6 Characteristics of a Good Graduate Student (part 2)

Here, we will continue the discussion initiated in “part 1” regarding work ethic. It is important to possess other traits in equal measure, that both enable and enhance one’s productivity. Therefore, we will highlight four other characteristics and/or traits that in my opinion will serve graduate students over the course of their studies and as they leverage their skills to succeed in the real world.


Temporal efficiency is of paramount importance. Certain tasks may seem important initially but have little in the way of return and it may initially seem difficult to determine which these may be. Others in contrast, such as an organized lab notebook, proper labeling of experimental recordings etc. are tedious and often redundant but can help avoid many a headache in the long run. Thus, spending ones limited time in the right ways can pay dividends in the not so distant future. 


An equally important characteristic is belief, in the import of the work one is doing and the transcendent nature of the skills gained; the belief that the knowledge byproduct and years of investment will be worth the time and effort. This is not unfounded optimism that upon graduation you will be presented with a tenure-track position, rather, it is an understanding that the culmination of your endeavors will be a unique skillet and the adaptability to excel in many different job environments.


I have been told by my supervisor and more senior lab members that research was expected to be the major component of my life and other responsibilities were to be minimized. In spite of this, I strongly urge involvement in as many different life enriching experiences as possible. Being on a limited salary is just that, limiting. But limited responsibility allows you to spend your free time in ways in which you choose. Why not volunteer as a coach in the community? Why not go on a midweek trip to visit your friend in Calgary? Why not sleep in and show up late to the lab every once in a while? Taking advantage of this flexibility in your schedule (in moderation) is not something that you will regret. Given the 10-12 hr work day 4-5 times a week, your progress will not suffer from spontaneous and well timed opportunities to relax.


The most important characteristic is self belief. In the above I have first told you not to spend time on extraneous activities and followed this with advice to take advantage of the flexibility which research provides. The culmination of these points is a fine balance which each must find on their own. The experiences of others may serve as guidance, however, perspectives, characteristics, and goals are different. So decide for yourself while taking others’ advice into consideration. Mistakes are inevitable, but the lessons they teach will be character building in the long run.


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