An offhand comment about paper writing on Twitter this morning led to an interesting conversation about what different fields consider typical. This brought to mind part of what Miss Outlier was talking about in her post on thought leadership, namely the different expectations she encounters. Every environment has a certain set of rules you’re expected to follow, many of which may not be initially obvious.
Academia vs industry is a conversation that comes up semi-regularly here, since we have writers on both side of the fence. In academia, or at least in graduate school, it’s not uncommon to go months without a hard deadline. I don’t think my husband has gone more than a week without a firm deadline since he started his current job. On the other hand, he’s expected to work certain hours, whereas my hours are fairly unregulated.
Norms can also be very specific to a small group, like knowing that your boss will swing through the office at a particular time of day, and assumes if you aren’t there, you aren’t getting work done, or that 7:00 AM meetings are totally typical for your company. Jargon is also a form of group norm. In my subfield, there are established usages for Greek letters that directly clash with materials engineering in general. Epsilon, for example, is the interaction potential well depth in molecular dynamics, and uniaxial strain in the rest of materials science.
But what about less obvious norms? In the Upper Midwest, it’s assumed you know how to play euchre. In biology labs, the supervisor is the PI (primary investigator) and engineering graduate students call them advisors. At my undergraduate institution, everyone took Statics by the end of their second year, and at my graduate institution, they don’t take it until their third year. I consider cottage cheese and applesauce a totally normal food combination, which appalls my husband.
How do you identify and adapt to new norms? Are there norms you have been surprised by?
(Also, for a hilarious discussion of changing meanings of normal, I recommend “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir” by The Blogess)