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Thread: Good working relationship

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    Good working relationship

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    I'm a rising sophomore at a top 10 US school, and I've been lucky enough to score an RA position with a great professor who works in my field of interest too. How do I make the best of it? I would ideally like to continue to work for this professor in the near future and have them be the faculty mentor for my independent research. What can I do to foster a good working relationship?

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    Re: Good working relationship

    You ask a good question. Basically, you want the professor to see you as a net asset and someone with a bright future.

    (1) Do good job. Get things done on time (or explain if you run into a snag).
    (2) Assume you will make mistakes. So check your work. If you get something wrong, let the prof know.
    (3) Communication is very important. That means write up what you are doing thoughtfully.
    (4) Document what you have one in a way that someone can understand it without your help. Your work should be reproducible without needing to consult you.
    (5) If you don't understand something, ask.
    (6) The odds are good that the professor will get some stuff wrong. When that happens, point it out (real politely).
    (7) Be the kind of person who is pleasant to be around.

    I have two students who just graduated who did all these things. I am going to miss them.

  3. #3
    Trying to make mom and pop proud
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    Re: Good working relationship

    I agree with what startz mentioned. I would add that it can be good to eventually develop a rapport that extends beyond just work talk. For example, if you know they went away for the weekend for a family event, ask how it was, or share something interesting that you've done lately. Find some common ground, such as having quick chats about the latest sports victory or whatever your shared interests are. It may take some time to build up to this kind of relationship, and it might also depend on whether your advisor has a personality that allows such discussions, but it can really deepen the quality of the relationship. This can not only improve your working experience, but provide a more genuine and well-rounded letter of recommendation. It can also foster a long-term collaboration beyond your schooling if they enjoy working with you. But of course, all of this is only possible if you also do good work, on time, and with adequate communication skills.

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    Re: Good working relationship

    That sounds sensible. What do you mean by 3)? What would be a thoughtful vs a thoughtless way of communication?

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    Re: Good working relationship

    Quote Originally Posted by therealslimkt View Post
    That sounds sensible. What do you mean by 3)? What would be a thoughtful vs a thoughtless way of communication?
    Put your work in context. When answering a specific question, think about whether a very brief answer is all that's needed, or whether you should expand. In addition to being engaged in the substance of the project, be cognizant of the process. For example, faculty are typically busy doing 12 different things. When you're bringing answers in, sometimes it's helpful to remind everyone where the conversation left off. (Sometimes that's not at all necessary.)

    In a way I'm saying put yourself in the recipient's place in thinking about what's most helpful.

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    Re: Good working relationship

    Quote Originally Posted by startz View Post
    For example, faculty are typically busy doing 12 different things.
    In my personal experience as a full time RA, I found that faculty prefer things to be concise and to the point, precisely because they are extremely busy people.

    I'm a detail oriented person, and I sometimes bombard the faculty with details that distract them away from the main point. Whenever I submit my work now, I document any minor/inconsequential details into an "appendix" document that they can read if they have time. That way, if they're busy and only have a few minutes to take a look, it'll be easy for them to catch the main points of your findings. Your judgment of what separates important details from trivial ones is where your skills and experience step in.

    At least, this is what worked for me. I'm sure different professors prefer different styles of research assistants.

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    Re: Good working relationship

    Quote Originally Posted by mathenomics View Post
    In my personal experience as a full time RA, I found that faculty prefer things to be concise and to the point, precisely because they are extremely busy people.

    I'm a detail oriented person, and I sometimes bombard the faculty with details that distract them away from the main point. Whenever I submit my work now, I document any minor/inconsequential details into an "appendix" document that they can read if they have time. That way, if they're busy and only have a few minutes to take a look, it'll be easy for them to catch the main points of your findings. Your judgment of what separates important details from trivial ones is where your skills and experience step in.

    At least, this is what worked for me. I'm sure different professors prefer different styles of research assistants.
    Mathenomics response is better than mine in many ways. Let me amend to say that "thoughtful" means paying attention to what the recipient wants and needs. It will often be as Mathenomics describes.

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