A typical graduate student’s desk is shown in figure 1. While appearing as an unorganized cluster of paperwork and beverages, the items shown actually represent a finely tuned operation of study and productivity. The interplay of all these objects is described after the labeled image of figure 2.
In figure 2 the contents of figure 1 are shown with labels that highlight the most relevant objects. Following are descriptions of the objects and their relationship to each other and the overall goals of the graduate student.
- Stack of Graded Lab Reports: Teaching assignments must be completed in order to have tuition paid by the department. Vital to maintaining good standing in the university.
- Computer Monitor: Displays data analysis and recent plot. Vital to demonstrating effort and results to advisor.
- Lab Notebook: Contains notes on previous data runs and most recent topics of discussion from group meetings. Vital to staying organized and knowing what to do next.
- Printed Out Results: Plots and analysis visualizations steer the present work that is shown in (b). Vital to determining future efforts and assuring advisor that results in (b) are meaningful and relevant.
- Coffee: Provides alertness boost. Serves as the predecessor to (i). Vital to maintaining long work days… and nights.
- External Hard Drive: Used for maintaining backup copies of all computer files. Ensures information of (a), (b), (c), and (d) is not lost due to destruction of main computer. Vital to keeping order and sanity in the face of significant computer error.
- Diagnostic Diagram: Schematic drawing of hardware built for past data acquisition. Used to prevent significant misunderstanding in the analysis of results contained in (b), (c), and (d). Vital to remembering that there is still work to do away from this desk and for demonstrating to advisor that work has been done away from this desk.
- Student Store Computer Prices: Listing of special deals and general prices from campus computer store. Information immediately useful in case of meltdown involving (b) or (f). Vital to never spending more money on computer equipment than absolutely necessary.
- Water Bottle: Provides refreshment in case of empty (e). Vital to staying hydrated after emptying all nearby coffee cups.
- Window: Used for differentiating night from day. Vital to maintaining sanity in environment where time of day has no meaning.
- Notebooks Older than One Year: Collection of previous notes and concepts from more than twelve months in the past. With a departmental average of six years to graduation it is necessary to build detailed notes on multi-year efforts. Vital to ensuring that work done a long time ago is still useful.
As you can see, the piles atop a grad student’s desk are part of an intricate ecosystem of study. Many additional objects (e.g. laptop computer, file cabinet, printed out journal publications) are not shown in these images but are just as important.