Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Grad student malaise

I think that in general, the grad students in my program aren't very happy with "the program". They tend to like their lab or their advisors (in some ways, at least), but there's not a great sense of camaraderie across the department as a whole. (Or if there is, I'm obviously out of the loop). I think a big part of the reason is geographical- people live all over the city, our offices are spread across buildings, and even within buildings the offices can be very isolated.

Perhaps it's just the stage of grad school I'm in, but I know a lot of my friends and acquaintances in the department don't really feel like they're being advised or mentored by our "advisors". We all feel like we're quite a bit on our own to flounder or flourish. One of the reasons for this is probably that very few people in the department are supported by grants from their advisors, so the fates of advisors and students aren't so closely bound. I'm not the only person who is primarily mentored by someone who isn't at the university, which leads to students also spending a lot of time elsewhere.

I feel like grad students in my department need something, but I'm not sure what that something is. Do we need a heavily attended, regular happy hour? A graduate-led informal seminar about career issues? A what-did-you-do-for-your-dissertation-this-week accountability club? I feel somewhat obliged to try to get something going (or strongly support other people's efforts in this realm) because, well, I think I'd be good at it, and someone should do it. Whatever it is, I think we need more opportunities specifically created to interact with and informally mentor each other.

If any of my readers have things to share that they really *liked* about a graduate program, I'd love to hear.


Elizabeth said...

At the time I was in my grad school program, it was new and had only about 35 students, half the amount of students that it does today. We were always very close-knit - even though some were better friends than others, the group functioned very well as a group. I think this was due to several factors. First, the first quarter or two, we all had to take the same required classes and thus walked from one class to another in a group (ignoring funny looks from all the undergrads). Second, we had our own multi-purpose room where people tended to study instead of in the library or somewhere more private. That room allowed us to colloborate together on our studies, to chat, even to eat lunch. Third, we did have a regular night out - Taco Tuesday where the low price of the tacos allowed us poor grad students to also grab a beer.

Hope that helps and that you feel more of a sense of community soon! Good luck to you.

jaxzwolf said...

In my department, all of the grad students get together and have dinner one night a week. Not everyone can come all the time, of course, and for the grad students further into the program (that may be spending less time on campus, or are out in the field) the attendance is lower, but on the whole it's a great way for everyone to bond. First through third-year students attend fairly regularly, with fourth and fifth years stopping by once in a while.

Each week, dinner is hosted by two or three students at someone's house. Those students buy the food and do all the cooking, and everyone else comes by to eat. There is a rotating schedule, so students are responsible for cooking once each semester. It works out really well. I love having dinner every week with the other grad students-- it gives us a chance to get to know students we wouldn't really interact with otherwise, and has led to collaborations in the past. It also makes the whole program feel much more cohesive. Even if I never really see someone outside of these weekly dinners, I know who they are, what they're like, and what they're working on. It's a great community-builder.

I'm not sure who set it up, or if it would work for extremely large departments, but it's been fantastic for our group.

Karina said...

Wow, I'm jealous of your programs! The weekly rotating grad student dinners sound like fun, but it would never, ever work here. Happy Hour or something like a Taco Tuesday somewhere near campus could work. It's been tried in the past but it always fizzled out quickly. I guess I'm just feeling like I'm missing out on some kind of important grad school experience.

Eugenie said...

Since miserable city is really miserable, and my department is literally isolated from campus (30 minute drive to the middle of nowhere), we have a very strong sense of camaraderie. Especially since a lot of the students here drink to cope with the misery involved with grad school and the general miserableness of the city.

That, and there is nothing else really here to do for fun but drink. No topography, no surface water, no fun parks... just... lots of bars. :-/

penn said...

It didn't keep me in my program, but . . . we had a number of events. My cohort went out for happy hour every Wednesday (entertaining when I taught a Wednesday evening section). We had a Friday afternoon "biobev" where we brought in coolers of beer and snacks and folks contributed a buck or two for each beer they brought (my cohort ran that too, but it gets passed on by the 3rd or 4th years to a 2nd year, usually).

We also had regular events. We did a winter holiday party in our museum (with karaoke!) and a "spring fling" at our depts' botanical gardens.

Finally, we had a grad student lounge. It held our mailboxes, some computers for printer, a microwave, a fridge, and lots of couches. That's where we had biobev, and we also had little mixers after speakers came in (with soda/juice/coffee and cookies, usually). Several of us ate lunch in there.

I definitely think being social is nice and helps contribute to a good department feel. Like I said, it didn't keep me there to finish the PhD. But it was probably part of what kept me there long enough to finish out the MS.

Karina said...

penn, it sounds like your department was great! Each lab tends to have their own microwave/fridge and there's no good common space to eat lunch together. Thanks for all of the useful suggestions. Keep them coming, and I'm going to figure out a plan!