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Friendship versus career

  1. Dec 14, 2015 #1
    Is it possible for two extremely close friends to remain friends if it turns out that they are competing for spots in the same universities and are trying to become the best student in the eyes of their course lecturers?

    In this case, can friend A/should friend A share his ideas with friend B, share problem set solutions, statement of purpose for univ applications, etc. if it turns out that helping friend B just might tip the balance and make friend B better than friend A?

    Isn't this a very common thing in academia - fighting among top students cum friends, fighting among work colleagues cum best buddies?

    What is the proper thing to do here?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 14, 2015 #2

    DrClaude

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    It depends on what you mean by "competing" and "fighting." If each one's goal is to beat the other, then it is hard to see how you can stay friends. If your goal is to be the best you can, and "may the best one win," then you can have a wonderful friendship. Having someone at your level, who pushes you to work harder, is very stimulating, and cooperation is going to be the key to both of you getting better. I benefited a lot from a friend of mine during my undergrad and masters years, and I think it was mutual.
     
  4. Dec 14, 2015 #3

    micromass

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    Wow, seriously? Anybody doing this is an a****le in my opinion.
     
  5. Dec 14, 2015 #4

    Krylov

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    Sorry, but doing what exactly?
     
  6. Dec 14, 2015 #5

    micromass

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    Not sharing ideas with your best friend. Not sharing solutions with your best friend. Not sharing SoP's with your best friend. All because you see him as a competition to get into a good school.
     
  7. Dec 14, 2015 #6

    Krylov

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    Yes, that's indeed something that would qualify the perpetrator as a rectum. However, I must admit I have never been in a situation where this question came up.
     
  8. Dec 14, 2015 #7
    In my view, such a competitive approach is a bad thing, both in life and your career. In both life and science, the best things come through collaboration and honesty. While it may seam like you are pitted against each other, fighting for the same resources, it's unlikely that the quality of a high performing student's career, or life, has much dependency on how well their peers perform. While you may gain some very, very small advantage in a course, by not helping your peers, this is unlikely to make a big difference.

    In the end, the success of your career depends more on your practical qualities, and one of the most important of these qualities is your attitude towards your peers, your ability to admit when you're wrong, learn from others, help others, and be an overall good collaborator. You should start practising that now, and definitely not get in the habit of viewing your peers as competitors out to steal your glory or resources.

    Of course, it's not always helpful to your friends to give them the answers any ways. This is depriving them of the experience of figuring out a solution on their own, and could lead to poorer exam scores and a less impacting experience in the course overall.
     
  9. Dec 16, 2015 #8

    russ_watters

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    It also results in both of them doing worse for not helping each other.
     
  10. Dec 16, 2015 #9

    Choppy

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    Reference Letter I

    Dear Committee Members,
    I have known Student A for two years as an undergradate student at our university. Initially I came to know this student in my senior electrodynamics class, where she earned the top grade that year. Last summer Student A approached me for a position in my lab. Because of her performance in class, I believed she would be a constructive addition to our small group consisting of a PhD student, another undergraduate student and myself. She excelled in work that I assigned her directly, but refused additional collaborative work with one of my PhD students who could have used an extra hand on his project. During our weekly meetings she was eager to show her results, but frequently spoke over her colleagues and voiced criticisms that I considered to be non-constructive. I tasked her with comissioning a new piece of lab equipment, which she did very well at and learned to use, but she refused to teach the other students how to use it. Unfortunately, this delayed our progress for a week when she was later off sick for several days and as a result Student B missed an opportunity to submit results to the Big Science Thingy Conference. In my opinion, Student A is a bright student and eager to learn, but I would not invite her to return to my laboratory nor could I in good conscience recommend her to your program because she has not demonstrated the collaborative and interpersonal skill set that I feel is needed for further success in academia.

    Sincerely,
    Professor X



    Reference Letter II

    Dear Committee Members,
    I have known Student A for two years as an undergradate student at our university. Initially I came to know this student in my senior electrodynamics class, where she earned a high grade that year. Last summer I approached Student A to fill a position in my lab. Because of her performance in class, I believed she would be a constructive addition to our small group consisting of a PhD student, another undergraduate student and myself. She excelled in work that I assigned her directly, but more importantly she took the initiative to collaborate on a side project with one of my PhD students. This resulted in a publication in a major journal in our field. During our weekly meetings she was eager to show her results and demonstrated interest in the work of her colleagues, offering constructive feedback when warranted. I tasked her with comissioning a new piece of lab equipment, which she did very well at and learned to use. Student A went out of her way to draw up precise instructions for its use and helped Student B to gain a basic operational knowledge of it, which came in handy when she was later off sick for several days. Although not on the abstract, Student B thanked her in a talk at the Big Science Thingy Conference for her assistance on Student B's project. Though not the top student in the class, Student A is bright, excells in her studies and is eager to learn. I would gladly invite her to return to my own laboratory for graduate studies. I predict she will be very successful in your program because she has demonstrated the collaborative and interpersonal skill set that I feel is needed for further success in academia.

    Sincerely,
    Professor X

    Which one would you want?
     
  11. Dec 16, 2015 #10

    Krylov

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    You are asking which student I would prefer, if I were to make a selection? Or are you asking which letter I would prefer, if I were a student?
     
  12. Dec 16, 2015 #11

    Choppy

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    I suppose the latter, but the former would be insightful as well. The point is that students that try to get into top positions by knocking others down are not going to be seen in as good a light as those who are co-operative, helpful and in the long term have potential as peer collaborators.
     
  13. Dec 18, 2015 #12

    Krylov

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    I understand your point. Thinking about myself, I don't think I have ever "knocked someone down" or refused someone help (provided the other person is willing to also invest time and energy), but I really don't like conferences as well as working together with other people, which includes co-authoring. On the other hand, I do enjoy discussing (mathematical) topics with others.

    These considerations made me unsure about how to answer to your
    question. I would like reference letters about me to be honest about who I am and how I work. Otherwise, people will have false expectations. So I cannot make up my mind.

    If I were to put myself in the position of someone making a selection (I was only once in such a position, though), I would probably prefer a student that is described by the first reference letter, provided she is willing to learn to express her criticism in a constructive manner and engage in open discussion. Otherwise, I don't mind her lack of interpersonal skills.
     
  14. Dec 18, 2015 #13

    Choppy

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    Krylov, if you would prefer to work with the student in the first letter, I think you're misinterpreting the point or I have somehow mis-communicated it. I don't know why anyone would prefer to work with someone who refuses to collaborate, puts other people down, and doesn't share the work that she's done with the group that she works with.
     
  15. Dec 18, 2015 #14

    Krylov

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    No, I think you have not mis-communicated it and I believe I understand what you are saying. However, judging purely from my own perspective (for example, I don't work in a lab) I think I prefer to work with the first student.The only thing I would like her to change, is her way of expressing criticism during a discussion.
     
  16. Dec 18, 2015 #15

    micromass

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    So since this is a choice between two alternatives, by choosing for the first student, you chose to reject the second student. May I ask what is so wrong about the second student that you chose to reject her? Or perhaps easier: what makes the first student superior to the second student to you? For the sake of discussion, let's assume the part about "harsh criticism during discussions" isn't in the letter of the first student.
     
  17. Dec 18, 2015 #16

    Krylov

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    Sure you may ask. There is nothing wrong with the second student, she will probably do better in academia indeed and most people would choose her anyway. I think I would prefer to give the first student a chance because I very well recognize some of her shortcoming (or: traits that are generally perceived as shortcomings), as I also pointed out to some degree in post #12, and I'm grateful that in spite of these difficulties I, too, got a chance once.
     
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