Professors have a ritual called travelling. The visit some other institution and give a 1 hour talk there. They also have 6-10 appointments with other faculty members in their offices, and talk about each other’s research. They also eat lunch, often with grad students, and dinner, often with wine.
This is the professor equivalent of bumblebees visiting flowers, gathering pollen, and redistributing it. It’s a very important element of a scientific career. I think this ritual should be extended to grad students too.
Grad students can benefit from this experience in several ways. (1) They get a chance to speak in front of an unfamiliar audience. (2) They get critical evaluation of their ideas from an unfamiliar group of scientists, typically before publication. (3) They get exposure to their future colleagues, can discover potential friendships and collaborations. But most important (4) they get to see how things are done somewhere else. I think this pollination keeps departments from falling into ruts. [Also, it helps students with weird/abusive advisors realize that they are in a bad/unusual situation.]
Also, it gives grad students a convenient way-station. Grad school is often a long slog with no adventures and no rewards, and feelings of being trapped in lab forever. Finally, it can also be a reward/incentive for students to produce data. A nice carrot for advisors to use in instrumental conditioning of students.
To deal with your likely objections:
(Objection 1) Grad students give boring / bad talks, so no faculty will show up: The audience would be expressly other students (and post-docs). Faculty are allowed to attend, but only if they are keen to learn about the material. This also reduces anxiogenic audience members. As a secondary suggestion, students should write 35 minute talks, and 25 minutes will be given over to discussion. This makes the burden of writing a talk lower, and gives students practice for thinking on their feet.
(Objection 2) Faculty dont want to give up time to meet with students: same deal. The visiting students meet with other students (and post-docs).
(Objection 3) Grad students should be presenting their science in lab meetings: Lab meeting is full of people with very specialized knowledge. Students need practice talking to a general audience. Also, don’t forget the 6-10 meetings.
(Objection 4) Too many talks already: Visitors’ talks will replace the normal student journal club time. Alternatively, these could happen in the summer when there are no speakers anyhow.
(Objection 5) Hotels costs a lot: We need to come up with a more official sounding term than ‘couch surfing’ because that’s basically what I’m proposing.
(Objection 6) Airfare costs a lot: In my scheme, grad students will only go to institutions they can drive/commute to. This will limit them to the 3-4 hour radius, but that’s fine. There are plenty of good places within this limit for most grad students. Near to Cold Weather University, we have
* Cold Weather Institute of Technology
* Lakeside Ivy League University
* Orange-themed Basketball University
* Napoleon’s Defeat University
* Cold Weather State University Waterfall City
In conclusion, I want to add that this is all doubly true for post-docs. They need practice with strangers, giving talks, etc, in preparation for job talks. They need the exposure, and then need the practice selling themselves.