Notorious, Ph.D. hosted a “listening session” at her blog this week in which she asked, “What do you wish we were doing/not doing with respect to our grad students?,” among other questions, and asked students to weigh in and faculty-types to stand down. She summarizes the results in this follow-up post, and then asks faculty-types to respond. Honesty is what the students want–honesty about their work, their talents (or lack thereof), and honesty about their job prospects.
Of course, there may be such a thing as too much honesty. “Honesty” can of course feel very aggressive, and can be used as a cover for aggression. Female Science Professor also has a post up about grad student culture, and the degree to which grad students talk about research and even collaborate. She credits a conversation with a fellow grad student with perhaps saving her career:
As I have surely described at some point in the past, it was after a particularly brutal one-sided “discussion” with one of my committee members that I started the collaboration that resulted in my first paper with another graduate student. This professor had savagely belittled my research and ideas, told me I was stupid and ignorant (in those exact words), and expressed great pessimism that I would ever get a graduate degree of any sort, in part because he was going to vote “fail” at my defense. I staggered back to the grad office area and sat, stunned, on a couch in the common area.
A senior grad student, whom I didn’t know well because he was in a somewhat different subfield of research, saw me and asked why I seemed so down. I told him that Professor Z hated my ideas and thought I was an idiot. He said “That is actually a good indication that you might be right. Tell me your ideas.” So I did. He was quiet for a few minutes, and then said “I think you are on to something. Let me tell you about some of my work that relates to what you’re thinking.” So he did, and this started a series of discussions over the course of months. We developed our complementary ideas, tested them, wrote things, sketched things, and eventually published a paper in a journal I thought would be out of my reach as a graduate student.
This anecdote suggests a point I’ve made here before, which is that it’s as much your grad student colleagues as your grad advisers that are critical to the quality of education you’ll get in grad school. Not all attention and interest from other grad students is benign or helpful, but a lot of it is–and making alliances and working together in grad school is a pretty good apprenticeship in collegiality and (as FSP describes above) collaboration in your professional life.
What do you all think?