When Grad Students Don’t Perform: A Lesson in Patience

Lessons in Patience {New Faculty}

“I’ve got this grad student….”

If this were an academic pick-up line, we’d be on our third date already. We’ve all got at least one grad student who…just doesn’t quite understand how life works, how grad school works, or how ‘adulting’ (as i like to fondly call it) works. At all.

There’s a fine line between my expectations of myself and my expectations of my students. This grad student not-with-standing either. I’m highly motivated most of the time. Producing is like oxygen to me and I like doing things (research things) all day, every day. I also like playing games on my phone, going to yoga, going out with my friends, and rotting on my couch. But, I really, REALLY like working. A LOT.

This grad student….they don’t seem to know how to get their shit together. We’ve gone through all of the paces of “what’s the matter?” and done the dance that goes with it. I’ve been the positive boss, the patient mentor, the listening mentor, the understanding and empathetic human, but you know what? I’ve also been pissed off boss. Miraculously, both times I had to raise my voice to ‘teacher level nine’ I got results for several weeks after. I also seem to get blown off, ignored, and totally void of any kind of work for weeks on end as well. As I begin this post, I haven’t seen work for three weeks until this morning. When I emailed and asked for it. And it’s half-assed work in my opinion.

This student doesn’t blow off their work, they’re also blowing off their thesis. So, they’re equal opportunity with their assistantship and their thesis work. That’s slightly comforting on a morbid level. We invest in grad students and their potential. When we begin to get a negative ROI on that, we begin to get annoyed. Put up or shut up. Grad school isn’t just about finding yourself or extending your youth, it’s about getting your next job.

With a mere two weeks left in this semester, I kind of can’t wait for this student to disappear into the sunset. They’ve shown minimal effort, work ethic, and all of the other “soft skill” buzz words I can think of. I don’t know if they’ll finish their thesis and quite frankly, it’s not my problem. I hope they get a job. Although, I haven’t been asked to be a reference for obvious reasons.

I hate to be all ‘negative nancy’ on you grad students, most of you are just fine, but like apples, there’s always that one….that one we can’t ever seem to find, account them for any kind of work, but they’re always the first ones crying wolf about how awful their lives are. If your life is that awful, maybe you need some counseling, but in many cases, life is fine, you’re just looking for another excuse.

Working with students, especially grad students, is truly a lesson in patience for me and my colleagues. We don’t always get it done perfectly either, but we get it done. We show up, and urge our grad students to do the same.

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