A major sources of support in grad school has been one of my best friends Lawrence. In the past I’ve written about the online co-working we do periodically. But over the last few weeks we’ve been trying out a suggestion from a blog post titled “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of One-on-Ones.” The summary version is that the author took his experiences in management to help his partner with their PhD. The author writes that his primary qualification is “caring alot”. Lawrence suggested we schedule weekly one-on-ones and trade off who is taking on the support role. After only three weeks, this has been both a joy and highly productive.
One thing to note is that my research area is ecology and evolutionary biology while Lawrence is studying 18th century literature and digital humanities. So while we’re both familiar with grad school life, our research areas aren’t even remotely related. But in some ways this has enabled us to give each other better broad feedback and bring suggestions from own fields that could be applied to the other’s work.
During our first meeting when I suggested one of my action items would be “do some more research on topic [X]” Lawrence astutely asked, well what does doing “more research” look like? In other words, how can we make this a SMART goal rather than something vague and unhelpful. Last week Lawrence brought up a research project he’d love to do for his dissertation but that it would involve some time-consuming combing of a database that can’t be automated. I suggested why not employ or mentor an undergrad? Apparently this is uncommon but not unheard of in Lawrence’s field. So discussing with his advisor the possibility of adding an undergrad to make this project a reality became one of Lawrence’s action items.
An important note here is that neither Lawrence nor I are students with neglectful advisors. We’re actually both co-advised and have advisors whose skill sets and personalities complement each other well. I personally benefit from talking ideas and processes out loud, but some topics just need a friendly sounding board rather than a content expert. My meetings with Lawrence have helped me hone my broad ideas so I can bring them more fleshed out to my advisors to efficiently discuss the nitty gritty that does require input from an expert. Thus, my one-on-ones with a literature grad student aren’t in lieu of meetings with my advisors but rather help me get more out of those meetings.