Life as a graduate student can be isolating, especially for those students who don’t need to physically stay in a lab to do their research, and thus end up spending most of their time alone. Luckily, there are many occasions to get in touch with some fellows, such as non-curricular lectures where you will probably find likeminded people, extracurricular activities, competitions and clubs. And if you find that the various lectures, competitions, activities and clubs aren’t close enough to your interests, chances are your lab, your department or maybe your faculty organizes some kind of gathering, from time to time. A few months ago I talked about the Lab Retreat, today I will talk about the department gatherings.
For me, the department gatherings are those nice-yet-slightly-awkward moments in which I see in a very informal context dozens of students and perhaps some profs… knowing personally a handful of them, knowing a bit a few more, knowing by sight the majority, and not knowing at all the remaining ones. The nice thing is, apparently many people are in the same situation, and everybody seems to be cool with it. And the funny thing is, there is often someone who knows you but you don’t remember, like your friend’s roommate you were introduced to last year, as well as someone you remember but who has no idea of who you are, like that former classmate that once made a great presentation that impressed you, but who understandably doesn’t remember you attending it.
Certain labs are focused on one or few disciplines, while others are very multi/interdisciplinary. The department I belong to–Natural Resource Sciences–definitely qualifies as multi/interdisciplinary, having people focusing on different kinds of sciences, as well as some social sciences. If on the one hand I feel that this variety intimidates me during these social events, because I can’t join fruitfully conversations in fields that are far from mine, on the other hand I see that people are usually nice and put an effort to explain their research in simple terms–which is also a good exercise for when they want to explain it to friends and relatives. And once these barriers are overcome, it is very interesting to see how many different things are going on in relatively few rooms!
Besides, being these gatherings social events, talking about courses and research is frequent, but there is usually also some room for small talk and games. Oh, and free food! 😉