For the new grad students

Sep 19 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Welcome to grad school! First off, you should totally take a few minutes to read the excellent advice that PLS and Doc FreeRide have put together for you. Go on.

OK. Now, I would like to add one thing. It is going to be very important for your future success that you quit acting like a fucking undergrad. Those days are past. Just because I didn't send you a pdf of a paper does NOT mean that you don't need to read it. If you are still sitting around waiting for someone to help you pick a rotation lab or trying to figure out "what is one the test" during your grad courses then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!

The only way you are going to get anything out of grad school is if you go in and fucking wrestle it away from the system. Doing science is hard. Dealing with the fucking bureaucracy of the MRU is a pain in the ass. But this is YOUR pain in the ass. Now is the time to take control of your education and career.

There are many of us that are willing to give you advice. Beware, it will not always be good advice. It is your responsibility to decide what advice you will follow (to an extent). Don't forget that we are all tired and dealing with a lot of shit that has nothing to do with you. Don't let that hurt your feelings.

Now find a bench and get to work!

78 responses so far

  • My 2 cents. If haven't had this experience as an undergrad, then brace yourself for it now. You WILL fail at something important. An experiment will go horribly wrong, you'll fail a qualifier, something. If you don't, it's not a sign that you are brilliant. More likely, it's a sign that you aren't challenging yourself.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The bar-none most important thing is to realize that despite the name, you have embarked on your career. As of now. This is your job, treat it accordingly.

  • AGradStudent says:

    So … “Life’s a bitch. Then you die.” Thanks so much for this brilliant piece of advice! I’m so looking forward to the day when I’ll be erudite enough to dispense gems like this.

    Let me give you my 2 cents: The next time you have something so insipid and useless to say, just skip it.

    I’ve had my fill of lazy-ass profs passing off the unfairness and craziness that is the broken grad school system as yet another “test” to sort the wheat from the chaff. Bullshit! Stop telling grad students to suck it up and do something about it, now that you have more power.

    Oh, and don’t let this hurt your feelings.

    • gerty-z says:

      ahahahahahahahaahaahahahah!!!11!!!!!11!!1!!!!! hurt my feelings!?!?!!?!! ahahahahahahaha! gasp. lazy-ass prof! that is SO TOTALLY ME! hahahahaha!

      Hey agradstudent, one last bit of useless advice: it's not a test. i only give tests to undergrads.

      • AGradStudent says:

        “Hey agradstudent, one last bit of useless advice: it's not a test. i only give tests to undergrads.”

        So you don’t teach grad classes, then? You don’t come up with tests or projects for your grad students in order to evaluate them while, out of the other side of your mouth, you tell them how useless grades are for grad students, how you’d never even look at them when picking a post-doc? Well … good for you – how lucky you are!

      • gerty-z says:

        actually, I do teach grad students. The course is designed to teach students to critically think about the literature and write about science. And to figure out how to approach questions that don't have answers (yet). There are not tests. If students don't care enough to engage in this exercise and participate fully in the course work, that is not my problem. And no, I would never consider looking at grad school (or undergrad) grades when recruiting a postdoc. I don't even need the other side of my mouth to say that.

        The only actual "test" is whether a student can successfully complete their dissertation research and defense. I expect my students to develop their own projects. I help with guidance and questions to help them navigate the early stages. But I don't just "come up with a project" for them. One of the most important parts of grad school is learning how to identify an interesting problem and the best approach to answer it.

        If I made it easy for the students, so that they never failed and everyone was happy all the time then how would we ever learn anything?

        • AGradStudent says:

          “actually, I do teach grad students. The course is designed to teach students to critically think about the literature and write about science. And to figure out how to approach questions that don't have answers (yet). There are not tests. If students don't care enough to engage in this exercise and participate fully in the course work, that is not my problem.”

          Oh fabulous! A course where one’s grade is based solely on one’s ability to bullshit. Well, apparently that’s an important skill for profs to master….

          “And no, I would never consider looking at grad school (or undergrad) grades when recruiting a postdoc. I don't even need the other side of my mouth to say that.”

          So you don’t give your grad students grades? Or out of which orifice do those come from?

          And who said anything about making things easy and never failing? Sorry, but learning how to manipulate the dept. secretary in order to get what I want is not what grad students need out of grad school. Because, you know, they are not morons and do experience a world outside of school where they get plenty of practice with that kind of shit.

          • Yael says:

            AGradStudent: Nobody asked for my grad school grades when I interviewed for postdocs. I don't think my graduate advisor knows/cares. Advisory committee evaluations and pubs are far more important for determining what goes into your CV and letters. Nobody really cares I, or some other students had a tough time in exams either. The aim is to learn something from the messed up exams so that you publish and defend well.

            "The only actual "test" is whether a student can successfully complete their dissertation research and defense."

            Amen Gerty-Z--and I know people including myself who took bad evaluations to heart, got our act together and finished well. I also know people who did well in courses and didn't finish as well. The oral exams (quals, thesis proposal) are supposed to *HELP* you get there (the criticism i got on those was so instrumental on helping me be a better scientist) not be end-all evaluations.

            Also: dealing with bureaucracy in gradschool is low-stakes practice. You don't want it derailing you on the tenure track or in your industry career do you?

          • Spiny Norman says:

            @ Yael: Yeah, publications are most important.

            But if you apply for an NSF or NIH predof or postdoc fellowship your grad grades will be on the application. If you apply for a job in the private sector, you'll probably be asked to provide your transcripts. Best to get good grades in grad school, and publish like a fiend.

          • Spiny Norman says:

            @AGradStudent: another useful aspect of professionalism is not to systematically misread shit that other people write -- which you are doing with alacrity in this thread, you bushy-tailed little squirrel, you.

  • Dr Becca says:

    I can't believe you think this is the right way to talk to graduate students! How will they ever learn to love science if we, the PIs, don't do everything in our power to make grad school go as smoothly as possible for them? In my mind, if there's some difficult paperwork one of my students has to fill out, I'll probably just fill it out for them so all they have to do is sign. Or if they need to read a journal article for a class, I'll just go ahead and print it out, collate and staple, and leave it on their desk with the important parts highlighted (color coded, of course). And it should go without saying that we'll start each day in the lab with "morning hugs"--GREAT morale booster--and have tea each afternoon with finger sandwiches, no crusts.

    It is just SO important that grad school is a happy, nurturing experience, you know?

    • AGradStudent says:

      “It is just SO important that grad school is a happy, nurturing experience, you know?”

      Yeah, actually, it is. The fact that the system shit all over you doesn’t give you the right to pass it on to others while trying to disguise it as “tough love.” Have a little imagination, why don’t you? Try to envision how it could be better and then do something about it (i.e., something other than complain to/about your students).

      • iGrrrl says:

        I kind of hate to break it to you, but you don't get "tough love" as a professor. You just get "tough", and if you aren't up to it, you won't succeed. Where would you be if your mom still tied your shoes for you? That analogy probably seems absurd in this context, but it isn't. Grad school is all about figuring out how to learn on your own, design workable experiments on your own, do them and trouble shoot them on your own; and there's more of a safety net for learning from failure than you probably understand. At least in grad school you can pick up and try another tack when you fail. As a professor, you just fail and need to find something else to do for a career.

        It's less a question of 'kicking down' than you think. You may need some imagination, too.

        • AGradStudent says:

          Oh yes, tell me all about how it is to be a prof because I have no other source of info except for you. I tell you I’m a grad student and you conclude I’m 22 and that’s the sum total of my experience? Clearly the one with limited imagination is you!

          And I’m very glad that my mom tied my shoes for me when I was young, and that she taught me a lot in a very kind and patient way that made me the self-sufficient and self-confident individual that I am today. You know, one that thinks for herself instead of just accepting everything that comes out of a prof’s mouth as Truth. Grad students are not profs or post-docs – learn the difference.

        • gerty-z says:

          I can't think of any professional careers in which hand-holding and/or tough love are the norm.

          • Yael says:

            I always think of my committee's harsh criticisms/demands on my graduate work as "tough love" though. Showed that they actually cared enough to read through things carefully and suggest more controls. When the paper went out for review, the comments were pretty positive--and I think it is because my committee made me think through things carefully and provided a first round of peer review. My advisor is great, but a lot of times someone from another field can provide insight that will lead to better designed experiments.

          • gerty-z says:

            that is true. if you get no feedback from your committee it is much worse-because they may not care enough to even try

      • Martini says:

        Wow, AGradStudent is naive.

        This isn't about shitting all over grad students, it is all about you as a grad student going into the lab and figuring out how to be an independent scientist.

        By definition, this is not a happy and nurturing process. It is full of frustration, set backs, hard work and a lot of failure on the path to success. If you have a PI or a post-doc hand holding you a long the way, you'll never make it past a post-doc. I've met post-docs who were hand held during their grad careers. You know what, they are shitty post-docs because they are looking around and wondering who is going to tell them what to do. Not to mention if they hit bump along the way.

        None of this has anything to do with your PI. It has everything to do with the fact that science is not just challenging, it is fucking hard. If science were easy it wouldn't take 10-15 years of training before you even get your first TT professorship (and 16-22 years for tenure).

        • AGradStudent says:

          “By definition, this is not a happy and nurturing process.”

          You need to look up “by definition,” because that phrase doesn’t mean what you think it means. There is no reason in the world that learning to become an independent scientist cannot be a “happy and nurturing process,” unless you define “happy” and “nurturing” in the shallowest way possible.

          People that end up leaving grad school usually don’t do it because “the science is fucking hard.” That’s usually the reason they went to grad school in the first place. No, they leave because of all the other crap that gets in the way, which has *nothing to do with doing science,* that makes their life hell.

          Seriously, and you think I’m the naïve one?

          • Martini says:

            "by definition" means that grad school is not intended to be a place of nurturing (i.e. a place that cares or encourages growth) or happiness (place of pleasure or contentment).

            It is a time in your life when you take a largely self guided plunge into becoming the expert in your field. It is a difficult process with numerous road blocks both internal and external along the way.

            A long the way you are provided small bits of guidance by those within the department, but the process itself, is completely internal.

            At no point does any graduate advisory committee ask if you are happy and if they are being nurturing enough.

            They ask to see three things. Awards and Honors, Publications, Fellowships/Grants

            Because as your career progresses, these are the fundamentals by which you are judged.

          • Spiny Norman says:

            AGradStudent: essentially everything that you've written here indicates that you are confusing "happy" with "unchallenging" and "nurturing" with "helping you wipe after you potty."

  • GrumpyBear says:

    Anyone care for a spot of Earl Grey?

  • bam294 says:

    I think the bigger question is not if grad school means that you are in control of your own destiny (you are, and thinking anything else would be at your own peril) but rather, why is it that we take these bright-eyed students who full of enthusiasm and let graduate student coordinators/directors of graduate studies get away with not clearly elucidating what the expectations are now that the playing field has changed?

    I can't tell you the number of students who have sat in stunned silence as I explain to them they aren't going to be a good fit for my mentoring style and lab. They seem certain all they had to do was come and tell me that 'they picked my lab'. Sadly, my lab didn't pick you. Sometimes they don't get picked to even rotate because they were unprepared for talking about projects and hadn't read my papers when they showed up.

    These poor kids don't even realize that they are doing a job because it is not drilled into their heads early on. Every year, I set aside 62K to pay tuition, salary and benefits for someone who is going to rock a project If your interview (rotation) went poorly and you didn't communicate with me/respond to my critiques/think hard and play well with others, you will not get that job.

    And yes, you can interview me and find out about my projects (by all means!) but know that when we meet, I am also interviewing you (and this is not just during the admissions season).

    I will show you I value literature by asking you in lab meeting to talk about the best paper you read lately. Without warning. I'm nuts like that because people ask me what the best paper I've read lately is. Without warning. If a faculty expressing exasperation with this fundamental lack of understanding comes off as a 'life is hard...' bitchfest, then so be it.

    Social media has taken down walls that surrounded academia, insulating students from faculty. This is new territory. But if you are looking for a lazy ass prof in every blogger who fully acknowledges they are pissed off that all advice should be taken with a grain of salt, and yet they still has the presence of mind to offer encouragement to do better (albeit with a cattle prod), you likely have deeper issues with your own experience. Share them. Like a grown up.

  • AGradStudent says:

    “If a grad student wants to become the post doc or professor, they need to learn to act like one.”

    No, learning to act is what happens in drama school, not science grad school. A science grad student needs to focus on becoming a good scientist – full stop. There’s a lot of shit in grad school that is completely unnecessary and counterproductive towards that goal. That’s the crap that those in power should eliminate instead of telling students to just suck it up.

    • iGrrrl says:

      Please detail for us exactly what kind of training and environment you think would produce a good scientist who also has the capacity for dealing with the administrative necessities of carrying out research, given necessity for funding and compliance with all safety and other regulations (yes, this is relevant). Please start by defining a "good scientist." Also, define the "unnecessary shit." I'm not being sarcastic here. What do you think makes a person a good scientist, and how do you think a person transitions from an undergraduate background with primarily didactic coursework to an independent scientist? What environment do you think would ideally foster that transition?

      • AGradStudent says:

        Oh sure, I’ll get right on that. As soon as you detail for me what you feel entitles you to give me a writing assignment in such a condescending way. You do realize I don’t work for you, right?

        “Also, define the "unnecessary shit."”

        Ummm …. you’ve been to grad school, no?

        • iGrrrl says:

          I sincerely didn't mean it as condescending, and yes, I've been to grad school. On retrospect, IMO and IME, a lot of what seemed like unnecessary shit at the time I was doing it taught me a lot more than the overt purpose of the assignment, whether it was a class assignment or a lab thing.

          Please consider that if you come in here telling us there's a lot of unnecessary shit and that graduate education is all wrong, can you be surprised if someone asks you, "Well, how would you do it?" I really want to know what you think graduate education should be like. (If you're unwilling to address a sincere question and only meet it with further sarcasm, I will have to conclude you are a troll and not sincere in anything you've said in this forum.)

          • AGradStudent says:

            I had no idea that the existence of unnecessary shit in grad school, completely unrelated to the conduct of science, was in doubt.

            Let’s take an example from the original post: “Dealing with the fucking bureaucracy of the MRU is a pain in the ass.” All jobs have their “pain the ass” components. One does not need to practice doing these components in order to master them; indeed, it’s wise to skip over them whenever possible and focus on mastering the much more important skill that one is trying to learn (i.e., doing science).

            When I was young, my mother never made me clean the toilet or do my own laundry. Yet somehow, when I went away to school, I managed to pick this up just fine. I did not need years of doing laundry or cleaning toilets to become a functioning adult with a clean bathroom and fresh underwear; I’m glad I spent my time instead learning ballet, playing soccer, and reading novels.

            Does it make sense to you that grad students have to earn grades that no one cares about? Do you think grad students should have to procure their own funding since they will have to do so as profs? Do you not feel there are things about the typical grad student experience that just about everyone complains about, that just about everyone admits are pretty useless, but no one ever seems to change them? THAT is what profs should take on, now that they are on the other side of it. Instead, they tell students to grow up, suck it up, etc., or that the crap is actually good—and necessary—for them.

            Sorry, I’m not buying it.

          • Spiny Norman says:

            "One does not need to practice doing these components in order to master them; indeed, it’s wise to skip over them whenever possible and focus on mastering the much more important skill that one is trying to learn (i.e., doing science)."

            What does this tell me? You would be a non-contributing member of almost any community, scientific or otherwise. Relevant to the present conversation, you would make a truly shitty colleague. If I discerned these attitudes in a job search setting, I would burn major political capital to ensure that you were not hired as a tenure-track member of my Department, because you would be the kind of co-worker who makes life a living hell for those around you.

            Seriously: you are precisely the kind of idiot who most needs to listen to what GertyZ and others here are writing, and is least likely to do so.

            Do we love science? Of course we freaking love science. Is that enough to be successful as a scientst? Hell no, it's not enough. Do professors make you pull some of the weight as a student?

            Damn straight, because if they did all of your work for you, then they wouldn't have time for science, and would be even less able to help you through your graduate training.

            Soldiers don't spend most of their time fighting. Firefighters don't spend most of their time fighting fires. Police officers don't spend most of their time cuffing perps. Lawyers don't spend most of their time delivering oral arguments to the Supreme Court.

            And -- brace yourself -- the NUMBER ONE complaint that most junior faculty members have about their graduate and postdoctoral training is NOT that they did not learn enough science. It's that they are unprepared for the effective ADMINISTRATION and MANAGEMENT of a laboratory.

            Think about that for a few minutes. If you don't get it, think about it some more. And if you still don't get it, please, do yourself and those around you a favor, and find another fucking career.

  • Miss MSE says:

    I get the impression that AGradStudent has been lucky enough not to have met the kind of new graduate student that I think this post is really addressing: the helicopter child. These are the students who have had everything precisely laid out for them throughout their academic career, the ones that email their TA and ask them to grade the assignment before the deadline so they can revise it before they turn it in. The ones who whine "but the syllabus says that we're covering ____ this week", and fight over every single point. They are largely incapable of taking the initiative, but can still have pretty high grades because they are very good at following exact instructions. They stay in school because it's their safe bubble, and are shocked at how different graduate school is from the last 16 years of their lives.

    Graduate students (please note I fall in this category) need to exercise independence, because that's the whole point of getting a higher research degree. There are certainly things that are seriously wrong with the current system, and people who abuse it, but expecting independence from graduate students isn't one of them. Certainly, this could have been phrased more tactfully, but tact and the internet are a rare combination on all sides.

  • iGrrrl says:

    This is still all about what you think is wrong. You've alluded to the "unnecessary shit", but you still haven't told me what you think is needed other than not making you do stuff you don't want to do, including your own homework. Go back and read gertyz's original post.

    You won't "buy it", as you've repeatedly said, so there's no reason for me (or anyone else) to continue trying to educate you from the perspective of the other side, having finished grad school and gone on (in my case to things other than being a professor).

    • AGradStudent says:

      “Maybe I'm crazy here, but I thought being a grad student was a lot of fun and definitely formative. And it's not just me, I think most of my peers had similar experiences.”

      Thank you – that is how it *should* be. I am lucky enough to be in this situation, which is why I get really upset when I hear the BS blah-blah of, “It’s grad school – it’s supposed to suck.” No, it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t suck any more than having kids should suck, or doing anything else in life that is challenging but ultimately rewarding and that brings you joy on a day-to-day basis. The "it should suck" kind of thinking keeps students caught in very unfortunate situations from acting, because they start to believe that they really have no right to expect better.

      I’m grateful that my advisor has shielded me from a lot of “administrative crap” that I would otherwise have had to deal with. He has signed petitions for me to skip useless classes (for someone w/my background) and greased the wheels so that they would go through. He does all he can to clear a path for me so that all I have to think about is my science. He considers this his job and has told me so. Neither he nor I think of this as “hand-holding.”

      “I'm WAAAY more stressed out now as a "lazy ass professor" than I ever was at any point in my career.”

      And this is also as it should be. You are a prof, not a post doc or a grad student. I wish some people could do a better job of keeping track of that distinction.

      • yellowfish says:

        So, wait... you truly believe that it is a better use of your advisors time to run around navigating red tape for you because you don't want to, than it is for him to take care of his own red tape so he can work on his own science (i.e. getting the grants that are funding the lab in which you are doing "your science", and probably paying your salary). Wow... a little entitled, are we?

        Part of the point of dealing with "administrative crap" starting in grad school is so that as you get busier and busier (and as busy as you might think you are as a grad student, there is much more to come), you've figured out how to get that stuff done without letting it grind everything else to a halt and stop you from doing science.

        • AGradStudent says:

          Can you read? *He* considers this his job and has told me so. He’s not a saint (though he is wonderful) – he understands that “my science” is his science and the better I look, the better he looks.

          I don’t need to practice dealing with administrative crap. I will deal with that just fine when my time comes. Just like I figured out laundry and cleaning the toilet. Oh, and part of my confidence stems from the fact that every now and then, I do leave the lab so I have some experience dealing with Other Human Beings and getting things done.

          • yellowfish says:

            I can read. I didn't ask about what *he* considered his job, I asked if you truly believed it was a good use of his time for him to spend it going through red tape for you because you don't want to (given that he is almost certainly busier than you are).

            If you feel that the administrative crap is so onerous that it can stop you from doing science, when you're only a grad student and have the smallest administrative burden you will ever have, then you clearly do need some practice in how to make it a part of your work flow. If you were really able to "deal with it just fine", you would stop complaining, get it done and out of the way as quickly as possible, move on, write some papers, and graduate. Just like everyone else does.

          • AGradStudent says:

            @yellowfish:

            Let’s all pause while I take a moment to consider if my extremely successful advisor is “doing it right.” Umm …. yes, in this respect, I plan to follow in his footsteps. I hope that answers your question.

            As for your 2nd paragraph, since you don’t know squat about me, I really cannot be expected to take your remarks seriously.

    • AGradStudent says:

      iGrrrl, please the ignore the comment above -- it was intended as a reply to Namnezia.

      As for you: are you going to bother addressing any of the questions I posed to you? Because I am through taking orders on what to say/read from you.

      • igrrrl says:

        As for you: are you going to bother addressing any of the questions I posed to you?

        I've been working flat out all day on site with faculty and deans, still have a proposal to review. Internet arguments are a class C problem

        But off the cuff, in no logical order, and not going back to re-read your post because 1) you didn't answer my questions directly, just posed more of your own, and 2) I need to do what I'm paid to do, not argue on teh intarwebs--

        Learning algebra isn't just about learning algebra, it's about learning how to reason. Dealing with administrative shit is basically doing your own homework and if you're paying attention, learning why the administrative shit exists and how to hack the system by understanding the principles (mostly federal rules as filtered through university administrative systems). This comes from practice, not theory.

        If your grades in grad school aren't good, don't expect to win a K award or a pre/post-doc Hughes. More to the point, most of what I learned in classes grad school was how they discovered all the things that were presented as given fact in undergrad, and that was an invaluable transition, imnvo, between didicatic undergrad and "you're on your own, kid; what do you think?" senior grad student.

        Lastly, I have seen post-docs with stellar grad school publications flame out, largely because they'd never dealt with any adversity, stuff not working for no explicable reason, etc. I had an effing awful grad experience in many ways. I went back at 30, with a lot of real world experience, but I value everything it taught me, even when at the time it seemed like "unnecessary shit". I did not, as much as I thought I did, have a sense of perspective at the time. I do now.

  • tmbtx says:

    Lots of fun stuff here. Random observations:

    1. MS is very different from PhD, depending on the field. For a PhD, you should expect to get your ass kicked, repeatedly. By "ass kicked" I mean challenged in your productivity, thinking, and quality of work. This partially holds for a MS if you're in a field that tops out at MS level.

    2. Grad school is a choice. Nobody is making you go. It's a big choice, too, with major implications. Do your fucking homework to make sure you're choosing the right place and person. I didn't, and while I've landed fine career-wise my grad school experience was unfortunately poor in many ways.

    3. The main point of the post of "don't be an undergrad" is 100% true. If you're a grad student, you were probably a pretty good if not bad-ass undergrad, but it's a different game entirely. And a fun and rewarding one, too, which I'd go back to if I could.

    There, I've now made you all smarter by, essentially, talking to my 22 year old self.

  • matt says:

    I am going to guess that agradstudent is a 4th year grad student? They (for some reason I am thinking they are a "she" but can't tell) have passed the classes and oral exam of their first and second years. Picked their lab and worked on the initial part of the projects with a few interesting results. Then in their third year they got stuck on a side project and ran into a few walls on their main project too. So now in the beginning of their fourth (or maybe fifth year) they are so far down the hole of grad school despair they can't see why they started this "job" in the first place. Their friends are getting a paper or two out and starting to talk about graduation. They look at their lab notebooks and all they can think they will never get out.

    My advice, as a new prof, not very far out of grad school and post doc, is to come in every day and crank on the project. The assays will work, the results will come. It will take tweaking and dedication and time. While your friends go out for happy hour on thursday and friday night, stay in lab to set up that next round of PCR or western blot. Push 1 and a half days of work into 1 day. Thats a half a day less you will be in grad school. Remember why you pushed yourself through all the crap classes you didn't like and sat through all the Journal clubs that didn't seem to have any effect on your research.

    If you can push through the assay bashing and come out the other side with beautiful gels and growth curves and fluorescence images, it will all be worth while. The papers will come, the data will come, and you will soon be standing in front of your peers giving your thesis talk and they will be envious of the work you have done.

    And then when the student new 4th year student hits a rough patch as you getting ready to go out to your postdoc, you can take them out for coffee, sit them down, look them in the face and say, "Shut the fuck up with your whining, you little kid! You havn't done shit yet. Suck it up and get back to lab."

    Now go set up that PCR and you will thank me in the morning.

    Matt

  • gerty-z says:

    A couple of points:
    1. If you care about what grade you get in your graduate coursework, then you have missed the point. Yes, you will get a grade. This grade will show that you completed the course. You have only done well in the course if you were able to learn something of functional relevance (like how to critically read the literature or grantsmanship). Only you can know if you engaged enough to get anything out of the course. But you better learn how to do these things or else you will not be able to succeed in graduate school.

    2. It is, in fact, your job to take care of the administrative crap required for your job. It is my job to take care of the administrative crap required to run my lab and for my own job. I am not your mother.

    3. Dealing with administrative "crap" IS part of doing science. Just like grant writing and doing experiments. DrugMonkey (but Sb link is broken), Dr. Isis (http://isisthescientist.com/2011/08/21/is-fundraising-doing-science/) and CPP (http://freethoughtblogs.com/physioprof/2011/08/19/doing-science/) have covered this, though not from the perspective of a grad student.

    4. Don't do unnecessary shit. It is, by definition, not required.

    • Spiny Norman says:

      It's an error to say that graduate grades don't matter. igrrl's post hits the salient points. But an ambitious student needs to care about a lot more than the grade: she needs to use the courses to advance intellectually. So, as in so much of life there is more than one goal. Many students have trouble with that, but (undergrad premed survey courses notwithstanding) the whole game is to learn how to manage complexity.

  • Namnezia says:

    Not sure what all the complainin's about here. I found grad school to be much less stressful than college, and really not a bad experience at all. In fact I think there was a lot more bureaucracy to deal with in college than in grad school. Maybe I'm crazy here, but I thought being a grad student was a lot of fun and definitely formative. And it's not just me, I think most of my peers had similar experiences. I'm WAAAY more stressed out now as a "lazy ass professor" than I ever was at any point in my career. Maybe AGradStudent is not in the right grad program for him, or in the right career if he's that unhappy.

    And yes, DM, some Earl Grey would be lovely!

    • matt says:

      I agree. Either they are in the wrong program, a crap lab with no mentorship, or just in a crappy part of their project.

      Either way, they could always drop out and sell Oligos for Sigma. How does that sound for a career, agradstudent?

    • gerty-z says:

      Grad school was a lot of fun. All of the research excitement, almost no responsibility!

    • AGradStudent says:

      (Sorry, this was 1st posted in the wrong spot by accident.)

      “Maybe I'm crazy here, but I thought being a grad student was a lot of fun and definitely formative. And it's not just me, I think most of my peers had similar experiences.”

      Thank you – that is how it *should* be. I am lucky enough to be in this situation, which is why I get really upset when I hear the BS blah-blah of, “It’s grad school – it’s supposed to suck.” No, it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t suck any more than having kids should suck, or doing anything else in life that is challenging but ultimately rewarding and that brings you joy on a day-to-day basis. The "it should suck" kind of thinking keeps students caught in very unfortunate situations from acting, because they start to believe that they really have no right to expect better.

      I’m grateful that my advisor has shielded me from a lot of “administrative crap” that I would otherwise have had to deal with. He has signed petitions for me to skip useless classes (for someone w/my background) and greased the wheels so that they would go through. He does all he can to clear a path for me so that all I have to think about is my science. He considers this his job and has told me so. Neither he nor I think of this as “hand-holding.”

      “I'm WAAAY more stressed out now as a "lazy ass professor" than I ever was at any point in my career.”

      And this is also as it should be. You are a prof, not a post doc or a grad student. I wish some people could do a better job of keeping track of that distinction.

  • becca says:

    I think that a huge problem I had when transitioning to grad school was that people were telling me I needed to be independent at the exact same time they were telling me how what I chose was wrong.

    Independent graduate students learning to read the literature do it wrong. Sometimes they are overly wowed by glamormaz; sometimes they take 'published' as too synonymous with 'verifiable'; sometimes they are too dismissive of good work; usually they follow the narrative but don't know enough to understand what experiments weren't done (and why)- in a real sense, science is a 'choose your own adventure' that gets written up as though it has a coherent plot; usually they read different things than you would choose for them.

    Independent graduate students learning to identify a problem do it wrong. Sometimes they pick something too trivial, more often (I think) they pick something impossibly ambitious; sometimes they fear branching out into new techniques, other times they assume they can learn anything (even electrophysiology) in a couple of weeks, tops; they pick based on their interests, and generally have only minimal clues what has been done before or where the field is going; many grad students struggle with articulating "the" hypothesis (since many projects can be adapted to many hypotheses, and truthfully the idea there is one hypothesis is usually a polite post facto stamp anyway); most importantly, the best way to learn a project was poorly conceived is to fail, and most grad students will do that a lot.

    Independent graduate students learning to navigate their environment often do it wrong. Sometimes they speak too unguardedly to one of the administrative assistants; often they ask the same question everybody else has asked a zillion times and thus inadvertently offend the administrative assistants; sometimes they burn with righteous indignation over a true injustice- that people do NOT wish to discuss (hint: do not post Science career articles about wage inequality without checking to see if your institution was recently targeted by a wage disparity lawsuit, that they lost leaving in its wake a variety of "under"paid boi disgruntledocs); sometimes they do IRBs or MTAs or whatnot too well, and get assumed to be secretaries by the people in these offices; often they don't know how to navigate their end of the advisor-student relationship which is both like and unlike employer-employee and sometimes perilously poorly defined/deceptively casual; sometimes they will crack under the pressure and want to yell and scream at the wrong person; sometimes they will embarrass you in front of the head of the institute or someone at a conference.

    I think it is, at best, disingenuous, and at worst cruel to tell students simply "this isn't undergrad anymore". Likely they know that. Likely that is why they chose graduate school. But you can't just tell them "you will be judged by your research" because first, that isn't strictly true (you are also judged by your general knowledge and 'citizenship', for lack of a better term; just as in almost any adult context), and second, you aren't telling them how they are going to be judged. Because you don't know. I mean, you might know some things, but can you tell someone ahead of time they will face these particular types of obstacles? Could anyone have told me what I just wrote before I lived it (and, in many cases, saw others live it as well)? Nope.

    Graduate students don't cling to undergrad standards because they LOVE them, they cling to them because they KNOW them. And because they CAN'T know what's ahead, and they can't prepare for it, and some will fail many times for reasons entirely outside of their control. All you should tell graduate students is that it's ok to fail, and fail again. And to mean it, no matter how crazy they drive you.

    • gerty-z says:

      I agree. Grad students will do all of those things wrong and more. But the messing up is part of the learning. IMO, grad school should be a place where students learn how to think about science. This will require that they are wrong often (most of the time). Being wrong is the nature of this business, and every grad student has to learn to "fail". Hopefully in a way that is useful and informative.

      Importantly, grad school is not a continuation of undergrad. No one can (or should) hold your hand through this. Though you may work as part of a team, in the end this is an individual sport. Every grad student has to figure out how the system works FOR THEM. No two grad experiences are the same.

      As a mentor, I view my job as helping to nudge the grad students when I see that they are making mistakes, so that they can figure out how and why. But there IS often not just one correct answer.

    • AGradStudent says:

      “I think it is, at best, disingenuous, and at worst cruel to tell students simply "this isn't undergrad anymore". Likely they know that. Likely that is why they chose graduate school.”

      I agree.

      And it’s one thing for me to tell my peers, “Just figure out what you need to do to get out and do it.” But coming from a prof, who is in a position of power in the system? It’s a cop-out. The problems that exist in the current system get recast as one more “challenge” that graduate students have deal with. And the fact that profs have their own “challenges” becomes a justification for the status quo. And then the same pointless advice gets repeated all the time, and people don’t even think anymore about what they’re actually saying….

      • becca says:

        It's adaptive to take problems you face and view them as personal challenges if you are not in a position to change the institutional or systematic aspects of the problem.
        It's maladaptive communal behavior, arguably sociopathic, to throw up your hands at EVERY institutional and systematic problem that other people confront, and say "it'll make them stronger", particularly if you are in a position to change those institutional and systematic problems.

        Thus, above all else, was what I gleaned from "Ms. Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia". It's a great book about how navigate the system *as is*, and absolutely despair inducing as a book about how to change the system. Much like most of DM's advice.

  • drugmonkey says:

    They don't "know that" becca. Or at least a sizable subset does not. If you haven't seen the type you've been lucky, are incredibly myopic or you were that person.

    And I stick by my point (and GertyZ's) that realizing this is different and a job is the fundamental first mover for graduate school success.

    • AGradStudent says:

      Being a grad student is not a job. If it were, grad students would have a decent salary, benefits, and protection from a lot of unprofessional behavior that comes their way. Says someone who has actually worked outside of academia. I never put the kinds of hours into my job that I do as a grad student. And my advisor is a lot more to me than a boss.

      • tmbtx says:

        It's a job compared to undergrad is the point I believe. And putting in long hours is part of academia. As for unprofessional behavior, I'm not sure what protections you're referring to.

        • AGradStudent says:

          Logic FAIL. Being an undergrad is not a job. The fact that being an undergrad is not a job does, in no way, make being a grad student a job. Did grad students at your school ever try to unionize? If they had, you might be better able to appreciate this point.

          Also, if you have friends that work outside of academia, who perhaps never went to grad school, talk to them some time about some of the shit you saw go down in grad school and watch them be amazed that that kind of stuff doesn't get people fired.

          • tmbtx says:

            I work outside academia, and I see plenty of weird shit. People get screwed in corporate power plays just as much as academic ones.

            And at grad school, they did try to unionize, at least over in the liberal arts schools. I didn't pay much attention to it as we had decent benefits actually.

      • JaySeeDub says:

        Your job outside of academia must have been some preposterously perfect Proletariat Paradise I've never encountered. Between getting a pot full of hot mornay sauce thrown at my chest by an Executive Chef angry that it was grainy, and being castigated by a senior partner in a staff meeting, my time in grad school, rotations, clerkships? Piece of cake compared to a PI who didn't respond to e-mails right away or not having detailed step by step instructions for navigating what your next move in grad school is.

  • becca says:

    "They don't "know that" becca. Or at least a sizable subset does not. If you haven't seen the type you've been lucky, are incredibly myopic or you were that person."
    First, kids are told at every level of advancing in education that "this isn't like the last". They are constantly told they need to be more independent, but not actually given much autonomy.

    Grade school isn't kindergarten, you have to do 'seat work' now (remember Ramona? Anyone?)...
    Middle school/junior high isn't grade school, you'll have more homework and the exams are More Important. No one will Hold Your Hand...
    High school isn't like middle school, you are in charge of your own schedule, and getting yourself where you need to go, and This Stuff Determines Your Future Chances at College. No one will Hold Your Hand...
    College isn't like High School, we do Critical Thinking now. No one will Hold Your Hand...
    (incidentally, for those of us that started at community colleges, we tended to get the "college isn't like high school" talk couched in terms of "it's expensive, and you should treat it seriously, at least as seriously as your jobs", not the privileged bullshit of "college isn't like high school because you live away from home and have to learn to balance studying with watching football and drinking" that tended to underlie the "college isn't like high school" talk at the flagship state school environment)

    So to say that Grad school isn't like Undergrad, because now you are independent... It's not that it's untrue, it just doesn't help people understand what it means.

    I think offering this kind of advice also reflects a lack of understanding WHY people transitioning to grad school might have a difficult time. I think fear of failure is a much bigger factor than simply being unaware that the standards for success have changed.

    DM, really? I was not "that student". I was the grad student who was impatient with the required didactic courses that faculty clearly did not want to teach, because it was like an extra year of undergrad and I just wanted to be in the lab. My first problem with adaptation to grad school was actually that people like gerty-z had told me it would be different, and I felt horribly cheated when it was more of the same.

    • Namnezia says:

      " I was not "that student". I was the grad student who was impatient with the required didactic courses that faculty clearly did not want to teach, because it was like an extra year of undergrad and I just wanted to be in the lab."

      I don't know about this, I find that a lot of our grad students are pretty clueless in some topics that they think they know and are experts in. Most definitely benefit from their courses, which the faculty spend quite a bit of time and energy in designing for them. Usually the ones that complain the most about their courses are the ones who also have the most trouble in lab. The ones that just go with the flow and take advantage of this as a learning experience seem to do better. Although I've seen exceptions to both cases.

  • becca says:

    I'd say I benefited from my classes, although perhaps less so than if they had been more discussion based and less didactic.
    In addition, teaching was viewed as something of a horrible burden at my graduate institution (far more so than my equally research oriented undergrad institution). Some profs were awesome, really inspiring, but most were mediocore to painfully bad. They viewed courses as something that had to be done, and that was about it.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I find it hilarious that AGradStudent imagines that she is the only stalwart soul in academia ever to have experienced "the real world". Yet another poor little deluded dumbfuck who cannot wrap her head around the fact that some current faculty walked down the same damn road that she did. Many had these little fits of pique as well. ...but the point of longer experience is that now we put those years into a different set of perspectives...Oh yeah, you too becca :-p

    • AGradStudent says:

      Oh yeah, you know me so well, asshole. So your “perspective” is how you rationalize the fucked up world of academia, now that you are further along on the pyramid? Impressive! Save your tired old platitudes for someone who gives a crap what you say – I got bored with you a long time ago.

    • Gerty-z says:

      All right, you two. Enough. AGradStudent, you have been pushing the limit of civility for a while. Consider this your warning. Keep it up and your comments will no longer be welcome here. And DM, try to refrain from trolling and FWDAOTI.

  • gerty-z says:

    AGradStudent, to answer your questions:

    "Does it make sense to you that grad students have to earn grades that no one cares about?"
    Grad students have to take classes (some didactic, some discussion based). They should engage in these courses fully and learn as much as possible. If they do, the grade doesn't matter (but, pragmatically, it will take care of itself). So, yes. It does make sense to "earn" grades that no one cares about. If you care about what your grade is (and not what you are taking from the class) then you are still thinking like an undergrad.

    "Do you think grad students should have to procure their own funding since they will have to do so as profs?"
    Grad students should learn to write about science. IMO, it is a good idea to write AN application for a fellowship. And they should write the manuscripts to publish their work. But no, I don't think that a graduation students should be required to procure their own funding. That is what a postdoc is for.

    "Do you not feel there are things about the typical grad student experience that just about everyone complains about, that just about everyone admits are pretty useless, but no one ever seems to change them?"
    I disagree that there are typical grad student experiences that "everyone" admits are useless. Maybe all the grad students believe this, but I would argue that they may not have the perspective to make this call. Also, it is typical to get together with peers and for "bitchfests". These may build camaraderie, but should not be taken too seriously as a reflection of reality.

    "THAT is what profs should take on, now that they are on the other side of it. Instead, they tell students to grow up, suck it up, etc., or that the crap is actually good—and necessary—for them."
    OK, this is not a question. But, just to reiterate: you seem not to consider that perhaps, after you have made it all the way through the process, one begins to appreciate that some of the "bullshit" actually had a use. And also, pretty much all of the comments above here.

  • Was there a Care Bears Fucking Tea Party that I wasn't invited to when I got into this business? Damn. Why the hell didn't my grad advisor let me know.

  • becca says:

    " If you care about what your grade is (and not what you are taking from the class) then you are still thinking like an undergrad."
    Or a graduate student interested in applying for fellowships.

    I think there are a couple of key things to keep in mind about all this:
    1) some people, by virtue of their personality (not their moral superiority), are not retroactively optimistic. That is, not all people remember the good things more than the bad. While it is true that *in general* temporal distance brings increased perspective, not everyone will forget what made them miserable. In general, those that have the personally adaptive trait of forgetting the misery are shit at actually reforming systems that do in fact need reforming.
    2) the disadvantages of graduate training may well be less for those who end up as profs. This does not mean graduate training does not have systematic flaws for other people. In addition, some of the disadvantages of graduate training are advantages for profs, and so those that become profs are necessarily biased to these limitations (not that in a utilitarian sense we can't count prof misery as much as student misery, just that those in power already tend to get their miseries taken into account more).

    • gerty-z says:

      1. perhaps. But I really don't remember being miserable in graduate school. This is not because I have a lousy memory, but really that grad school was a lot of fun. I'm sure that some people were in situations that they did not like as much.
      2. probably true. BUT, many programs are getting better. In part because young profs (including me) try to make it so that grad students know about what they may need to do to get a job that is not a postdoc. that being said, the basics of getting a PhD are the same no matter what you do with it. If you are a grad student in my program, I will expect you to take control of your own education and respect the fact that you are starting a job regardless of whether you want to stay in academia.

      • becca says:

        DM seemed to be opining something like "of course grad school isn't fun, but it's good for you, eat your vegetables and quite whinging you spoilt brat".
        My point is, while some people do make a face, grimace, eat their vegetables and discover the vegetables are not so bad, it's also true that not everyone likes all vegetables. Not because they are immature, but because of a perfectly valid reason. Maybe because they're a supertaster, or maybe because they got boiled-to-mush string beans with mold growing on them that no one in their right mind would like.

        It's quite another thing to just say "I like vegetables". And it's quite another thing still to say what you say (more or less, "I liked the vegetables I got, I know other people got less tasty ones").

        And yes, many programs are getting better, but there is a lot of inertia. My program actually made a lot of laudable attempts to make things better (options for industry internships, opportunities to get 4 year SLAC college teaching experience, a lot of interdisciplinary coursework). In practice, most students couldn't benefit from those options.
        It didn't help to have profs making fun of students who embraced those opportunities. Whether they did so because 1) 'the basics' are hard enough, and the profs were kindly pointing out naiveness that would lead to heartbreak after unrealistic expectations couldn't be met or 2) the profs have bought into the TT-at R1-is-the-dream-and-the-only-way-to-do-Real-Important-work to such a degree that they were abysmally lousy mentors for anyone who was not similarly enamored of their life choices.

  • Yael says:

    Spiny Norman said: "But if you apply for an NSF or NIH predof or postdoc fellowship your grad grades will be on the application"

    Interesting, and I didn't know that (but it will be relevant pretty soon when I apply for an F32). I have a noob question for those who have reviewed these grants: how much do grades they count in how you rate the grant? If a candidate has good publications, is in a good postdoc lab but has so-so grades (my graduate school's average was a B/B- also common in our weed-out classes that counted a lot), would you expect it to be addressed in the recommendation letters? Would industry jobs also require that the so-so grades be addressed in recommendation letters?

  • a.w.e. says:

    Yael, I know of a specific instance where a postdoc who was in a good lab, had papers, etc. was harshly critiqued for undergrad grades on an F32. I don't think all of the study sections do that, but when it happens you're screwed because there's no way to "fix" the issue. If your grades were less than stellar but you are great at the bench, I would suggest you have your letter writers say as much.

  • I can't believe I actually sat here and read through all this. So many feelings, so many emotions... Ok. One of the main reasons I decided to become a professor is because I hated how my Ph.D. advisor treated his students. I'm seeing a trend over the last 10 years of my life, of the quality of life of Ph.D. students declining and a probably correlated change in the demographics of who is willing and interested to go to grad school. I try to look out for my students, as well as all the students in my department, and help them out whenever I can, even if it means complaining to the higher ups. If I make tenure, I will take this to outside the university. That being said though, I do have them help out with some of my beaurocratic crap. Here are some reasons why: 1) Grad students are not just there to learn science. If that is all they want to do, then they can pay their own tuition and not take a stipend. 2) Some of them may want to become faculty and they need to learn how to deal with this particular type of crap. And when I tell them that they have to figure something out on their own, I tell them because it's important that they do and I try to explain why. Occassionally there are nonlab things that I could do myself and faster that I just drop on them to figure out, but that is because I don't have time myself and they are being paid. Including experimental and lab costs, tuition, stipend, benefits, conference travel, each student runs me almost $100k.

    Unfortunately, I don't know what the crap is that AGradStudent is referring to. I didn't read any examples in this thread.

    And, when I say grad school sucked, its mostly not because of my crappy advisor, its because it was long hours, days, weeks, months of constant failed experiments, lack of good experimental resources, and poor pay. This is a unique kind of sucking, because I would do it again. My dad worked in a factory for 35 years, I saw what he did at work, and how I "worked" and how my life "sucked" in comparison to his.

    As a nonsequitur to a comment from AGradStudent: "When I was young, my mother never made me clean the toilet or do my own laundry. Yet somehow, when I went away to school, I managed to pick this up just fine." I personally know multiple people that never cleaned the toilet or did the laundry and years after moving out from their parents house still do not do these things well. Sad and disgusting, but not everyone is a genius and some people need training at basic things.

    I see the original post by gerty-z as being addressed to the grad students who really don't get it, even after being in grad school for several months, not to all grad students. Not everyone is a self-motivated angel like AGradStudent. Believe it or not, some students will use the excuse for not running experiments because "its too hard" or "it required too much paperwork." It's not easy to come up with research funds and when, for example, students don't come in to work or do science unless they are explicitly told to, it drives us nuts. I'm not as nice as I was when I first started because students tried to take advantage of me. Some lied, some thought they could get away with cutting corners, some slacked, and outside the top tiers schools I can say with quite some confidence that this happens much more often.

  • [...] better at talking to scientists, too). But, based on stats the posts that you guys liked most were "for the new graduate students" (there was a feisty discussion in the comments), "did I just get dumped?" (the apron strings ref [...]

  • AnotherGradStudent says:

    Thank you AGradStudent for just coming out and saying all the shit everyone else seems too damn afraid to say. This whole attitude of "I had it tough, and now I have a job, so I'm gonna make your life tough too (or even tougher in some cases)..."-that shit never built any bridges to success. The most respected and revered (and not FEARED) professor in my department is the guy who makes harmonics on the side, who gives the time of day to students who aren't even his advisees, who can laugh and encourage you while also disciplining you. That guy is making the big bucks, and he's not gonna step on anyone else's back or behave as some sort of demi-God to get what he wants and make a difference. We should try to better one another by carving out a path of kindness, and not by building obstacles that were never there to begin with.

    And also, my mom tied my shoes too and I'm damn proud of it.

  • [...] are back. For REAL. I have given lectures to the new grad students, and we'll see how they make the transition. There are also undergrads around, but I'm ignoring that because it just reminds me I have to start [...]

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