Monday, September 6, 2010

2. Your colleagues are your competitors.

Your fellow graduate students—at least those in your discipline—are your competitors. They are your competitors for funding while you are a graduate student, because you will compete with them for teaching assistantships, research assistantships, fellowships (both internal university awards and external awards), travel grants, etc.  When university budgets are tight, as they are now, all of these things are in shorter supply and higher demand than usual.

When you graduate, you will compete with these same people for very few jobs. The more closely your work resembles that of a given graduate student peer, the more likely that you will be in direct competition with that person. So, the very people with whom close association would theoretically most benefit your own research are those who are most likely to be competing with you for the same scarce resources. This does not encourage cooperation, morale, or friendship (although these can develop in spite of the circumstances).


 

25 comments:

  1. In my experience, some departments are extremely competitive, and others foster community and cooperation. When the time comes to look for a job, however, it can be hard to know that you are competing for the same limited openings with your friends and/or acquaintances.

    ReplyDelete
  2. they're not only your competitors, they're really insecure and feel better about themselves by putting everyone else down. They never learned how to play nice with others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. You hit the hammer on the nail, precisely.

      Delete
    2. Oh, come on. That's more than half the world you're describing.

      Delete
    3. Yes. I'm in PhD program, 3rd year, coming from a different career background and with a masters. Having been in the working world, I've dealt with all sorts. But some of my colleagues at school really take the cake. My god, talk about manipulative, no-holds-barred, low-down, disgraceful conduct - generally through a smiling facade. If it were a different era, I imagine they might slit my throat and rob me. I avoid most of them.

      Delete
    4. Ok, one student in particular would slit my throat and rob me if she could. While smiling. Some people are really awful and frightening.

      Delete
  3. Eh, in this respect it's really no different from any other work place. Resources are scare, yes, but people can choose to be collegial about it or not.

    ReplyDelete
  4. True for PhD programs, far less so for masters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some masters' programs have very little to none of this kind of thing, but there are many that do.

      Delete
  5. Wow you've opened my eyes, it's totally unlike every other workplace then where there is no job competition or career rivalry!

    In actual fact, specialisms and professional interests/profiles/aspirations as well as practical situations can differ significantly even within departments and post-grad communities, and therefore it's not as if every colleague will ever be competing for the same post at the same time. If anything, in my experience, the very lack of funding and stability itself creates a very warm and support environment where everyone encourages one another and tries to collaborate as much as possible because this is in everyone's interest. Due to the nature of the work, the passion and the commitment of the PhD, people are genuinely respectful enough of each other and each other's work for this even to be the case when there is competition for specific posts such as teaching/research assistants. Maybe you've been traumatised by a particularly bad experience??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I definitely agree that it depends on the program and the department. However, I know at my R1 it is very much competitive, especially in my cohort -- which one person even stated that fact. So yes there are some negative experiences out there, so count yourself lucky!

      Delete
  6. Totally disagree... I've earned one masters, and taken Masters level courses in a couple other programs... Invariably, I've found my classmates to be as competitive, or as friendly as I was. If I was willing to help people out in a class, other people were willing to help me out. If I was acting like an A$$, they were too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, I think this reason #2 is a bit too dismal. There are all knids of people in graduate school. I myself was one of the nice ones and was very aloof to all this drama. I was also able to finish on time and enjoyed it.

      Delete
  7. Regardless of whether the other grad students in your department are nice or not, you're competing with them from the minute you get to grad school. At least, that's how it is in traditional academic programs. (It's probably different in business school.) You don't always see it while you're a student, because departments usually divvy up funding for their grad students behind closed doors. The profs are back their picking winners and losers.

    When you hit the academic job market, then the competition is right before your eyes. If you're lucky enough to get some job interviews, you're probably going to be up against people you know. They might not be from your department, but you know the people in your field from conferences and such. You're usually competing with the same group of people for one job after another. It's awkward, to put it mildly.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This was definitely true of my grad program. The other students were very cutthroat and competitive, spreading rumors, complaining to faculty about other students, etc. And if you lose your syllabus, don't bother asking a student what the assignment is, because they will tell you the wrong thing just to undermine you. At the end, we all had to do a group project, and it was a nightmare. No one wanted to share their work, while being hyper-critical of others. Sorry for the long rant, but this hit pretty close to home.

    ReplyDelete
  9. If they are indeed your competitors in graduate school imagine if you only had a bachelors? They are no longer your competitor because they are already ahead of you its no longer a competition. Bachelors degree has become the new high school diploma, everyone has them if you truly want to get ahead of the game go ahead and get your masters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is true, not so much because post-grad degrees impart more knowledge and therefore make the candidate more desirable as an employee.

      The thing is that there is an inertia in the how highly responsible jobs are filled. Usually the hiring authority is himself/herself in possession of an advanced degree. There is no way they would even look at someone without the proper credentials (i.e. masters/doctorate) for a position which they themselves may have once held. It is they who place the value on the post grad work.

      Moreover, having graduated from "the right school" is a big part of the equation. A degree from a Cal or a Harvard or a Stanford carries tons more weight than one from (at the other extreme) someplace like Univ. of Phoenix or some other diploma mill.

      I watched this as my son was coming into the corporate world after having graduated from a very highly regarded university. Everything just fell together for him.

      Delete
  10. "Bachelors degree has become the new high school diploma, everyone has them..." Agreed, this has been true for over 25 years, and not just in this country.

    "... if you truly want to get ahead of the game go ahead and get your masters." HAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA - that's the sound of me laughing me arse off. Having a masters' doesn't allow you to 'get ahead of the game' - it's just the lottery ticket that buys you a year or so to find your "entry-level" position.

    ReplyDelete
  11. To look at your colleagues as competitors is a really dumb mentality. The number of people pursuing a Ph.D. in your field is large; the number of people pursuing a Ph.D. in your department is small. The probability that you will actually lose access to a resource because you were out-competed by someone in your department is vanishingly small. Your real competition are people pursing a Ph.D. in your field, not in your department. You would be smart to work together with the people in your department to make yourself the best academics you can be, rather than delusionally imagining that you ought to be competing with those specific people.

    Think about professional sports for a moment. The people on your team are also potential future competitors. But it does not make sense to compete with them; it makes sense to work together to be the best team possible, because the "real competition" is on other teams. If you work together well, everyone on your team can be a future success.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The team analogy is a poor one. Teams are designed to work together; academics, at least in the humanities and social sciences, work mainly as individuals. You can be as teamlike as you want with your graduate-school colleagues, but when it comes time to job-hunt, you're going to be evaluated and hired as individuals, not as a team, and yes, you will be competing for the exact same jobs.

      Delete
    2. "Team" is an anagram of "meat."

      Delete
    3. There's no I in team, but there's a me...

      Delete
  12. I often warn people: "Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, 'There is no "I" in team.' What you should tell them is, 'Maybe not. But there is an "I" in independence, individuality and integrity.'" -- George Carlin

    ReplyDelete