Grad Students: Your Academic Big Brothers and Sisters

DeLeon Gray
The Ohio State University

The most basic way to increase interest in anything is exposure to it. Many undergraduates gain this exposure briefly before or after graduation when searching frantically for their next step. However, graduate students are privy to substantive information and undergraduates actually help them too. Graduate students can benefit from undergraduates’ sharpened skills through assistance with literature reviews, participant recruitment, data collection and entry, and future collaboration. Basically, this is the “dirty work” that must be done in any research project.

In exchange, undergraduates get to witness the how several facets come together towards the end result, a research paper or presentation. The great thing for undergraduates is that they can experience certain pitfalls that arise during research at no expense of their own. The only cost is time. It is like going to Sea World and seeing the fish, whales, and sharks up close without the risk involved in scuba diving. Naturally, the lessons undergraduates learned will complement methods courses and be applied during independent research projects. This out-of-the-classroom experience is also qualitative and will allow for more feedback than typical psychology courses permit. What’s more, this partnership could even lead to publication. And if not immediately, then in future collaborations.

To some, this may sound like the job of a “flunkie.” And it is, kind-of. Without being too much of a kiss-up, we can view an undergraduate in this position as a psychological… Smithers (from The Simpsons). The difference is that in this partnership, Mr. Burns actually does work. Many graduate students have a personal investment in their research. Undergraduates working alongside have simply made themselves a resource and have benefited as a by-product.

Graduate students can be nerds by day and superheroes by night. During this partnership, there should be plenty of meantime to gain advice about future endeavors. Maybe it is graduate school. Maybe it is an internship. Maybe it is stats, or advice about course selection. Whatever the topic, the graduate partner has probably been there. This is the time to figure out how to, when to, where to, and what to (do). They also are a direct connection to professors. Since they normally work very close with professors, graduate students are typically less intimidated by them. Additionally, they are not too far removed from undergrad, so they can assess situations from an undergraduate’s perspective. And depending on the circumstance, they can also speak on an undergraduate’s behalf, or at least give the undergraduate advice on how to handle intimidating situations.

For graduate students entering the professoriate, these types of interactions with students are inevitable. So partnership should be considered practice for them. They should therefore be willing to “lift as they climb.” Graduate students probably don’t think about the benefits of this relationship because they have a million things to worry about, so it’s an ambitious undergrad’s job to alert them. So team up and reap the rewards.

Author Note

DeLeon Gray is a graduate student in educational psychology at the Ohio State University. He is the creator of A user-friendly resource for undergraduates in psychology.