Guest post by Charlie Ebersole, a social psychology graduate student at the University of Virginia.
Graduate school has been both a wonderful experience and incredibly challenging. When I will later look back on this period in my life, I’m sure that my memory will fail to accurately capture what it was like to be a graduate student. I’ll remember the highs, and more lows than I care to admit, but will likely lose some of what the day-to-day experience was like. If I have graduate students of my own someday, I want to have a more complete picture of what graduate school was like so that I can give them a better experience. With that goal in mind (and with some great suggestions from Twitter folks), I compiled the following list for my future self.
Things to remember for when you have graduate students
Gentle reminders from past you to help current you give your students a better experience
- There are a lot of little ways that you can make their lives easier. For instance, if you suggest a literature for them to search, try to give them some citations as a starting point. That way, they don’t have to guess which articles you were thinking about. Little things like this can really add up in the long run.
- Although class grades might not matter as much in grad school, your students got into grad school, in part, because they were good at getting good grades. That drive won’t go away immediately. Same goes for deadlines. Be patient while they figure out priorities.
- Tell your students: Wanting to look competent is natural and useful in some settings. However, it’s also important to admit when you don’t know things. Acting like you know more than you do stifles opportunities for others to teach you new things. This is probably going to be an ongoing struggle; that’s ok. Let me know how I can make it easier for you to say when you don’t know things.
- Remind them that they have/will develop expertise that will surpass you. Take opportunities to learn from them so that they recognize this.
- Remember that shielding your students from their weaknesses will hurt their development. Also remember that hearing critiques from your advisor can be hard.
- It’s hard to know when you’re doing well as a grad student. Be sure to tell students when they’re doing well and point out what you see as their strengths. That can help balance when you need to do #5.
- Things from outside of work will affect work. Try to create an environment where students feel comfortable letting you know those things. As an example from your time in grad school: Brian regularly asking about your life outside of work (e.g., “how was your weekend?” at the start of each meeting) made it easier for you to bring up struggles when they were affecting your progress.
- Sometimes fighting for your students is as important as the outcome. You’re not going to win everything (or, frankly, most things), but showing that you care enough to stick up for them goes a long way.
- Grad students don’t make a lot of money. They might not have a lot saved either. Keep that in mind. Things that might not seem like much to you (like being a few hundred dollars in debt while waiting to get reimbursed for conference travel) might be a serious strain for them.
- Finally, you were really bad at writing when you started grad school. It’s probably just good to keep that in mind when looking at your students’ writing.