Even though I was not new to Queen’s when I started grad school and had already spent 4 years in the Biology department, I had to re-orient myself in my new role as a grad student. Since August is all orientation at Gradifying, I figured I would share some tips with everyone about how to find your place within your department.
One of the most important suggestions I have is to go make friends with the staff. Say hello to the Graduate secretary in your department, the other administrative staff, etc. These people are SO knowledgable and it doesn’t hurt to be on their good side either! If they can’t help you, they can certainly point you in the right direction!
Inquire (perhaps through the staff above or your lab/office mates) about student government in your department. In Biology for instance we have a committee with 14 elected positions and even though many of the positions are filled by the fall, we always welcome help in other forms. It’s a great way to meet new people in your department and stay in the loop. If you are in a smaller department then why not check out the SGPS!
Take a tour of your building. This was something I never did, and even though I’ve had the same office for about 6 years, I swear I learn new things all the time. What’s the fastest route to the Tim Horton’s downstairs? Where is the nearest washroom? Where is the lunch room? Where does that mysterious staircase lead to? Etc.
Attend your department’s orientation session (if you have one). Learn what you need to do to get where you want to go. These sessions often cover everything from committee meetings to who to ask for what, where to go when you need help, etc. If you don’t have an orientation meeting like this, try scheduling an appointment with the Head of Grad Studies in your department or set up a strict organizational meeting (thesis aside!) with your Supervisor.
Chat with other grad students and inquire about the community in the department. A lot of social events in grad school are just traditions that aren’t written down anywhere. Does everyone go to the Grad Club on Friday afternoons? Is there an informal weekly coffee hour? Do students eat lunch with their lab/office mates or do people get together for it?
Not only will doing all of the aforementioned help you stay informed, it will also make your grad school experience better. After all, if you’re going to be working in the department for the next few years, you might as well make it a fun and comfortable experience right off the bat!