When entering my education and psychology Ph.D. program, I was told to prepare for the three pillars of graduate study: research, teaching, and classes. These three activities would constitute my job, and thus the majority of my time, for the next five years. Having reached that point in my education, I felt nervous but prepared for the balancing act. Still, my mentors, advisors, and students alike repeatedly (and accurately) warned that these three domains would complicate my learning experience in new and unpredictable ways.

Classes would be smaller and more student-directed than I experienced in the past. Research would demand a unique cocktail of creativity and perseverance as I worked to make a name for myself among giants. Teaching would be a blend of the previous two, and happily claim any time I may have left. Combined, these were the three spheres of a Venn diagram representing a challenging new educational experience, with me—a naive and tentative scholar—positioned in the center.

I slowly began to realize, however, that something in this experience felt incomplete. While I had ample opportunities to address my curiosity, expand my knowledge, and guide rising students, I found myself feeling disconnected from the larger university community. Graduate school, despite its impressive scope, felt isolating. The work was often solitary and tangible outcomes were few and far between.

What was missing was a fourth pillar. A fourth dimension of graduate study that would help expand the experience beyond the myself and ground it in meaningful differences for others in the present.

What was missing was service.

Service represented work outside of my degree program and beyond the advancement of the students in my classroom. It meant working as part of a team with the shared mission of improving the well-being and circumstances of others on a larger scale. Service rounded out my graduate student experience, providing opportunities to use what I learned through my research, teaching, and classes to make lasting changes throughout the university.

Read the full article "The Fourth Pillar of Graduate School."