The value of a graduate trainee

By Tomi Nano

A recent article by Andrew Watson, PhD, associate dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, describes some of the essential traits necessary to be a successful graduate trainee. With the guidance of professors and supervisors, graduate trainees can develop intangible attributes such as perseverance and drive to help them become excellent academics.

Echoing Watson’s point of view, I believe it is important to further emphasize the necessity of graduate trainees understanding the value they provide to institutions and how crucial their role is to the advancement of research efforts.

Those accepted into graduate school come equipped with experience and skills gained through prior education and careers. Graduate trainees’ diverse backgrounds are an asset to research.

Graduate trainees:

Have specialized skills
From immunohistochemical staining to image processing techniques, graduate trainees have technical and interpersonal skills that are crucial to research. Developing these skills requires talent, persistence and hard work.

Drive lab productivity
Almost all lab work, such as running experiments or preparing manuscripts, is performed by graduate trainees. A productive and prolific lab would not be possible without them.

Teach and train
Graduate trainees commit both their time and efforts to fulfilling their roles within individual laboratories and helping them to be successful. Often this entails training their peers, collaboratively working with team members and communicating research findings through means of conferences and publications.

Graduate trainees have value that can be leveraged for personalized career development and should feel empowered to take advantage of opportunities available to them during their graduate studies.

Trainees can personalize their studies by:

Defining degree outcomes and setting goals
Clearly defining what you want to receive from your degree will help you achieve your goals. Setting short-term and long-term goals will give direction to your years in graduate school.

Communicating goals with supervisors and advisors
Once goals are defined, communicating them to supervisors, mentors and advisors will help align everyone in a common direction. Supervisors, mentors and advisors can also help you achieve your goals.      

Developing negotiation skills
Having the ability to negotiate (working hours, projects, stipend, etc.) is an important skill in all professions and should be both developed and practised in graduate school. Graduate trainees should practise negotiating for beneficial outcomes both during and after they complete their graduate studies.

A graduate trainee is much more than just a student who is developing specialized skills in a specialized field. They are also drivers of curiosity, experienced learners and teachers to new post-secondary students, which allows graduate trainees to serve as beneficial additions to the atmosphere of labs, research and universities.