Jump to content

Feeling out of step with my cohort


LadyL

Recommended Posts

I need some advice on how to not come off as/feel like a jerk.

Basically the majority of the other first years in my program are fresh from MA programs, are living in the area/on their own for the first time, and are heavily in debt from undergrad and their MAs. Our first year stipend is lower than it will be in the later 4 years so there is much moaning and gnashing of teeth over money.

The thing is, because I didn't get into grad school until my third round of apps, I had three years working in the field after undergrad, during which I squirreled away a respectable nest egg. Also, I don't have student loan debt, and I live with my boyfriend who makes over twice what I do at his job and chips in a little extra towards bills. And I also negotiated a slightly higher stipend with my adviser because he really wanted me to join his lab. So while I am far from rolling in dough, I am not in nearly as tight a bind as most of my cohort. Everyone is very frank about their financial situation and I did admit to having a slightly higher stipend because the topic of how to get extra funding came up, but I didn't mention the other factors.

I also did a LOT of research on the rental market before moving, and was able to score a great deal on an apartment. Whereas a few of my classmates are paying out the a$$ to live in the graduate dorms, which are run like a dungeon (limits on visitors, power hungry RAs, etc.) and are in a fairly sketchy neighborhood. So that is added stress for them financially and logistically that I also don't have to deal with.

There are also some discrepancies in life experience that leave me feeling somehow much older than these students, mostly in a "man I am old for my age" sad kind of way. I'm already jaded about aspects of the field they don't even know much about yet, like the grant and journal review process. And I am far less hung up on insecure worry like "does my adviser like me" than they are for whatever reason. In my previous lab my job required me to be extremely self reliant and self managing so I am very comfortable working independently with minimal feedback, which others don't seem to be. I feel like all of this makes it hard for me to relate and join in the typical griping and lamenting that goes on.

I presume that if I keep my mouth shut and don't wave around my organic groceries/brag about my spacious apartment/etc. while everyone else is eating ramen/complaining about the nazi RAs/etc., they won't hate me, right? I hope if I focus on common experiences (classes we're in together, what professors are crazy, etc.) it will allow me to get along with everyone without sticking out too much. It's a very social department but I worry about somehow alienating myself because of my different circumstances.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You know, I've never had a problem fitting in with my cohort, despite some rather radical differences (10-15 years older, on average; married with kids; experience outside academia; and, like you, a lot more money in the bank).

I think that the reason I can get along with everyone is that I don't put too much emphasis on our differences (though I don't hide the differences, either); instead, I always try to start off looking for commonalities.

Of course, we do talk about classes a lot, not to mention other grad school conversational staples (research, professors, TAing, committees, qualifying exams...). I've also found a lot of other things to talk about with them--trying to squeeze exercise into a grad student routine, cool books we've read, fun things to do on the weekend, and stuff like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lord knows it's easy to bond over crappy apartments and ramen, but don't worry about being cast out for your circumstances. Sure people might wonder, or might even be a little jealous here and there, but you are absolutely right: If you are thoughtful and discreet about your circumstances, you should be able to avoid most awkwardness or resentment. Don't feel ashamed of your age, your experience, your foresight, and the confidence/savvy it took to wrangle your apartment and lab position. You have EARNED that stuff, and there is no reason that you can't enjoy it.

One of the women in my cohort is around 29-30 years old, I think, and she's in a similar situation to yours in that she has money saved up, a nicer apartment, a partner with a stable and well-paying job etc. She recently hosted a little potluck party for a football game and general socialization, and I think most of us guests were just pleased to have a furnished place to sit with nice people and eat good food. There are people in my cohort who are thousands of miles away from home and absolutely starved for that kind of environment and food and interaction.

That isn't suggesting that you are always obligated to host hordes of young people for a rager at your pad, of course, but it's just an example of how your different situation could be seen as a positive thing by your classmates instead of some sort of mark against you.

Also, as a final thought, have you thought about looking into online or on-campus resources for "non-traditional" students? It might not help you fit in with your cohort, but it could expose you to other graduate students who are in similar circumstances.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When out with my cohort, I have noticed a significant in decline in shop talk (maybe down to 50% of the time from like 99%). As the conversations get fleshed out, people will begin talking about more interesting and normal stuff, but right now as a group people are have homogenous experiences and will blab about them. Give it time!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess my approach has been different in a sense that I usually ask questions and try to learn if I have any common interests. We don't have some sort of a group hangout and people generally do whatever suits their fancy better. All the friends I've made are from playing sports together and otherwise I don't really worry about it. The other thing... I seldom had housing questions come up in conversations beyond the typical question of where someone lives. I guess the whole point of this post is there is no point in trying to be friends with everyone.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am in a similar situation. I worked for years before my masters and saved up a lot. Meanwhile certain other students can barely afford to buy groceries or textbooks. Just paying the student health fees wiped them out for the month.

It never occurred to me to feel weird or awkward about this, though. I'm older and worked insanely hard at a job I hated in the non-academic world after college. In exchange for this drudgery, I was making money. The other students have gone directly from school to more school, starting their academic careers right away, which is its own form of luxury.

We made different choices at different times in our lives. But it's not some sort of insurmountable social barrier that means we can never be friends.

I don't go out of my way to talk about this with other students, but when it comes up ("How can you afford not to have roommates?" etc.) I just explain simply that I worked for years before grad school and have savings as a result. They don't seem bitter about it.

Edited by Katzenmusik
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hang out with your cohort, go out with them if they go out. But a good way to avoid coming off as a jerk is to avoid suggesting expensive activities. For example, don't suggest you all go out to a classy/trendy expensive bar or restaurant; they will either go and resent you because they are spending more than they can afford, or not go and resent the fact that they can't go. And don't treat them like they're lame or complain that they "never listen to [your] ideas" because they can't afford to take you up on your suggestions. There are cheap fun activities that even those who have saved admirably can enjoy! Suggest and go with those.

(...if it sounds as if I am bitter because I am drawing on personal experience here, I will deny deny deny.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm in a similar situation as the OP. I worked for 7 years post undergrad and had saved some $. I've also always lived in same city as my grad sch and therefore didnt have to move into a shoe-box, unsafe apt near campus, as most of my cohort. I simply dont bring up my "extra" finances. We've gone on a couple of weekend outings and they were affordable places. I'll probably host a Thanksgiving dinner, not to rub it in their faces, but coz I know most of them are new in town and will probably not have an opportunity to get home for the holidays. I think if you focus on other things (classes, rabid PIs, study groups, exams etc) it will be ok.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use