The new semester is bearing down and with it a bunch of bright-eyed grad students have come to campus To Do Science. I am happy for these new students and am genuinely excited to get to know them.
There's a few mistakes that one or two will make right away that always leaves the non-n00bs shaking their heads. With that in mind, a couple of do's and don'ts for the newly fledged.
Do's (Almost all of these can be figured out online or in a quick conversation with grad students who have been around for a year or more. It may also be covered in your orientation.)
- Figure out the structure of your program a bit and who you need to talk to with certain questions. Who is the Grad Director? Who is the Chair? Who are the key Admin Staff? What types of questions should be directed where?
- If you're in a rotation system, figure out how it works.
- If you are not, get a feel for the structure of the lab you just entered. Who are the people most related to your project? Is there a postdoc you can talk to when you are stuck? Which students will show you "the ropes".
- Are there required classes for your program? If so, get signed up. If not, how many course credits do you need and which classes are the best for your area?
- Get to know your cohort.
It is important to realize that your priorities may not be immediately aligned with those around you. This is not undergrad anymore, things are going to be different.
- Don't email busy people on a holiday weekend with the subject line "URGENT" unless you are trying to find the MSDS for a chemical you just drank or spilled on you.
- Don't request permission numbers for the wrong class. Twice.
- Don't expect an immediate response from people on non-urgent issues. And even then, don't get your hopes up or email again after 20 minutes has passed.
- Professors are not the only people who know How Things Work. Don't go to them for every minor question.
- Finally, don't assume that professors live at the university and work 24/7. Many of us* have lives and other things going on. Our personal lives can affect how we approach our job, even if those things are hidden from your knowledge. Take it from someone who hasn't had more than 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep in four weeks, sometimes we're cranky for reason unrelated to you. Don't take it personally.
Generally, it'll take you some time to settle in, but don't expect that you're going to walk in and start running on day one. Get to know your surroundings and the people who can help make your transition easier. A well-run lab has a hierarchy of support and assistance which is there to make sure you have the tools and knowledge you need to succeed, but it's up to you get up to speed.
Now get reading.
* Though not all.