program, then your time in your Masters program should be spent proving you have the wherewithal to succeed in the higher academic level. So presenting at conferences, trying to develop papers for publication, and enlisting resources that will aid in developing a dissertation are crucial. However, it may only be necessary to cultivate close personal relationships with faculty members in order to gain letters of recommendation, and not necessarily relationships that will be prominent in your life beyond your two or so years in the Masters program (unless your Ph.D. will be earned at the same university as your Masters).
For a Ph.D. candidate, on the other hand, it may be important to go to every department social event, every possible conference, and to even volunteer to babysit your advisor’s children. Cultivating the lasting relationships with faculty will be key to completing your dissertation successfully and making sure your name and face are the first things that come to a hiring committee’s collective mind when trying to either find someone or recommend someone to fill a job in your particular field. After all, getting the doctorate is no good if you are unable to take the next step and secure a place at a university that could potentially evolve into a tenure position.
Even further, someone who is getting a graduate degree while still working may have no need to be involved in any of the ancillary aspects of graduate school life. Maintaining your work relationships, keeping up with your job, and cultivating whatever home life you may have can easily take precedence (and perhaps should) meaning that there is absolutely zero reason to be involved in life at the university.
With all of the opportunities available, graduate school can seem overwhelming. If it’s a whole new world for you, then knowing what to do and how to most effectively use your time can be a challenge you’re just not willing to take on. But if you approach the issue from a personal perspective and you’re a little selfish about just what is going to be best for your own goals, then most of the opportunities will fade from consideration, and you’ll be left with only the right choices that provide the right advancement.