Becoming a professional

I recently had a professor ask me how I introduced myself to others. I usually tell people, “I work with [advisors names] on [research].” Apparently there are still people who refer to themselves as “students under [advisor],” or just as students. But as graduate students, we’re not “just” students. We are early career professionals. In my case, that means that I am just as much an entomologist as anyone else in my field. As a professional entomologist, I realize there is more to it than the practical skills of keying out or pinning insects. Sometimes it seems like we’re made to feel that the best scientist is the most emotionless one. This is why Parker Palmer’s essay is so valuable. Emotions and ethics have an important role to play in guiding our actions professionally and personally. Rather than acting as we’re “supposed to” on the outside, we should honor how we feel on the inside. There is a reason why depression, anxiety, and alcoholism rates are so high among graduate students! We have the opportunity to do tangible good in the world, but that would be much harder if we completely walled ourselves off from how we felt or imploded from the process of getting a higher education.


Image result for leaf cutter ants
Being a professional isn’t about “staying in line”

5 thoughts on “Becoming a professional”

  1. Thank you for sharing! I completely agree with the notion that being emotionally detached is celebrated in higher education and beyond, especially in STEM fields where some argue that the whole focus should be on a person’s “technical” abilities. I think an example would be going back to class discussion on engineering departments opting to get rid of ethics requirements as a fundamental part of their curriculum in order to receive accreditation.

    You make some good points, the first one I notice is the prevalence of minimizing our role as graduate students or researchers in training. The second, the lack of empathy/emotion in science. I work in transportation safety, so sometimes I have to do an empathy check, typically when grad school has me down to remind myself what I’m doing today will save lives tomorrow.
    There’s saying (often attributed to Joseph Stalin), “one death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic.” People in my field talk about traffic fatalities like Stalin, when we really need to treat every one of them as the tragedies that they are.

    Monica’s blog has a good bit on ethics as it related to Dr. Marc Edwards & the Flint Water Crisis. You should check it out when you have a moment.

  3. Nicole, I agree completely with what I think are your two main points. Graduate students are not somehow “lesser” or not engaged in “real” work. The often assumed distinction between the academy and the “real world” is a fiction we should be conscious about. We’re already working, as you say, as early career professionals and our work can and does have effects on those around us. And to your second point, making sure to link explicitly ethics and emotions in both our personal and professional lives seems so important. There is such a strong pressure to try and keep emotions out of our work but that seems like a detrimental approach.

  4. I agree that emotions and ethics should play an important role in our personnel and professional lives. I think sometimes these principles are tossed to the side because people feel there should be a right or wrong answer independent of the person looking at the problem, when in reality that isn’t always the case.

  5. Great post! I went through the same change of trying to figure out how to introduce myself to others when I became a Ph.D. student. I agree that we should treat ourselves as professionals in the field, that will give us more confidence and “force” to work harder and contribute more to the field. I will definitely be more confident in the future when it comes to introduce myself and talk about my work. Thank you for sharing this great thought!

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