Are you thinking about applying to a PhD program? Are you already a doctoral student? PhD is a huge investment of time and money. So make sure you spend 15 minutes of your time reading this blog devoted to PhD program success and survival tips. I'm confident that these tips can save up to 10 years of your life, up to $1,000,000 of your money, and, most importantly, your physical and emotional health.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Befriending College Staff

If you are a PhD student, your success in the program will depend on your school's staff as much as it depends on your own effort and support from your professors. Trust me, there will be at least one occasion in your career where things will depend on nothing but a decision of one of your school's clerks.

Make sure you are friends with people like:

  • IT support staff (if you are nice to them you can always get hardware and software you need)
  • Cleaning staff (they can help you to get access to building if you lost your keys)
  • Secretaries (they will give you insider knowledge about some of the things that are going in the department; won't report you if you violate some of the department policies)
  • Records people (they will help you if you miss registration deadlines for example or fail to submit some needed papers)
Make sure you are nice to those people. It will certainly pay off. I've seen quite a few PhD students who look down on staff, thinking those guys are not at their intellectual level.

I didn't have a problem with building relationships with staff - I think I'm a very friendly and down to earth person. I did make a mistake though. At one point our IT folks just drove me nuts with their screw-ups and incompetence. We were like enemies. But then I took time to apologize and do some damage control. The result - I got a bunch of software by putting it on the department's tab as opposed to paying for it myself.


  1. Yeah this annoys me. Most of the other students and professors completely ignore non-academic staff unless they want something (don't even say hello). Even if there's no benefit to it, you should just say "hi","thanks", because it's good manners and makes the other people feel like assholes for not doing it.

  2. I am staff in the humanities department at an R1 university. I also have a master's degree in the humanities. I was smart enough to quit before getting a suicidal PhD.

    It cracks me up when faculty and, especially, grad students dismissively refer to me as a "secretary." Not only do I arrange all their payments, reimbursements, do all the promotions and graphic design, continually update and manage our web presence, and advise helpless undergraduate and graduate students, but I do not do filing, correspondence, or phone answering. So, really, I'm not exactly a "secretary." But, whatever.

    The best part is I have a job that these grad students will be LUCKY to get once they finish their PhD in midcentury subsaharan sculpture. And I'm also not so dim that I don't understand the academic publications and lectures given by our faculty. Of course, I don't have time to write papers about the aesthetics of shoes worn in 16th century Vienna, because I have a real job.

    But I'll only be doing this until I pay off my own student loans. Then I'm outta here. I plan to go elsewhere and do something more fulfilling and useful for society, like creating community gardens, mentoring young people, learning basic household repair skills, doing carpentry, canning food, and writing poetry.

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