Grad Student Etiquette

Most rules of etiquette we have are completely useless for grad students. Let’s face it. How many times a year do grad students actually attend a formal dinner with a zillion forks to choose from? How many times a year does a grad student wear a suit? What we need are some rules that would help us decide how to behave in specific situations. Many of these are not unique to grad life. But there don’t seem to be any rules to deal with situations like these anywhere…

The Stomach Growl:

It’s an early morning class/meeting or a class/meeting around lunch time. You’re hungry. The room is quiet. Suddenly, your stomach lets out a loud growl that everyone can hear. What’s the accepted response? We do say, “Excuse me” if we cough or sneeze in class. Should one similarly apologize for a stomach growl? What is the accepted response if your neighbor’s stomach growls? Should you politely ignore it? Say something like, “Bless you!” Or give them a sympathetic “didn’t-have-breakfast-huh?” look? Is it acceptable to giggle? I’ve done all of these. But I can still never tell.

Paper Daze:

Let’s face it. How much of a talk does one really understand? A related issue. How much of the talk do you really pay attention to? What is the accepted response when the speaker (your friend) comes to you and asks you what you thought of the talk and of the equations supporting proposition 4? Should you nod politely or come clean?

What if the professor asks a question in class? And no one speaks? Should one show excessive interest in one’s own writing implements or dare look up at the professor? Tricky question!

Free Food:

When there’s free food on campus, what is one to do? Sneak in, grab food and sneak out? Or should you make small talk with others and pretend to mingle? Mike Slackenerny might have the best free food radar in the business but even he can’t always get away with it every single time.

Formatting Homework:

When everyone knows pretty homework doesn’t fetch any more points than regular homework, why do some people insist on submitting well formatted Latex files when good ol’ pencil and paper will do just as well?

Open Book Exams:

What is the appropriate time to pull out a book during an open book exam? Is it polite to wait for a few minutes and pretend to struggle a while before pulling out the book? Or just have it out before the professor hands out the exam? What’s the point of an open book exam anyway? Everyone knows that an exam that’s open book just means there’s nothing in there that can help you pass the exam!

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