The Biomedical Graduate Student Association (BGSA) is a student run group that represents the interests of graduate students from all seven Biomedical Graduate Studies (BGS) programs. BGSA is responsible for responding to students’ suggestions and ideas, and relaying them to the BGS administration, as well as the wider Penn community.
BGSA is run by an Executive Board, which includes a Chair and Vice Chairs of Administrative Affairs, Academics, Social Affairs, Finance, and Operations. There are also four Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) representatives who speak on behalf of BGSA at GAPSA meetings.Furthermore, each graduate group within BGS has one program representative,with the exception of CAMB, which has three. They represent and advocate for the needs of students from their respective programs. BGS students choose members of the Executive Board, as well as their student representatives, in an election that is held annually.
The main responsibility of BGSA is to address the concerns of the BGS community. For example, many BGS students felt burdened by the costs of moving to start graduate school. BGSA brought this issue to the attention of the administration, and as a result, BGS now provides first year students with $1,000 relocation award to offset these expenses. Students can voice their concerns or make suggestions at BGSA general assembly meetings. These meetings, which are typically held once a month, are open to all BGS students. Concerns or ideas can also be submitted anonymously to BGSA through a Google form, which can be found on the BGSA website. Additionally, if students have issues pertaining to their specific graduate group, they can contact their program representative who then conveys the issue to the BGSA Executive Board. BGSA members regularly meet with the BGS administration to discuss issues raised by students, and ensure that their concerns are heard.
There are many ways to get involved in BGSA, and attending general assembly meetings is the easiest way to participate. BGSA Chair Bobby French says, “We always welcome people to come to GA meetings. Plus, there is free food.” For those looking to get more involved, each member of the BGSA Executive Board can have a deputy. Deputies help Executive Board members with their responsibilities, and also attend the Executive Board meetings, during which the Board reviews and plans General Assembly meetings.
BGSA also interacts with other graduate groups at Penn to get ideas for improving BGS. For example, the Penn Medical Student Government conducted a survey to determine how medical students could better utilize Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The BGSA Executive Board is working with GAPSA to set up a similar survey to determine how to make CAPS services more accessible for BGS students. Additionally, BGSA interacts with the wider Penn community by attending GAPSA meetings, where they represent the needs of BGS students.
In addition to listening to and addressing students’ concerns, BGSA also provides funding for both individuals and student groups. Merit requests are open to individuals in BGS looking to organize an event that is open to all BGS students. French says that BGSA “has more money than usual this year, so people should submit merit requests by June.” BGSA also funds events pertaining to specific BGS programs, as wells as events that involve BGS and other graduate schools at Penn. For example, BGSA provided funds to the Penn Graduate Women in Science & Engineering (PGWISE) group to help them organize events such as Pop Talks and career panels. Finally, BGSA also runs social events like the Welcome Back happy hour during orientation week and Oktoberfest.
BGSA not only gives BGS students a voice, but also brings the BGS community together.
“I didn't really appreciate what BGSA could do until I got involved, and saw that I could really make a difference and advocate for BGS students directly to the administration. It's been a really great experience and I think we've been able to make an impact," French says. The efforts of BGSA play an instrumental role in helping the BGS program continuously evolve and improve.