All about expectations
Below I’ve listed some of the things I expect of graduate students (PhD students) in my group and also things that they can expect from me. A subset of this expectations also applies to BSc and MSc Students. Having an understanding of our mutual expectations is key to the success of a graduate mentoring relationship. This is meant to be a dynamic document that will evolve over time with student input. So let’s start this conversation!
My expectations of graduate students
- I expect that you will seek my advice on issues related to your professional and academic development (like choosing classes, TAships, research directions, funding opportunities, conferences) and will seriously consider that advice.
- I expect that you will use your own judgement about taking that advice. For example, if I suggest a conference to you and after looking at it, you honestly don’t think it looks up your alley, I expect you to go with your gut and look for a different place to present your research. Ultimately, it’s your graduate education and you are the driver.
- I expect that you will pursue research that has some overlap with my expertise and interests. Otherwise, I will not be in a solid position to mentor you and help you have success. If your interests shift away from the themes of the lab, I expect that you will inform me and we can discuss options.
- I expect honesty from you. I will not judge you for not knowing something or for breaking something in the lab; everyone has different educational backgrounds and everyone breaks something from time to time.
- I expect you to be resourceful concerning my time and questions you ask. Many things ‘stick’ better when you have to work through a problem. And I don’t know all the answers anyway! So by all means, ask questions, sometimes I’ll have an answer and sometimes I will point you to fruitful paths for answering those questions.
- I expect that you will respect my time as I respect yours. If we have a meeting scheduled, I expect you to be on time or to let me know if you will be late.
- I expect you to be a full part of this lab community. Graduate students are the lab members (besides me) with the longest terms and are really the heart of the lab. So I expect you to be at lab meetings (on time), to participate fully in those meetings (by presenting, asking questions, bringing snacks when it’s your turn), to come to lab social events, to take part in at least some of our outreach events, to help us host visiting speakers, etc. I also expect that you will be supportive of each other -- say hello to your labmates, help (if you have time) when they ask, be welcoming to newcomers, etc.
- I expect you to tell me when you can’t do one of these things. You should typically be juggling just as many things as I am and sometimes have to say no. This is fine and I expect you to do this.
- I expect that you will usually respond in a timely fashion (24 hrs if during the work week) when I email or Slack you. I also expect that you will tell me when you will be out of town for extended periods, in case lab issues come up and we are looking for you. I expect you to communicate these things via our shared calendar.
- I expect you to contribute to communal activities especially during infection experiments. This lessens the burden for all of us and makes a safety net in case of emergencies (others can step in for you).
- I expect you to invest time in the success of the lab, not just in your own research. Running a lab is a huge collective effort, and we all contribute to our collective success. For example, you might be the one to set up the lab meeting schedule, organize hazardous waste pick-up, order supplies, refill the paper towels, etc. No one does these things for us, so look around, see what needs doing (and that others are probably doing for you) and pitch in. I will know and I will appreciate your efforts.
- I expect that you will discuss issues of authorship of publications, presentations and talks with me before presenting/submitting. Typically, PIs contribute intellectually and monetarily to student projects and are listed as senior authors. However, if a project did not involve my effort in these ways, I would not expect authorship (and in fact if you do side projects that don’t involve me, that’s great. But see #3 above.)
I expect you will actively pursue funds to support your research, even if it is in line with ongoing projects in the lab. This is easily one of the most important aspects of your training -- learning how to sell your ideas -- and it takes lots of practice. I expect you to start in your first year and to continue to apply as needed to support your work. Your success in garnering grants will also be one of the main features (beyond your publications) that any future employers will consider, at least in research-related careers. This does not mean that I won’t help with paying for your research -- but it does mean that I need to see that you are putting in effort to support yourself.
I expect you to mentor an undergrad (BSc or MSc) or internship students at least once during your tenure. If you are here in graduate school, there's a good chance that a graduate student mentored you while you were an undergrad, and this is the time to return the favor (and also to figure out if you want to advise students as part of your career). However, I expect you to keep an eye on your time and not donate it all to undergrad mentoring. It can be a hard balance, but that’s academia.
Your expectations of me:
- You can expect to meet with me regularly (roughly weekly and appointment). I think it’s important that you have regular one-on-one time with me.
- You can expect me to ask for your honest feedback about the lab, your graduate experience, and your perception of me as a mentor. I can’t improve anything that you don’t tell me about.
- You can expect me to give you my honest feedback about your progress. I am here to support you in every way possible and giving you feedback is one of the most important ways to promote your success. If you want to think of it this way, I am like the person who will be brave enough to tell you that you’ve got spinach in your teeth, but in an academic way.
- You can expect me to provide timely feedback on your grants and papers. A week turn-around time is fair unless it is particularly gnarly.
- You can expect me to listen to your concerns and help you solve problems. Some problems need to be strong-armed and when that is the case, I will gladly step in. It’s my job.
- You can expect me to write letters of recommendation for you, given advance notice. Please give me one week lead time because I need to find a 3-4 hour block of time to write you a good letter. Please also give me all the information concerning the required scope of the letter (i.e. what does the funding body want to fund) so I can focus my evaluation of yourself accordingly. You can do the latter by supplying a draft (i.e. also includin the address it has to be sent to etc. which will save me time). This draft will not interfere with my honest evaluation of yourself.
- You can expect me to help you network. I will write emails to introduce you to people in the field and I will connect you to people at meetings. I will also guide you in knowing what to expect from these interactions (having an ‘elevator speech’, asking them questions.). These things are more important than you think in getting a position after your degree.
- You can expect me to work very hard with you on your posters and talks. These are your face to the research community and if the audience is giving you their time, you want to make the most of it. So I will give you my time to make your talk or poster effective and engaging.
- You can expect me to keep a rough eye on your timeline. Ultimately, you are responsible for making sure you hit the deadlines, but I will help you plan things out so that events like your third semester exam don’t ‘sneak up’ on you.
- You can expect me to help you find funding sources. I will send you all sorts of opportunities and you will decide what to pursue.
- You can expect me to work as hard toward your success as you do. The harder you push, the harder I will push to help.
- You can expect me to ensure that you have a safe and supportive environment in which to work. If you have any concerns about the climate in the lab, I want to know as soon as possible. In this context, it’s important to know that, as a faculty member, I am a mandatory reporter, which means I must report any instances of harassment or abuse. However, all information remains confidential unless you chose to release it.
- You can expect me to provide a model of professionalism in academia, and you can look to me for guidance on issues related to conflicts of interest, equity and fairness, ethical research, and mentoring.
- You can expect me to help you find other resources and other mentors when you need additional support beyond my abilities.
These expectations are (not so) specific to me (a first start for this actually copy-pasted from http://www.colorado.edu/smithlab/all-about-expectations but apply amazingly well), but additionally expectations of graduate programs apply if you are eventually enrolled in one. See the graduate program guidelines especially about TAC meetings and annual progress reports specifics. These guidelines might additonally cover things like course work, publication rate, conference attendance, teaching, etc.