Former president of the University of California, the late Clark Kerr, said that the purpose of a university was to provide “sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty” (as cited in Calisphere, 2011, footnote 99). In his tongue-in-check statement about the purpose of universities, Dr. Kerr appears to have overlooked graduate students because, as we all know, graduate students are far too busy for, ahem, recreational activities.
Though it is true that universities generally value their graduate students, some graduate students feel that they are just incidental additions to their universities’ landscapes, ranking in importance somewhere on par with the rotation of the flower beds. Equating the perceived importance of graduate students to petunias is comically hyperbolic until I remember that Texas Christian University has a half-million-dollar floral endowment . . .
Perhaps you think me too cynical? Well, nobody likes a cynic, and I have a more-than-modest desire to be likeable. In my blog posts, I may paint the occasional unflattering picture of certain aspects of life as a graduate student, but the ultimate goal of each blog will be to provide you with ways to be your own advocate. There may not always be someone with more knowledge, skill, or clout looking out for your best interests as a graduate student, so you will have to speak up for yourself.
The need to intercede on your own behalf during graduate school may occur among peers and colleagues, faculty, or even campus administration. Of course, my experience is limited to my particular lab/advisor/department/university, and some of the quandaries I describe and solutions I suggest may not apply to your situation. That being said, some of the issues that you’ll encounter and that I address are age-old pitfalls of graduate school that vary little across programs. Consider my blog posts like a foreign market: Take what you know you can use, sample some things that seem interesting, and leave the things that are confusing or that smell funny. If you find that your experience in a situation is different than what I describe, please share a comment; there may be others in similar circumstances who may benefit from your perspective. As far as comments go, let’s try and keep it classy; I’m running a dignified operation here.