Derrick White: Getting to know your colleagues

By Derrick White. Posted November 6, 2013.

The items below are some things that I do here at UNL to make sure I have close relationships with my colleagues, which could lead to bigger and better things in the next chapter of my life after graduate school. These tools will be vital to my success in my next endeavor.

  1. Attendance at monthly meetings coordinated by graduate students: One of your duties as a graduate student is to attend meetings that are coordinated by senior graduate students in your respective departments. These meeting are usually held by the organizations that are formed in different departments. For example, once I was accepted to UNL, I was automatically a part of the Biology Graduate Student Association. These meetings allow the graduate students to lay out a plan for the entire year, as well give you the time to interact with other students that do not work in your lab. Networking is important for every graduate student and your participation in meetings directed by your peers can go a long way into lucrative collaborations. These interactions can also assist with your PhD work, as graduate students bounce ideas off each other. Every graduate student comes in to their respective program with the goal of completing their degree and these meetings can be crucial to helping them obtain this goal.
  2. Interaction outside the workplace: The interaction between colleagues is not necessarily relegated to just the department here on campus. All graduate students usually have a hectic schedule and little time for socializing. However, monthly social events could be a good way to get away from the lab bench, computer, or book (depending on your discipline), and gives you another opportunity to get to know your colleagues. This relaxed environment could give you the opportunity to talk about your experience in your department, how to deal with particular issues that may arise, as well as give a colleague positive feedback if they are having second thoughts about graduate school. You should also consider joining other campus organizations that could lead to interaction with colleagues from different departments. For instance, I am the current Black Graduate Association president and through this avenue I have met other graduate students who are not in the Biological Science program.
  3. Classroom interaction and recreational activities: At the beginning of your graduate experience, the classroom will be essential for your growth as a graduate student. This is also where you will interact with incoming and senior graduate students in your department. While in class, the professor may assign group projects and some of the work could be intense. Your colleague may not understand some aspects of the class and vice versa. With this in mind, working together on assignments in the classroom could help initiate a good rapport with your colleagues. Some colleagues have common interests that do not pertain to working all day in the office and lab. This could be recreational activities that are both fun and keep you in good health. I currently play softball with my colleagues in the summer and fall, before Lincoln is blanketed with snow. This interaction outside of the lab allows us to enjoy other parts of our lives that are not associated with the lab.  I also go to the gym with another colleague in an effort to keep my body energized, so I can maximize my time in the lab and avoid sickness.

Remember, every colleague in your department may have beneficial advice about their graduate experience that could guide you on your journey to earn your PhD. If you are not willing to talk to your colleagues in effort to establish these bonds, then your graduate school experience could be a lonely and isolated few years.

"Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly."
— Langston Hughes