Re: Average Turn Over
From: Kay Argyle (
Date: Fri, 8 Aug 2008 17:25:35 -0700 (PDT)
> My very best "live in community" experience was in graduate school,
> where 1/3 of the population left every year, and a different 1/3
> arrived.

The same factors that work in cohousing foster community in a graduate
program.  Certain will be truer of some programs than others, but frequently
enough are present for a sense of community to evolve.

* community identity, with identifiable social boundaries

Colleges and universities encourage loyalty and "college spirit" among the
student body. Alumni become an extended family - graduates become professors
in their turn, and steer their students to their old advisor for advanced

Community identity is not absolutely required to create community, and not
adequate to create it by itself, but it strongly reinforces the other

* interaction, assisted by common space.

There is a fair amount of common space - the department office, computer
labs, study areas, classrooms. Within the community of the department, each
research group is a little neighborhood. Students share a lab and work
together on research projects. 

* "just right" size, with subdivisions if necessary to maintain it, so
interactions occur repeatedly among the same set of people,

We're small enough the office staff, at least, know every grad student.

For "efficiency," administrations like big departments. So far we've
dissuaded the V.P.'s office from getting serious about its periodic notion
that our small department ought to become part of a related one (apparently
we are the only university in the U.S. with the two disciplines in separate
departments) - we like the size we are, small but with an outsize
reputation. (Size aside, we hear enough about the other department's office
politics to not want to become their subdepartment - we like our culture
better than theirs.)  Our faculty are quite happy to do joint research with
faculty in the other department (a typical justification given for a
merger); they just don't want to BE in the other department.  So the
community protects its identity, without being insular.

* ways to pass on the community culture

Faculty and staff turn over far more slowly than the students, providing
continuity, maintaining the community culture, and keeping the community

Besides formal orientation, new students receive much informal guidance,
from the department staff, from their faculty advisor, and from others in
their research group. 

Often another student shepherds a new arrival around - first to the payroll
secretary, who steers them through applying for a Social Security number
(our students are predominantly international), a work authorization, an ID
card, a university email account - then to register for classes, find an
apartment (often with another student in the department), open a checking
account at the university credit union, apply for lab keys and a copy
account, get a lab notebook. The new student continues shadowing for a week
or two, following as the other student checks mail, orders gas cylinders,
checks out a book from the department library, checks vendor pricing and
requests the purchase of lab supplies, or walks over to the machine shop,
the chemistry stockroom, or the cafeteria.  A year later, they are the old
hand showing someone the ropes.


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