Orientation Week in all its Complexities

By Niki Fritz

The orientation week is special in that it brings together bright-eyed, bushy-tailed newbies, the slightly dulled, disillusioned veteran grads, and the all-wise professors who roam our halls. You meet your cohort – people who share same kind of creative interests, the people who share the same kind of crazy. Some will become your best friends and collaborators.  Others presence may bounce into your life every now and then. For better or worse, these are your new peeps.

The orientation week starts the complex weaving of a community, a professional one at heart.

“The fact of the matter is [our department] is a work society and that goes to the orientation idea. It is a mistake to talk about it as inviting people into a family. The Brady Bunch is a myth. It is hard to take people that are different and tie them together as a family,” explains Telecom faculty Steve Krahnke. “You can choose to not be part of this department you can’t choose to not be part of a family. But we are a community; there is a responsibility you have to fellow members.”

In our case, we are blessed in that we are not a cut-and-dry professional community.  We have a fair share of fun.  Just consider Reed’s amazing intros  or the now defunct Potter goatee.

It is also a time of great learning.

“For graduate students, [orientation] is very didactic. You sit and listen. Academia is a lot about listening. And that what orientation teaches you. It models appropriate behavior.  95% of orientation is listening and active listening. And then when you open your mouth say something interesting, something useful … The operative words: help and useful. Families don’t have to be useful to each other; graduate students do. Graduate students need to learn to be useful. Nobody gets to be not useful.  Dilettantes are not useful,” explains Steve.

You start to get a feel of what it means to be part of a major research university.  Steve calls this the “learning how to be a freaking grown up” part of orientation. It is stuff like how to grade papers efficiently without being a nuance to your instructor; how to complete assignments on time; how to figure out how to solve problems; how to ask the right questions; how to make new connections with the right people.

I came from a professional background, where for five years I made deep connections to my work and social communities in Chicago. Leaving Chicago last summer I thought was one of the hardest things I would ever have to do. Starting over, making a new home, creating new bonds, all of this seemed so impossible. And yet to be honest, it was exciting. I was the one leaving. I was the one making a new home. I was the one pursuing my dreams.  Looking back, the orientation week rapidly familiarized me to the new community Steve talks about, making the transition much easier.

Even though Telecom grad students are not a Brady Bunch, they help each other survive grad school. They are the ones who pick you up when your 2001 Geo strands you with a dead battery in the Kroger parking lot. They help you with your workload when you are under the weather. They run participants in your experiments when you are late to the ICR. They do voiceovers for your video projects. They bring you coffee and pastries when you have a killer week. They help you; you help them. As anyone who has ever had a 9-5 cube job knows, your work colleagues do become this temporary sort of family, people you sometimes spend more time with than your actual blood family, people who become your support system.

The difference is your work community is not permanent like family. They will move on. Sometime next year around this time summer will come again. The people we grew to rely on will leave us. But in their place new colleagues and friends will mesh in. And that is where the beauty comes in. There will be new potential research colleagues, new project ideas, new grab-a-drink friends, new fellow nerds to geek out about BSG with, new potential.

Orientation is not just a new start for the new students but for everyone. In academia, every year is new. There is beauty in these new beginnings as challenging as it may seem.

 

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