They aren’t professors, but they might as well be. They stand just as tall, instill just as much fear and have similar authority and expertise. Yes, GSIs are human too, but their bank of knowledge puts them on a higher pedestal than most students realize.
Most students just look at GSIs as grading machines that ruthlessly chop off points like your paper is the Amazon rainforest, but GSIs are more complex than that. Students fail to realize that GSIs were undergrads too and went through the same struggles you’re facing. They can offer tips and guidance for whatever problem you may be having, because unlike the professors who haven’t experienced the struggles of a student for 30 years or so, GSIs are still there and doing that (just in grad school). So talk to them about it!
If you’re shy, try starting the interaction behind a computer screen. Yes, face-to-face social interactions are always recommended, but if you want information that you’re too scared to get in person, send them an e-mail. Just like a majority of UC Berkeley students, GSIs love talking about themselves. They’ll be more than happy to walk you through their journey and explain exactly how they gained the minute amount of fame that comes with being a GSI.
Sometimes, the classroom setting can be a bit intimidating. Having to go to office hours may feel like a punishment rather than a learning opportunity, so take advantage of the plethora of cafes around campus instead! Ask your GSIs if they would be willing to grab coffee and talk about their career, the subject they teach, possible internship opportunities, etc. GSIs want to help students, and if you can’t meet them inside the classroom, they will most likely be willing to meet outside the classroom. They want to share their knowledge and make sure you get the help you need, so take advantage of it.
The struggle to get an internship doesn’t hit till March, when you realize you only have less than two months left before the rest of your life starts piecing together. You need a job or an internship, preferably paid, but you haven’t started applying. You don’t know where to look, and the only solution you can think of is to curl in a ball and cry. But then you realize that you have a GSI who majored in the field you’re interested in and has probably completed a ton of internships during his time as a student. He might even be working at a company you’re interested in now. When it comes to getting internships, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just ask your GSI if he has any advice on where to go or which companies to contact. If he likes you enough he might even pass along your information and get your foot in the door. They might not be able to get an internship for you, but GSIs can definitely guide you in the right direction.
Working with your GSI can even be a great way to get to know your professor. If the GSI doesn’t feel like he or she has answered your question well, you might directed to other GSIs or professors who can. This is a great way to build your network, and now you have a whole group of people you can bug for internship advice.
Meeting with GSIs may be extremely intimidating, but the rewards are well worth it. The main way to reap the benefits is to simply talk to them and ask them questions. After coming to college, we all realize that there are stupid questions; but chances are someone else has the same stupid question — so don’t be afraid to ask it. Not getting the answers you need is more disappointing than being ridiculed for an unintelligent question.
Contact Ilaf Esuf at [email protected].