In search of free lunches: Exploring your university's event calendar.

University Life

In search of free lunches: Exploring your university's event calendar.

At the expense of UChicago alumnus Milton Friedman, today I want to remind you of something that has served me well both in college and as a graduate student. No matter what you might have heard in your economics class, on college campuses throughout the United States there is indeed such a thing as a “free lunch.” I mean this quite literally: nothing attracts students to on-campus events like free food and drink.


If you are looking for a good way to branch out from your coursework, meet new people and fill your stomach, you could do much worse than to look up your university’s Event Calendar. I am using UChicago’s site as an example, but every school will have something similar to catalog events around campus. If the catering doesn’t attract your interest, let me add that in the past month alone, I’ve spent my lunch hour dining with U.S. congressmen, Nobel prize winners, two ambassadors and a host of distinguished faculty, all for free. By trawling through the list of visiting speakers, dignitaries and performances to attend, you can not only add value to your degree but also enjoy yourself in the company of like-minded peers and notables.


But what type of events are there? How do I go to them? Let’s consider some of the most common variations I attend at UChicago and Indiana University:


1. Workshops


A workshop is in many respects a miniature academic conference: students and faculty are invited to present research and solicit feedback on their work in an informal meeting. These events generally last 2-3 hours and allow audience members to enter into dialog with faculty, presenters and guest lecturers in a variety of fields. They generally meet on a regular schedule throughout the year and have a departmental theme or regional focus and present research on a consistent topic. No registration is generally required, although as a graduate student you may wish to schedule a presentation for your own work at some point.


2. Colloquia and Lectures


A colloquium series is generally a number of lectures by invited speakers organized on a weekly or monthly basis. They may be practitioners in a certain field, professors, university administrators or alumni who present a certain topic of interest to an audience. Unlike a workshop, the purpose of the event is not critique the lecturer, although lectures are followed by an opportunity to ask questions and speak with the presenter, giving you unparalleled access to top minds in your field. Events may fill up or have a limited number of participants, so be certain to inquire whether it is necessary to sign up in advance to hear popular speakers.


3. Film Series, Performances and Concerts


As you may expect, this category covers a range of cultural events around campus. Plays, regular movie screenings followed by a lecture or discussion and musical recitals are all common and may be performed by students or professionals. These are generally organized in seasons or perhaps a thematic series organized by an academic department or student club. While they may not be academic in nature, adding some artistic expression to your academic program is never a bad idea. Such events may charge admission, however discounts or free tickets are generally available with your student ID.


These are just a few suggestions of what you might find at your own school. If you are still in the process of applying to universities, take a look at their website to see what events there interest you or might be useful to your studies. For those of you already taking classes, I suggest taking advantage of each and every opportunity to attend something new that comes your way—you never know what might learn or who you might meet.