Monday, November 05, 2007

Graduate Students, Socialize!

The discussion that in my mind connected breadth requirements to social networks reminded me of my time as a graduate student at Berkeley, where there were lots of informal social opportunities for graduate students to meet and talk. The CS grad student association had a weekly bagel/donut hour that was always well attended (mmmm...donuts....); the theory students arranged a Friday afternoon seminar (I believe called TGIF) where theory students would present something (a practice talk, some ongoing research, a paper they liked), no faculty allowed; there was a regular Friday pre-weekend grad student get-together that would be at a semi-randomly chosen local bar (usually upwards of a dozen or so people would show, with a high percentage of theorists, who didn't have to spend the weekend coding or running jobs); a grad student poker game broke out once a month or so (again, with a high percentage of theorists, who'd add complexity to the games).

Besides helping create a more pleasant graduate student atmosphere and experience, these activities let graduate students get to know more about each other and what they were doing. And I believe expanding your own work-related social network pays dividends in the long run.

I don't know what the current state of graduate student life is like these days, but if you don't think there's enough of this sort of stuff where you are, I encourage you, take action! (Don't wait for the department to do it; you'll do it better anyhow.) Try to get a grad student poker game going. Or a biweekly pub night. Or start an informal seminar. Or an open problems session. Or whatever it is you want to do, where graduate students can just hang out together, without faculty, with it being about fun, instead of or combined with work. Besides having more fun, you'll open up more opportunities for the serendipitous events in your work-life that lead to exciting projects.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice. I'll keep that in mind

Anonymous said...

Great advice. Unfortunately, for some reason the culture in most CS departments is terrible these days. I'm half convinced if I solicited people for a biweekly pub night only a handful of people would show up (out of hundreds). It's almost as if CS people these days don't know how to have fun.

asarwate said...

TGIF is still alive and kicking!

Andy said...

amen!

departments do have an important role to play, though--as providers of free food and drink.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree. And in fact, the theory-seminar-with-no-faculty tradition at Berkeley goes back at least to the time when my advisor David Shmoys got his PhD there (the early eighties).

aravind

Anonymous said...

It seems that, generally, interactions are most meaningful when there is some context or good motivation for them, e.g., discussing class assignments. An interesting idea to try, especially for a class with many assignments like CS223, is to divide people into groups of 2 or 3 for each assignment (without repeating groups), and make it a policy that people can only discuss or work with those in the group they're assigned to.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Anonymous 6: I do, in fact, make undergraduates work together on programming assignments for CS 124. (They can choose their partner, but they can't have the same partner.) Similarly, people work together on class projects for CS 222. For CS 223, though, I don't feel obliged to force people to work together, and I imagine as many (or more) students would resent as they would like it. I'm happy to let students try to form study groups themselves. (Which, of course, they should...)

I find it odd how in so many comments people object when I suggest graduate students are not yet completely mature, rational, self-aware beings, and in this comment, you're suggesting I treat them, well, as children (or at least like undergraduates...)