Congratulations! Are you all ready for higher education? Lovely. And classes should be in-person by the fall, even more lovely. Now let’s remember the most important part of grad school: be nice to the staff. I don’t mean ‘meta-nice’ (“here, have a cookie, my cherished auntie said to be good with you”) and I am not implying that you are not nice, I mean this: do every small kindness you can through the months and years.
Open doors. Say ‘hello’. If you are able to work in a lab, learn the janitor’s name. If you see the admin in the coffee line, pay for the admin’s coffee. Never toss anything on the floor – hit the wastepaper basket. Clean up after yourself in the kitchen. When it’s your turn to bring muffins/ bagels offer to the lowliest peon first. Always.
The staff may not look like it but they are your Light of Earendil, your light in dark places when all other lights go out.
Think of it this way – students stay at their grad school for 4 – 6 years, professors come and go, but it is normal for staff to put in 40 years. They know where all the bodies are buried and they have put more than a few grad students in concrete shoes. The prime directive for staff is Save the School – graduate students are messy irritants. Make yourself the exception.
There will be a day, a day is coming, in which you will need a key, a phone number, a photocopy code, a flash drive, a something-something, and suddenly your department secretary will be the most important person in your world. The only one with the plans for the Death Star. And that secretary will not NEED to give it to you or HAVE to give it to you and nothing you can do or say will change that… except your pleasant behavior over the past four years.
Three other points. First, see that admin over there – the one with sensible pumps, 50s hair-style, cat’s eye glasses and the little glass candy dish full of jelly-beans? The one who looks all Hufflepuff… she’s Slytherin and a devoted follower of Voldemort. Be nice. Bring her black and orange jelly-beans at Halloween.
Second. Think about Reepicheep. Bravery and helpfulness does not depend on size. If a teammate throws out an important do-hicky, your janitor can either summon the troops to help you or shrug.
Third, remember that all of us have gifts for grad school survival. Some will bake. Some will buy doughnuts on Monday mornings. Some figure out everyone’s birthday and bring a cupcake on the right day. Some will spread the news when the Business School is having a big shin-dig so everyone can eat for free. (ALWAYS eat for free from the Business School, and swipe a stapler or a keyboard on the way out. Business schools always have way too much money.). Some will bring in a well-trained dog and let everyone smother it with pets. Some will take lots of photos and make the best memes. And some are professor-whisperers, always ready with a good question to distract the prof when nobody did the reading.
Figure out your method of contributing to keeping your department safe from Reavers. You don’t have to be a ‘n sync as a K-pop band but remember that even Captain Artemis, Léon, Katniss and Mr. Wick needed friends.
Speak ‘friend’ and you will enter (and leave) safely.