Academic provisions to support graduate students in their maddest edges

“Don’t define people by their maddest edges” – Journalist and writer Jon Ronson, TED 2012.

Academia is a place where independence of thought is encouraged as long as the autonomy fulfills a directive. It requires excellent compatibility between a graduate student and the research advisor. We often see several graduate students on campus switching research tracks midway in their career, mainly due to incompatibility in the current workplace or dwindling relationship with their advisor. Other unexpected causes may include the advisor’s resignation from the university with a very brief notice. In these dire situations, there is little to no time for some graduate students to reorient themselves in the new work environment. Defining such students by their maddest edges, academia quickly labels them as incompetent, inefficient or insubordinate. This kind of negative reinforcement setting can have a regressing impact on the student’s morale. Getting fired or quitting are not too far from such a point.

A significant change would necessitate the student’s home department and the university to be an active part in facilitating their smooth transition to a new research group entailing frequent follow-ups. At this moment, the success of the student largely depends on how welcoming the new team and their team leader are concerning their willingness to work around the student’s research interests that fall within their expertise. It is the responsibility of the scientific advisor to explore the graduate student’s research interests carefully and counter them where necessary instead of labeling the student’s independent thought as incompetence as this will confine the innovation and the scope of the project in the long run. A well-established support system from the department with multiple faculty members collaborating while offering constructive criticism to each other’s ideas tends to prevent any obstinate superiority.

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