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maelia8

Quals broke my cohort, and I don't know if we'll ever be the same

8 posts in this topic

I'm not sure if there is any advice applicable here, but I thought I'd share to see if anyone here has gone through something similar to see if it gets better.

My cohort was super close before quals - about ten of us were good friends and regularly spent time together on and off campus going out to eat, having gatherings at each other's apartments in the evenings once or twice a month, etc. During our quals year, some interpersonal stuff went down which put many of us under incredible strain, which in turn was exacerbated by the challenges of studying for an extremely rigorous oral humanities qual for six months.

During this time period, in our tight-knit group, one partner in a couple made up of grad students in our cohort cheated on the other and left them for another student in the cohort, causing bad feelings and awkwardness all around (I'll call the deserted A, the cheater B, and the new partner C). A had trouble being around B and C at social events for obvious reasons, but B didn't want to be left out of anything and A was too reticent/accommodating to tell B that they didn't want to see B and C together everywhere as it was quite painful. This has thrown a real wrench into celebrating things like birthdays, and the fact that C is pretty socially awkward and doesn't seem to notice the pain that being around B causes A is also problematic. 

A second issue evolved when another in-cohort couple (I swear, we only had two to begin with!), D and E, started suffering due to E's severe mental health problems and emotionally manipulative behavior. This culminated in E attempting suicide in a public part of the department (during off hours, but luckily someone found them and got them into care before they endangered their life). E and D broke up just a few days before their qual exams, and E is still under psych watch and has threatened to leave the program because of issues in their relationship with D. D loves E but also can't handle their abuse/drama, and it seems to be coming down to which one of them will leave the program for the comfort of the other (even worse, they are in the same field). 

I'm worried that a wonderful group dynamic has been destroyed beyond repair by these two sets of events, and some other members of the cohort have felt forced to take sides. We are all scattering to the wind for research in the fall (after all passing our exams, thank goodness), and I fear that when we come back, we'll all be strangers. I don't know what I can do to help, or even if I should do anything. I've been reaching out to those most deeply affected where possible, but I don't want to overstep boundaries or meddle where it's not my place.

Is there anything that can be done in this situation, besides watch and wait until we all come back? I am really feeling this loss quite keenly.

Moral: This is the worst-case scenario when people date within a cohort. 

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Not within cohort, but my department had similar events play out to both of those. And other related drama. Some fist fights. One person leaving the country after a love triangle that resulted in (presumably) death threats from a gang in the home country. 

Throw a bunch of people in their early to mid twenties together for way too much time in way too much proximity, and everyone is more aware of issues in each others lives. It doesn't mean more drama happens in grad school, the news just spreads more quickly. 

In several of the incidents I mentioned, it put me on the spot between two friends. One fight in particular, I was quite close to both of the people involved. Same with several breakups. Other friends were in similar positions. 

What I found got most of us through it was the realization that the entire program couldn't fall apart due to these divisions. So people not involved could still get together, and still talk. There were also times to have frank conversations- i.e., sit down and talk to some combination of A, B and C and tell them they need to grow up. They can't make everyone else miserable. Sometimes we have to be around people we don't like, sometimes we have to tone down how we act to make it more tolerable for other people. Heck, I've even gone so far as to tell people that I'm not choosing sides, but that I'm happy to alternate which person I invite to things to minimize friction 

But one key to me is how the rest of you act. You say the cohort had 10 people- that means there are 5 of you that are not directly involved in either set of drama. That's still a good group, if you can keep it together. 

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I agree with everything @Eigen said. I'm sorry to hear about the trouble in your cohort--although I've never gone through something quite this intense at the graduate level, something a bit similar did happen in my friend group during undergrad. We weren't able to resolve the drama between everyone, but I was able to stay friends with all of the people in that group because I chose not to take sides and chose not to get involved with the situation directly.

16 minutes ago, maelia8 said:

I'm worried that a wonderful group dynamic has been destroyed beyond repair by these two sets of events, and some other members of the cohort have felt forced to take sides. We are all scattering to the wind for research in the fall (after all passing our exams, thank goodness), and I fear that when we come back, we'll all be strangers. I don't know what I can do to help, or even if I should do anything. I've been reaching out to those most deeply affected where possible, but I don't want to overstep boundaries or meddle where it's not my place.

I think it shows what a good and loyal friend you are that you care very much about trying to keep your friend group together. At the same time, no matter how much you care about your friends, it should not be your responsibility to rebuild the relationships that others (like "B and C") have made difficult and uncomfortable for the rest of the group. I think the best thing you can do is remain supportive, but remain neutral in whatever issues are going on. If these people are good friends, they will respect and understand your desire to remain close to all of them, even if they choose not to be friends with one another in the future.

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I've never seen arbitration of busted friendships go well. Despite the best intentions of the person who is trying to engineer the reconciliation in other people - they usually get sucked into the conflict. 

I'd use the natural break to go out and find other friends. You don't need to form a new group of BFFs, just folk from your research group/department/campus who you get along well with and do some social stuff together (lunches, coffee etc). It'll make you feel less dependent on this group of individuals. 

When you all get back on campus start off with low-key social events (lunch on campus rather than a party in someone's apartment). In case something goes wrong it is easier for people to leave, and you won't be stuck for too long in an awkward situation.  

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On 7/13/2017 at 0:03 PM, maelia8 said:

I'm worried that a wonderful group dynamic has been destroyed beyond repair by these two sets of events, and some other members of the cohort have felt forced to take sides. We are all scattering to the wind for research in the fall (after all passing our exams, thank goodness), and I fear that when we come back, we'll all be strangers. I don't know what I can do to help, or even if I should do anything. I've been reaching out to those most deeply affected where possible, but I don't want to overstep boundaries or meddle where it's not my place.

Is there anything that can be done in this situation, besides watch and wait until we all come back? I am really feeling this loss quite keenly.

Moral: This is the worst-case scenario when people date within a cohort. 

@maelia8

Do all that you can to stay clear of A, B, C, D, and E. The five bring chaos that you don't need right now. It's not on you in any way to fix what others have broken. You don't need to make judgments or take sides, and you don't owe any of them explanations.

(I disagree with @hantoo. For the time being--at least until you have a solid job offer in hand--I recommend offering zero support on personal/relational matters and moderate to minimal support on academic matters.)

Focus on your own peace of mind. Focus on healing from your qualifying exams--their destabilizing effects can linger longer than one might expect.

My $0.02.

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Changes in life often bring changes in friendships. Often, graduate students become closer friends because they are in proximity frequently - you see each other often for classes and such - and then drift apart later after they see each other less. I am only close friends with one of the people from both of my doctoral cohorts, and I would only really call myself "friends" with maybe 2-3.

If you're scattering to do fieldwork or archival research it is also totally normal for members of the same cohort to come back virtual strangers or at least not as close as they were before. Fieldwork was pretty common in my PhD - lots of anthropologists and sociologists. Going off and living a year or more in a completely different culture has a way of changing a person drastically, so it wasn't uncommon for people to have grown apart from the people they were originally closer to at home.

It could be that this is just the natural breaking point of your previously close relationship and that you will seek out other friendships - potentially stronger ones in which you are bound more by common interests, hobbies, likes/dislikes, rather than simply the fact that you all started the same program at the same time.

If there are people whose relationships you really value, reach out to those people and stay connected! Spark things for you to get together - coffee, dinner, lunch, hangouts, whatever. Make sure you schedule plenty of time in which you are NOT talking about research or the program and doing something fun and completely unrelated to your work.

But it's not your responsibility (nor is it likely possible) for you to hold together the entire cohort.

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I definitely agree with the others that it is likely not possible and certainly not your responsibility to "fix" your cohort or to arbitrate the friendship/relationship between members, especially between A/B/C and D/E. And also that friendships change over time due to people changing. I notice that this happened a lot with my friendships with people who I've moved away from, but like juilletmercredi said, my friendships in my first year of grad school was pretty different than my friendships in my final year.

I think Sigaba's advice is good for some people. If you are in grad school for the main/sole purpose of receiving academic training and moving onto a career and planning to leave your grad school days behind you, then it won't help you to stay involved in these complicated relationships. As others said, you don't owe anyone anything and if these people are increasing your anxiety/stress levels then don't feel bad about prioritizing self-care and ensuring you can succeed.

On the other hand, if you're more like me and feel that academic training/career prep is one important part of grad school but not the only part of grad school life worth prioritizing, then there's no need to cut these people off if you still find happiness and get support from them! I would do what Eigen suggested. Not inviting people is sometimes tricky, so it might be easier to have smaller groups, or to have a frank conversation with A/B/C so that they know what you are doing. If it turns out that all of A/B/C go against you for this, then it's probably better to cut these people out of your life anyways. Again, I'm not saying you need to "fix" the cohort, but you could and should do what you need to build the relationships important to you, because these help you get through grad school. Don't let the drama of A/B/C affect your ability to have good relationships with the rest of your group.

I am not sure when quals happens in your program, but for me, it's the first major challenge (we are about 20% done when we finish quals) and there are many more to come (notably, "the slump after quals", "the prep for comps" (for some programs), "the existential crisis that happens midway", "the job search" and "the rush to write your dissertation and defend"). It's a marathon so it's important to ensure you have the support throughout. Since you've been here for awhile, I guess you are probably closer to finishing than I was at the quals stage, though. But my opinion is that whether you decide to remain close friends with A-E or focus your energies on other cohort members, just ensure you are doing it because you want to and because you are trying to build mutually beneficial/respectful relationships. Don't do it because you feel the need to "fix" things. And I would say you don't need to feel guilty about distancing yourself if you find that some of these people are making your relationship with them very one-sided.

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It didn't happen to grad students in my department, but to a married couple, both of whom were professors in the department when I was an undergrad. One was dept chair and the other an associate professor. The associate professor left the university. It was an untenable situation. People do things and some times it really is unfixable. I am an older non-traditional student, who had a career prior to going back to school. There really are reasons why companies have rules concerning no dating among employees. Can you imagine having to get another TT position in this market? If I were going to date a professor or another grad student, it would not be one in my department, as I want to finish this program. My advice is to regroup the remaining members and try to go on. Tell the others why (very important) they need to find a new group. It sounds harsh, but you can't take sides (never a good idea and you don't know when the couples may get back together) and you can't continue as it stands. Either the group completely dissolves or you go on without them.

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