Collective Knowledge

I don’t know about everyone else, but I came out of NMFSS last week really pumped.  As a graduate student, I hear many people, both in administration and amongst the faculty, discuss breaking the barriers of communication and research between graduate students and faculty.  Our discussion of Los Alamos scientists and students working together to create the atom bomb (is it just me, or is it kind of disappointing that our prime example of interlevel research was necessitated by the production of the A-bomb?) really got me thinking about the opportunities we graduate students really have to work with our faculty members without a hierarchical system in place.  Don’t get me wrong, there are of course moments when graduate students should have to defer to their professors and advisors–there’s a reason they already have their terminal degrees.

But there really should be more opportunities for discussions and research between faculty and graduate students.  I think I came out of NMFSS so excited last week because our seminar is one of those opportunities.  As I sat in the same room with faculty, staff, and professionals from many disciplines and areas calling each other by their first names and actually listening to each other  (G-d forbid!), it actualized for me this goal the faculty and administration claim to have.

Do I have one-on-one discussions with faculty all the time?  Yes.  And when they’re not individuals from my dissertation committee, these conversations really have a collegial feel (first names and everything!) to them.  But the second I move into conversations with committee members and faculty I am currently taking classes with, that wall of separation, however transparent and permeable, is there.  Do I think it’s essential for graduate students to treat their faculty members with respect?  Absolutely.  I guess I’m just disappointed at how much the formalities associated with this respect can get in the way of true discussions of research, because the graduate student is too afraid to really talk with the faculty  member (What if they don’t like my ideas? I’m not the expert, they are! What if they think my ideas are dumb and they kick me out of school?–All irrational fears, I know).

The true teachers work on breaking down these barriers.  And when they do, it’s an exciting day to be a graduate student.  I hope to encounter more of these opportunities as a student and to create more of them when I become one of the future faculty.

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