Dear Grad Students, Let’s Try to Be Professional, Shall We?

Surviving Grad School | New Faculty

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I received the following email not too long ago:

“i’m totes overbooked this week w cray tests dr. newfaculty. can i reschedule?”

from a grad student.

who’s around 30 years old.

apparently trapped in an 18 year olds body.

I know that I was once a grad student and I’d like to give a public thank you to my former adviser. She didn’t kill me. And I’m grateful. I also know for a fact that I never sent her an email like this. It may have been poorly organized and had a spelling error or grammar error, but it NEVER used slang language and I rarely used it in her presence.  I quickly have come to know that any faculty who puts up with a mass of grad students is pretty much a saint since I was also granted several upon being hired to collect data and collaborate. I didn’t get to choose these precious students either. It’s been a true lesson for me as well.

So, today….I’m going to take a break from thinking about my experience as a surviving, struggling, barely keeping my head above water “new faculty” and give some time to those of you in the trenches: grad students.

If you’re already in grad school, keep on reading. If you’re thinking about grad school, keep reading, although you may not understand every tidbit. I’m happy to provide a post on things to consider if you’re thinking about returning for a graduate degree. It might not be pretty. That’s for another day. I know we’ve talked about grad school once before, but hey–what’s another post?

Dear current grad students,

I’m so happy you’re upright, no doubt with a steady stream of coffee, pandora or spotify, and cheap ramen noodles searing through your veins. I know that seminar will probably have some free snacks for you this week and hopefully whoever had to bring those snacks won’t be the jerk who shows up with a lousy container of hummus and pre-cut carrots for 20 people. Unless he/she also has other fun things to go with that choice….Have you ever tried to split one container of hummus 20 ways?

As someone who was in your ranks not too long ago (merely 1.5 years), I’ve taken some time to reflect on what it was like as a grad student (totally sucky) to now. My personal evolution to becoming and FEELING like an equal on faculty took me some time and now I think like a faculty, not a grad student. I’ve got some words for you. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re just words. It’s mile marker 24 out of a marathon and you’re exhausted. With exhaustion, we also tend to get careless and that can spell bad news later on. Read this, share it, take it with a grain of salt, but learn from me for the next few minutes.

1. Be professional. I know you ‘think’ you’re being professional but sometimes, you’re just acting like a jerk. Being overly arrogant isn’t being professional. Being professional doesn’t come dressed up in yoga pants with the word “sparkle” across your back side. It comes in clean pants. Usually with some type of zipper/button closure at the top. Not adidas tear-away windpants. This isn’t Magic Mike. No one has any dollar bills for you. There is also some solid research on dressing the part. Just gonna throw that out there. You can throw it back.

2. Watch your language. Not English. But, what and HOW it comes out. Are snafu’s and Freudian slips inevitable? Yes. Heck, I’ve probably made 14 mistakes thus far, but I’m talking about how you say it. In person, in email, to someone who may know me (or another faculty), to someone on the bus. Don’t be “that guy (or girl)” in grad school. It’s tacky. You can drop the F-bomb in the privacy of your office but leaving class and saying loudly, “what the F*%K was dr. so and so talking about today?” is not appropriate. Be better than your undergrads. Don’t send emails like the one that opened this post. I’m totes serious, it’s cray how many unprofessional correspondance messages I get from grad students. We’re not equals yet. We’re not “friends” in real life (very often) and even then, err on the side of caution.

3. Be humble. You’ve got on your big boy & girl pants that button, you’re saying smart things, but don’t get ahead of yourself. I’ve seen it about 238485 times now. The cocky grad student who thinks their shit doesn’t stink–gets pushed back another year on their work because instead of reading their ass off or getting to the lab, they were gloating in some kind of minuscule glory over a tiny test that was actually only one of 3048585 that they needed to run. I had a grad student my first year who was a big talker. He talked all. of. the. time. He never shut up. Karma smiled on him (and me when he shut up) when he told someone that he was being held another year because he failed to produce any data during the previous year and was in jeopardy of not getting funded for the next academic year. He hasn’t talked nearly as much this year. My ears are so grateful.

4. Your faculty members talk to each other when you’re not around. I know you think we all climb in a hole under a bridge after 5 p.m. but contrary to what you think, we see each other. Quite a bit. It’s weird, that even on this campus, which is pretty big, it doesn’t take long to learn people’s names, advisers, lab techs, other faculty within those departments, and start associating names/faces. It’s like the worlds biggest game of telephone. With cocktails or kids playing soccer at weekend league, sometimes, we talk about you. Sometimes the things you do that are awesome and say when you think no one is watching are recorded (in the mind, not on camera) and broached when we see your adviser out and about. Somtimes, you’re not doing or saying the most flattering things. We understand your need to blow off steam and have a good time, but we’re also professionals who are often funding you, advising you, and trying to mentor you to a job post-graduation.

5. We hear you loud and clear. We know that grad school is really frustrating. We were all grad students too. Maybe not as recently as you’d like, but let me share something with you: grad school has sucked for 50+ years. From my own research, not much has changed. You’re not the only one so when you need to have an emotional meltdown, do it wisely. We know the system isn’t perfect and neither are we. We know that we let you down sometimes and put our own families needs’ over yours when you think we should be reading the pages you sent us, we may be watching our kids music concert or having our own down time. You’ll get done. We promise.

6. Enjoy the ride. This is not a sprint and it’s not the log flume at a water park. It’s a long lesson in perseverance. As a student I met with said, “some days are fine and others I want to cry because everyone is harsh.” Being on faculty is more exhausting, more work, more demanding, more everything and you know as well as I do that we’re not making that much more money for getting famous on the Internet. You’ll be ok. I promise. It sucks now but suck it up, put on your nice pants and watch your mouth.

7. We support you. Even if we’re so busy we fail to reply to your 384 emails at 4 in the morning b/c you drank 8 redbulls to pull an all nighter. We are on your team.

Now go, do good things. Keep reading, keep trucking along, and enjoy the ride. If you’re not enjoying it sometimes, why are you doing it?

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Dear Grad Students, Let’s Try to Be Professional, Shall We?

  1. Katesabooger

    Thank you so much for this. I wouldn’t classify myself as unprofessional, but I have seriously considered wearing yoga pants to my adviser meetings (at 8:45 a.m!!!). I didn’t though. Ever. I would also never send an email like the one you quoted. Ever.
    I’m currently stalled out on diss proposal #2 — the first one didn’t go so well because my previous adviser kinda threw me out there to sink or swim and I sunk — and my current adviser is pretty much never available. It’s frustrating, but this post reminded me that he has two kids, a wife, and a thousand other things to do besides meet with me. Sometimes I forget that, even though a significant portion of my life is dedicated to reading and writing my work, his isn’t.

  2. Nellie the Nitpicker

    May want to fix the misspelling of ‘grammar’ in the first paragraph! :)

  3. Sounds like an awkward situation stemming from an ambiguous social relationship, but then we don’t want to *completely* let go of the relaxed atmosphere of academia. Well, unless this is like professional school or something.

  4. Pingback: Let’s Be Honest: Grad School Right Out of Undergrad | New Faculty

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