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SarahBethSortino

How important are friends/social life in grad school?

23 posts in this topic

This may seem like a strange comment, but I've been reading a lot of generic "tips on how to succeed in a PhD program" articles on the internet lately and the theme that keeps coming up is the importance of making friends within your cohort, participating in the social life, going out with people to bars, etc. For me, I'm honestly not going into this with the expectation of wanting to make friends, go to bars, participate in the social life. Not to say I won't be friendly, but I am older, have a lot of friends in the state I am moving to, and don't particularly see myself as having the time to spend bar hopping. I know that from my Masters, interacting with my fellow students brought a lot of opportunities to bounce ideas off of peers, but if need be that can be done on campus. I don't see it as the major priority some of these articles are saying it is. So my question: do people in this board thing the "social aspect" of a PhD is particularly important, or a waste of the little time we have to get stuff done?

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Posted (edited)

I'm an introvert who likes food and doesn't mind a bit of good conversation and good wine.  So while I would imagine I'll be going out and talking with classmates, it's not going to be done in loud places with tons of people I don't know-- at least, not once I get my feet on the ground.  Whether that is the right solution, I have no idea.

One thing to keep in mind is that your colleagues will be older than the average undergrad, and many of them have been the really nerdly types when they did go to college.  So I wouldn't worry that you're going to be bullied into converting Brandeis to the Greek system and partying until sunrise on Monday morning.

Edited by Concordia

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Posted (edited)

I think your social life is important at any stage of your life/career. I do not believe that your social life should begin and/or end in your department though.

In my view, a doctoral program in the humanities is a job (which explains why we are fighting for unionization). My own approach to work is that I go there to work, not making friends. If I make friends along the way, awesome. This has resulted in my being a little more selective when making friends. By selective I mean that I wait a couple of months before deciding who I want to hang out more, and in grad school I think I was very conscious about this. It sounds super harsh, but in the end it resulted in very durable friendships (I've met most of my closest friends on the job or grad school) and it has saved me some time from dealing with people in the end I didn't get along with.  

In history, I would encourage you to prioritize making friends with your caucus because you are going to see them more often than your cohort. They will be the ones that help you with crises, with exam lists, with advisors questions, and the like. I'm not saying don't look for support in your cohort, I'm just reminding you that you will probably grow apart. Of course, this has nothing to do with the professional bonds you cultivate along your career. One thing is to have writing buddies and another thing is to have friends.

If you can, try to make friends in sports clubs or other activities. I got a job on campus and that helped me interact a lot with other people (staff and undergrads that I wouldn't have known) and those types of friends helped me just have a little more perspective on my whole PhD experience. 

In short, do have a social life. 

(Needless to say, YMMV).

Edited by AP

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Eh, run with the chemistry.  If you don't like the culture, distance yourself and focus on your own work.  If you like it, great, and go with it! I had hoped to make friends in the program but multiple factors kept me from being able to form tight friendships/relationships with people in my program.  As a result, I've been selective and have several really solid people who I can turn to in crisis and for tips on various things associated with the program.

Also, I recall your previous posts.  I'm going to be blunt, hanging out with 20-somethings as a 30-something its.... not easy.  They don't have the same level of maturity or life experiences that you have.  You'll definitel share the same emotions of adjusting to the PhD program and the university but beyond that?  Don't expect much outside of seminars.

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I'm also going to grad school this fall. I have friends in the city as well, and I wouldn't go out of my way to make new friends. I hope it will happen on its own, which could save me the feeling of being totally "left out" of the grad school social circle for things like commiseration and reinforcement that only comrades-in-arms can offer, lowdown on how to deal with difficult professors, workarounds for the departmental red tape, etc. - the useful stuff you usually get through informal settings.

And for the record, I don't do bars very well either...it's too frickin' noisy for any normal human conversation to take place in it. As an international student, I spent many precious years of my life looking for "quiet" bars but then gave up. Quiet bar is an oxymoron.

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It really depends. Some people are into partying, but some are not. As you mentioned, catching up with fellow classmates on campus is totally possible. Perhaps have a coffee with them at a campus cafe? I am near the end of my PhD and I almost never attended any parties. There were some organised by my advisers during Christmas/special occasions, but we only chatted over casual things (like our pets) rather than our research. But my department sometimes has morning tea, which students and staff can interact with each other. We have dinning tables outside the lab, so sometimes I also chat with my classmates over lunch. Basically, that's how I interacted with my classmates throughout my PhD and I don't have any issues with fitting in. Hope my experience helps :) 

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Posted (edited)

10 hours ago, TMP said:

Also, I recall your previous posts.  I'm going to be blunt, hanging out with 20-somethings as a 30-something its.... not easy.  They don't have the same level of maturity or life experiences that you have.  You'll definitel share the same emotions of adjusting to the PhD program and the university but beyond that?  Don't expect much outside of seminars.

As a 26 year old married to a 37 year old, I'd probably say you could be a bit more open-minded. Not all 20 somethings are straight out of college. You might find it difficult to connect to someone whose life thus far has included going to high school and then straight into the US college system (which, to an Australian who spent a semester at a US college in 2010, seems very much like a continuation of high school). But that's not going to be every single person in your cohort. I guess these are the types of things you can't really know until you're there.

Edited by OHSP

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I think it's important to also consider the context/reason why these grad school websites suggest making an effort to make friends with your cohort. In my opinion, the reason is that you do not want to be isolated in your program. Grad school can be a tough time and having a strong social support network is important. 

So, building good friendships in grad school is one (maybe the most common) way of getting this support. However, for you, @SarahBethSortino, since it sounds like you are already going to be in a good place in your new city, with friendships already established, then this might not be as relevant to you. If you find your own support elsewhere, that's great. 

I would say that friendships in grad school can serve other roles too though. Briefly, here are some reasons to try to make friends with your cohort and/or other students in your program (in different years):

1. They can provide support specific to your department/school and look out for you. For example, when I was starting out, if I have a weird interaction with a prof, I can go to my older friends to see what it might mean. Or, now that I am almost done, I help my younger friends navigate things like picking a committee, preparing for quals, etc. My friends and I, of all years, also can share school-specific resources or help each other out because if one of us needs to know about X, another one might know someone who knows a lot about X.

2. If there's something difficult going on in your life at some point, your grad school friends can help you out. Maybe they can take notes for you in class. They can make sure you're not falling too far behind. They might be able to submit homework/paperwork on your behalf or do random things that you might not be able to be physically present for. And of course, they can still do all of the other stuff that friends do for each other, this is mostly a list of reasons why friends in your department can be helpful that non grad school friends might not be able to do.

3. Friends in grad school (whether it's your department or another school) can relate to your grad school experiences more directly and sometimes it's easier to talk to other students about difficult situations involving grad school. Friends outside of grad school are also great though, as they help put things in perspective.

4. Finally, if you want to continue in academia, your cohort and other grad students will eventually be your future colleagues. At least in my field, they will be the ones reviewing your papers, your grants, deciding who gets invited to conferences etc. They will also be your future collaborators, potentially. A lot of people think about networking only in the context of going to conferences and meeting people, but you can build some of the strongest networks within your own department because you have way more time/chances to create a strong relationship. And your colleagues are also going to go on and do great things and meet more people and they can be the link to someone you need later on in your academic life. This is more related to the second reason why I think these websites suggest you make friends to succeed in grad school (and beyond). 

That said, I also don't really think it's necessary to go bar hopping and to do all of the partying stuff in order to make friends in grad school. Sure, depending on your department's culture, it might be a really good way to do it, but it's not the only way to do it. Friendships take time to build and I actually spend most of the time building friendships during the work day and on campus. You don't have to be uncomfortable in a bar if you don't like it, and you'll find people that share your feeling too, in grad school. It's not like everyone thinks that going to bars is the only way to socialize. Some of my best friends in grad school don't drink at all, or very rarely.

I do think that spending time with your friends outside of work, i.e. when you both choose to invest your personal time into the relationship, is an important part of creating stronger connections though. For me, I do go to an occasional party, play on intramural teams with my friends, participate or plan in fun outings once in awhile on the weekends (e.g. Disneyland one year). There's lots to do that doesn't revolve around drinking, bars, partying etc. I personally take the strategy of saying yes to everything at first, meeting everyone, and then being a little more selective and choosing to spend more of my personal time with people I click with better.

And also as @AP pointed out, you don't necessarily have to make friends with only your cohort. You might click/have more chemistry with some of the older students, or the more mature younger students!

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I've been sort of curious about this too. I think you and I are in a similar situation, @SarahBethSortino. I am 30, I'm married, I have a kid going into first grade next year, I own a house, I have way too many pets, and I already have plenty of friends. To add into that, I am also really, really cheap. I find bars to be a huge waste of money. I think that I might attend some outings or university shindigs (they do a once a month grad school pizza party at a tavern known for beer that I might go to at least once), but I am not making it a priority to make new friends or socialize. My priority outside of school is and will continue to be my family and spending time with my kid and having fun doing that.

I don't think anyone will think any less of you if you opt not to go out to dinner/drinks. Everyone knows PhD students are busy, and with a kid, you're even more busy and stretched even thinner. At least that's what I'm going with.

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I consider the PhD program as my workplace. I show up to class, am (hopefully) collegial to my colleagues, but I leave campus and go home...I'm not really involved in departmental drama (sometimes people fill me in, but I honestly don't know much). I focus on my work and keep it at that. I have a boyfriend who moved with me across the country and a dog...so when I'm not working, I spend time with them. I have a "social life" with them, but not really with my department. My colleagues know me in class and in a professional setting and I keep it that way. I'm 35 and, at the end of the day, I have different priorities than someone in their late 20's (e.g. finishing by the time I'm 40!).

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23 hours ago, Concordia said:

I'm an introvert who likes food and doesn't mind a bit of good conversation and good wine.  So while I would imagine I'll be going out and talking with classmates, it's not going to be done in loud places with tons of people I don't know-- at least, not once I get my feet on the ground.  Whether that is the right solution, I have no idea.

One thing to keep in mind is that your colleagues will be older than the average undergrad, and many of them have been the really nerdly types when they did go to college.  So I wouldn't worry that you're going to be bullied into converting Brandeis to the Greek system and partying until sunrise on Monday morning.

Haha. From what I understand the Greek system there is in the nerdy, introvert side anyway so I'm not worried about having to deal with being anywhere near that. Thank god I am living far away from campus though (well, 45 minutes away.) I enjoy my peace and quiet too much. My boyfriend lives in a very undergrad neighborhood near Rutgers right now and I cannot wait to get away from that.

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20 hours ago, TMP said:

Eh, run with the chemistry.  If you don't like the culture, distance yourself and focus on your own work.  If you like it, great, and go with it! I had hoped to make friends in the program but multiple factors kept me from being able to form tight friendships/relationships with people in my program.  As a result, I've been selective and have several really solid people who I can turn to in crisis and for tips on various things associated with the program.

Also, I recall your previous posts.  I'm going to be blunt, hanging out with 20-somethings as a 30-something its.... not easy.  They don't have the same level of maturity or life experiences that you have.  You'll definitel share the same emotions of adjusting to the PhD program and the university but beyond that?  Don't expect much outside of seminars.

Yeah, I'm not going to lie: there is the definite thought in my mind that I *may* be on the older side of the spectrum. That doesn't necessarily mean they are not great people - I know a lot of people from work that are very mature and in their early 20s. But it could go the other way of course.

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8 hours ago, TakeruK said:

I think it's important to also consider the context/reason why these grad school websites suggest making an effort to make friends with your cohort. In my opinion, the reason is that you do not want to be isolated in your program. Grad school can be a tough time and having a strong social support network is important. 

So, building good friendships in grad school is one (maybe the most common) way of getting this support. However, for you, @SarahBethSortino, since it sounds like you are already going to be in a good place in your new city, with friendships already established, then this might not be as relevant to you. If you find your own support elsewhere, that's great. 

I would say that friendships in grad school can serve other roles too though. Briefly, here are some reasons to try to make friends with your cohort and/or other students in your program (in different years):

1. They can provide support specific to your department/school and look out for you. For example, when I was starting out, if I have a weird interaction with a prof, I can go to my older friends to see what it might mean. Or, now that I am almost done, I help my younger friends navigate things like picking a committee, preparing for quals, etc. My friends and I, of all years, also can share school-specific resources or help each other out because if one of us needs to know about X, another one might know someone who knows a lot about X.

2. If there's something difficult going on in your life at some point, your grad school friends can help you out. Maybe they can take notes for you in class. They can make sure you're not falling too far behind. They might be able to submit homework/paperwork on your behalf or do random things that you might not be able to be physically present for. And of course, they can still do all of the other stuff that friends do for each other, this is mostly a list of reasons why friends in your department can be helpful that non grad school friends might not be able to do.

3. Friends in grad school (whether it's your department or another school) can relate to your grad school experiences more directly and sometimes it's easier to talk to other students about difficult situations involving grad school. Friends outside of grad school are also great though, as they help put things in perspective.

4. Finally, if you want to continue in academia, your cohort and other grad students will eventually be your future colleagues. At least in my field, they will be the ones reviewing your papers, your grants, deciding who gets invited to conferences etc. They will also be your future collaborators, potentially. A lot of people think about networking only in the context of going to conferences and meeting people, but you can build some of the strongest networks within your own department because you have way more time/chances to create a strong relationship. And your colleagues are also going to go on and do great things and meet more people and they can be the link to someone you need later on in your academic life. This is more related to the second reason why I think these websites suggest you make friends to succeed in grad school (and beyond). 

That said, I also don't really think it's necessary to go bar hopping and to do all of the partying stuff in order to make friends in grad school. Sure, depending on your department's culture, it might be a really good way to do it, but it's not the only way to do it. Friendships take time to build and I actually spend most of the time building friendships during the work day and on campus. You don't have to be uncomfortable in a bar if you don't like it, and you'll find people that share your feeling too, in grad school. It's not like everyone thinks that going to bars is the only way to socialize. Some of my best friends in grad school don't drink at all, or very rarely.

I do think that spending time with your friends outside of work, i.e. when you both choose to invest your personal time into the relationship, is an important part of creating stronger connections though. For me, I do go to an occasional party, play on intramural teams with my friends, participate or plan in fun outings once in awhile on the weekends (e.g. Disneyland one year). There's lots to do that doesn't revolve around drinking, bars, partying etc. I personally take the strategy of saying yes to everything at first, meeting everyone, and then being a little more selective and choosing to spend more of my personal time with people I click with better.

And also as @AP pointed out, you don't necessarily have to make friends with only your cohort. You might click/have more chemistry with some of the older students, or the more mature younger students!

Great point about classmates being future colleagues. I'm certainly not going to specifically distance myself, but as I've said before, Massachusetts is my home state and I not only have family and friends there, but a boyfriend. Pretty solid support system. 

The grad school experience can be wildly different depending on the place you are in life. I have a friend who went almost immediately after undergrad. She spent the first two years getting overly involved with the social scene - to the detriment of her work. Not just the scene, but the drama, the romantic relationship, all of it. I can't even imagine. It sounded exhausting on top of the ACTUAL work

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FWIW, even though I had a number of friends already in the city where I did my PhD.... the very close friends I made in my cohort are at least 30% of the reason I made it through sane and graduated. Even with my wife as a grad student at the same school, people in my cohort were going through what I was, when I was, and I trusted them to give me advice about what I was going through. 

Your cohort mates (in a non-dysfunctional cohort) are the people who should act as a safety net. The people that will know when you're going to have a bad day, or who can read the signs part way through and make sure you take time off in the evening to blow off steam. Also, as mentioned, they are your future colleagues. Not all of them are people who you want to keep up with after grad school, but getting to know your department enough to know which ones you do is key. My two close friends from my cohort and I still try to get together a few times a year (conferences or otherwise), and have gone on vacations with our significant others now that we're out and actually making decent salaries. They're the people I trust to look over manuscripts, give feedback on grants I'm working on, and help me through tough career decisions. 

I definitely saw people who got "over involved", but I think keeping a healthy balance of fun intermixed with grad school is crucial. For you, that may not be with your cohort or going out to bars (not really my thing either), but making sure you have time that you spend doing things that are not productive is important. 

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I admit to being nervous about befriending my cohort. Mainly because the whole academia thing is brand new to me and I wonder how to connect with people who've known--and worked towards--this goal at the "proper" ages (e.g. undergrad 18-21; Master's or straight to Ph.D at 22-25). Half of the time while reading articles on Chronicle Vitae or Inside Higher Ed or whatever, I'm blinking in bemused confusion because I just don't see the anxieties and drama as that big of a deal! So then I worry that my learning curve--and my existing alt-ac career--will make me come across as not fitting into the culture. 

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You're assuming you'll be the only one who isn't the traditional age, or that doesn't fit in easily to the culture. 

Graduate school is largely a bunch of people with really divergent backgrounds and interests and experiences that can make for some really great friendships, or at least acquaintances. Not always the case, and there's definitely a slice of grad students that are "traditional" heavy partiers just out of undergrad... But I can guarantee that anywhere you end up that will not account for all of your cohort. So find the people that are unusual or interesting, and make friendships there. 

My officemate was ~10 years older than the average grad student, and married with kids. We had one guy in our cohort that had been a professor in Russia for quite some time and was swapping fields, and another that was in his late 50s.

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6 hours ago, nevermind said:

I consider the PhD program as my workplace. I show up to class, am (hopefully) collegial to my colleagues, but I leave campus and go home...I'm not really involved in departmental drama (sometimes people fill me in, but I honestly don't know much). I focus on my work and keep it at that. 

Are you planning on continuing in academia? Because, if so, you may find that there are things to do besides go to class and do your work if you want to be successful...

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1 hour ago, rising_star said:

Are you planning on continuing in academia? Because, if so, you may find that there are things to do besides go to class and do your work if you want to be successful...

 

Thanks for your unsolicited feedback. Yes, I do "other things" in order to be successful. There are many ways of networking and cultivating interpersonal relationships, but "going out to bars" every weekend with your cohort doesn't have to be one of them. 

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11 minutes ago, nevermind said:

Thanks for your unsolicited feedback. Yes, I do "other things" in order to be successful. There are many ways of networking and cultivating interpersonal relationships, but "going out to bars" every weekend with your cohort doesn't have to be one of them. 

Where did I say anything about "going out to bars"? Oh, that's right. I didn't. My concern is more that someone who is singlemindedly focused on coursework and research misses out on some of the key learning that's necessary to succeed in academia. As much as I loathe drama and politics, academia is full of them and being able to navigate these successfully is crucial when you're junior faculty. Even outside of academia, every workplace has its drama and it pays to pay attention, even if only so you can avoid getting caught up in it. You don't have to take my advice but, maybe someone else on this thread will find it of value.

@SarahBethSortino, I did plenty of socializing (both with my cohort and with others) in grad school that didn't involve going to the bars. We would go out for coffee, have work sessions in local coffee shops, work out together at the gym, watched sports together (live or on tv) etc. A lot of what I did with people was driven by our shared interests. I know that others would go biking, hiking, or rock climbing together, for example.

Looking back at my PhD, I had two good friends in my cohort (one MA/PhD student and one PhD student) plus two good friends (one each from the two cohorts ahead of mine*). As others have said, those are the people who have reviewed my grant, fellowship, and job application materials (yes, even when we were applying for the same thing!), given me feedback on drafts of journal articles, etc. In my case, we all have similar-ish research interests, which makes some of those things easier. I've never actually published with any of them, though I also wouldn't rule it out as something that might happen in the future. Those in the cohorts ahead of me were useful for thinking about exams, committees, coursework strategies, navigating weird institutional policies, etc.

Here's what I've noticed about those who were from the city where I did my PhD and had a network outside of campus. They didn't make close friends with anyone but then would all of a sudden become very friendly when they needed something. This meant that they were a lot nicer to others when they wanted a copy of your successful fellowship application, for you to share a syllabus and set of assignments you developed, or wanted your feedback on their fellowship/grant materials. I... dislike when people do that. It's one thing to share with your friends and another to share with someone who is basically a stranger that you've seen in the hall sometimes. So, regardless of whether you make lifelong friendships, I'd encourage everyone to cultivate collegial relationships with others in the program so you gain these informal benefits.

*BTW, when I say "cohort", I'm referring to when we started our degrees. For any number of reasons, several of us finished around the same time, despite not starting in the same year.

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10 hours ago, rising_star said:

Where did I say anything about "going out to bars"? Oh, that's right. I didn't.

I know you didn't. The OP mentioned this in her post and I was providing what has worked for me as an alternative. I was offering my perspective as an older student and did not ask for your advice or judgement. 

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6 minutes ago, nevermind said:

I know you didn't. The OP mentioned this in her post and I was providing what has worked for me as an alternative. I was offering my perspective as an older student and did not ask for your advice or judgement. 

Actually, by offering a point in a discussion thread specifically based around this issue, you did indirectly ask for advice (or at least commentary) on your situation. 

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Oh Lord. Not again...<_<

Are you mods/veterans this combative in other subforums? Or does the history field attract posturing and d*ck measuring? I've gotten a number of PMs from people in other fields who are appalled by the 0-100 aggressiveness in this year's threads.

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I really resent the implication by a lot of posters in this thread that "younger" grad students are some how less serious about their coursework and research, obsessed with "bar hopping" or clueless as to how the real world works. My department has a cohort of 10-15 each year, and I would say there is usually 1 recent grad, 2 thirty-somethings, while the rest are between 25-30. 25-27 is also really not that young, and it's a bit patronizing to act like people this age have little life experience and are obsessed with drinking. Lots of us in this age cohort are putting our lives on hold to get our PhDs, which is huge sacrifice and makes us highly motivated to get in, and out and move on with our lives. Just because I'm 27 and like to hang out with my cohort at a bar on Friday nights, doesn't mean I don't work my a** off seven days a week. 

That being said, in my department the social aspect is hugely important, and (with a few exceptions) people in coursework years who don't socialize within the department seem to really struggle. It's important to have people that you can vent to about professors and coursework, share bibliography, get advice on fellowships and generals, introductions to scholars, advice on ins and outs of certain archives, etc...... I guess my point is, if you don't cultivate some type of a support system *within* the department, the next 6+ years are going to be an uphill battle.

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