Friday, July 18, 2014

The Ten Commandments of Graduate School

The Ten Commandments of Graduate School

These were not handed down to me on stone tablets by God, but the following short pieces of advice will serve you well for a successful stint in graduate school.  A few commandments have corollaries, which is a useful feature that was not used in the original Ten Commandments.

1. Focus on your research, even at the expense of your classroom performance.  Employers will care most about your research accomplishments and not your GPA.
Put a very high priority upon getting your journal manuscripts into a state of completion

2. Come well-prepared for all meetings with your advisor and to group meetings.  Be ready to show your data and have some ideas in mind for the next steps.

3. Treat your research as you would treat a full-time job.  Show up at lab every morning, and consistently put in a full day. 
Try not to work from home very often.  Nobody can interact with you there.  Save your time at home for recreation and homework.

4. Share all your results with your advisor – both the experiments that went as expected, and also the areas that are giving you problems.  Your advisor cannot give advice if you hide the things that did not go well.

5. Work hard at developing your writing and speaking skills.  Lack of these skills will hold back your career if you do not improve them now.  Practice is the key.
6. Be respectful of University staff people (laboratory engineers, grants/contracts personnel, administrative assistants, purchasing agents).  The way you treat them gets back to your advisor and other faculty, who will write recommendation letters based on their knowledge of your interpersonal behavior.

7. Make an effort to get to know faculty besides your advisor through co-advising arrangements, your classes, and informal discussions. 

8. Make an effort to be on excellent terms with the other members of your research group.  Be willing to be mentored by the senior students, and be ready to serve as an excellent teacher for new students in the group.
Seek out discussions with other students (outside your group too.  Listen to their ideas and respect their views.  Do not be condescending or dismissive of others.

9. Do not ever find yourself with nothing to work on.  Always have a side project or two to work on, should another project become stalled.
Be self-motivated.  Actively seek out solutions to your problems, rather than expect your advisor to always tell you what to do.

10. Set aside time every day to read journal articles, selected based on your own personal interests, even if the reading is outside your thesis topic.