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Long-distance relationships in a PhD program


laurendini
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So I'm new to the forums, but would like some insights from other grads.

I just got an offer from PSU for their dual-title History/Women's Studies program. I am really excited about it and planning to accept the offer, but I'm nervous about what will happen with my boyfriend and I. He is doing a master's at a university in the Rockies (where we're both from) and plans to work at a specific lab in Denver once he is finished. I am hoping to get a job in the Denver-area after grad school, but in the meantime I'm not sure how we'll cope with the distance. We've been together for four years and did semi-long-distance during college (he was in WY, I was in CO), which I suppose makes us decently equipped to handle it. We are both committed to staying together so a "break" or break-up is not on the table. I just hate the idea of waiting 5-6 more years to start our life together.

So my question is: does anyone have any tips on how to do a long-distance relationship during grad school (or anything to avoid)? I would appreciate any advice/insight from folks who have experience with this.

Thanks!

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first, as a historian, you should know that the job market is super-shitty and if you hope to work in academia as a professor, you'll have almost no control over where you get a job. if you get a job. so moving to the denver area when you're done your PhD is only a realistic objective if you don't plan to be a professor. if you're okay with that, cool. if not, then you need to do a little reading up on the state of the job market and have some serious conversations with your boyfriend.

but the good news is, once you're done your coursework (3 years or so, usually), you're ABD (all but dissertation) and onto the researching and writing phase. if you can secure a few fellowships during those years, you can easily move to the denver area and live with your boyfriend while you write. so you don't have to see the separation as 5-6 years, more like 3-4.

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My best advice - avoid it!

Honestly, if you're going to go into academia, you'll have to move wherever you can get a job. That is the reality, especially if you want tenure track at some point. Your partner is going to have to move with you and possibly sacrifice their career in order to do this unless they work in a field that is easily transferrable.

My husband's a prof. My career isn't really great where we live which is why I am going back to grad school

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Sometimes, if both husband and wife are in academia you can arrange a spousal hire, if they really want you or him.

True, though this is getting harder and harder. The uni has to really, really want one of them. A lot of faculties *won't* do faculty spousal hires (in case something happens to the relationship). With most spousal hires I know, the spouse has some sort of lesser contract than the main prof (i.e. not tenure track)

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I'd say avoid it if you can. My SO and I have been long distance for the past 2 years for our Masters, and we're doing it again for our PhDs (another 4-5 years, oy). It's not fun, and costly on frequent plane tickets. And honestly, as a PhD student, there even LESS time available for a Skype chat via time differences. Long story short: it sucks. Avoid at all costs if possible.

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In the five years I've been with my partner, two of them have been long distance: one when I was completing my Masters; I lived overseas for 7 months; now I'm in my first year of a PhD program.

I think it's doable as long as you both have the same or similar expectations. If you absolutely need to see one another frequently, this is not the type of relationship that will work long-term.

I talk to my partner twice a day, which helps, although I'm in the same time zone as him.

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I wouldn't do it if its in any way avoidable. Been long distance with mine for a year now and it can be very hard on a relationship. Everyone involved has to be very understanding and even then...its hard and lonely and can make you slightly bitter at times. And like others said - to continue to pursue your career it would likely be longer than 5-6 years... and 5-6 years alone is a VERY long time.. especially as you are getting older, wanting to be more settled and wanting something more permanent, as some people do. Is there a way you guys could take turns or he could transfer or reconsider where he wants to work when he's done - and then when you are done you go where he wants/do what he wants to do?

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I hate to jump in on this and make you feel worse but I agree with the above... Just got out of a +3 year long distance relationship and while I was always happy with the relationship, the distance really did us in (400 miles apart). It is just so hard to depend on someone to be there for you when they're not physically with you. And when you're really stressed out that unfortunately can manifest itself in the relationship via way of small fights, snippy comments, etc. It was a huge learning experience for me and I was very, very happy most of the time but I wouldn't recommend it to others to embark on

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I have two friends who are doing this right now, one situation has ended very badly and the next will more than likely end badly (going by what she has said). It always depends on the couple of course, but distance puts a serious strain on relationships. In the first they had been together for years before he moved to grad school, in the second they had only been together for a month but had been friends for a year.

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Is it scary? Yes. Is it doable? Yes. Beginning in August I will be moving three hours from my partner to start my Ph.D. work. We have been together 5 years and we have had various short term separations related to business travel, but nothing like this will be. I am scared and worried, but my partner made it clear that she isn't going anywhere.

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My best advice - avoid it!

Honestly, if you're going to go into academia, you'll have to move wherever you can get a job. That is the reality, especially if you want tenure track at some point. Your partner is going to have to move with you and possibly sacrifice their career in order to do this unless they work in a field that is easily transferrable.

My husband's a prof. My career isn't really great where we live which is why I am going back to grad school

Just curious, but you say that one person or the other usually has to sacrifice their career because you have to move where you get a job...what are you planning on doing with your husband? How do 2 academics make it work?

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Just curious, but you say that one person or the other usually has to sacrifice their career because you have to move where you get a job...what are you planning on doing with your husband? How do 2 academics make it work?

Haha, this is the reason I decided to change fields. My ultimate goal is to get some adjunct work or even research work at his/our current university. If I were to get a TT position there, great, but it is unlikely. I don't think we would actively pursue spousal hire positions elsewhere, but who knows.

Most of the academic couples we know have either managed a spousal hire (usually one spouse doesn't have TT) or the spouse does adjunct.

We were in a similar field up until now, so this is why I am changing. Our uni doesn't often do spousal hires within the faculty and I've applied for teaching positions there (and been passed over). I don't want to wait forever for something that probably won't materialize, so I have decided to make a change.

The thing for me is that I want to keep my current very part time job within my field (it's tenured) while also doing something new - academia is one of the few options that would allow this.

Does that answer your question?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Here's my experience: I was accepted into three master's programs last month. All were equally good schools. One offered me full funding, but would require me to move very far away from my boyfriend and everyone else that I know. My boyfriend had initially said that he would move with me wherever I went, but as it turned out, there wasn't a single job in his area of expertise in the entire area surrounding the school. So I was essentially left to choose between a school that would do anything to get me to go there and which was a great fit for me, but which would require me to leave behind everyone that I know, including my boyfriend; and a school in my area that had everything that I was looking for, but which couldn't offer me full funding and wasn't as wonderful a fit- but it would allow me to maintain all of the important relationships that I gained in college. After a few weeks of intense emotional turmoil while I was trying to decide (read: me bursting into tears at the thought of having to turn down any of these schools), I realized that while my education and career are an enormously important part of my life, so are my relationships and friendships. I had to ask myself if I would really be happy if I gave up everything that I like about my life in order to attend a school just because they were giving me a full scholarship, and I think I'm realizing that I wouldn't be happy with that. I haven't committed 100% to any school, but I'm meeting with my potential advisor at the school in my area on Friday to make sure that I could adapt the program to my needs if I chose to attend, and it seems like they want me badly enough and believe in my rightness for the program enough that they'll be willing to accommodate my interests.

It's all about priorities and being honest with yourself. If you won't be happy unless you pursue this particular opportunity, then you need to do that, and it is possible to make a long-distance relationship work if you and your boyfriend are both on the same page and are equally committed to making it work. However, not having him there will make a huge difference in your daily life, and in your relationship, and it's important to be realistic about that fact. It is possible that you could be sacrificing your relationship for this opportunity, because distance places so much strain on everything, and so you really need to figure out what is most essential to your happiness in the long run. I'm lucky to have several options to choose from, and I think I'm going to go with the one that involves the least amount of sacrifice, but which I can also customize to fit my needs. Maybe there's an in-between for you too.

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You are obviously aware that the distance has the potential to wreak havoc on your relationship, and have already indicated in your post that you have no intention of breaking things off with him, so I'm not going to give you the usual "don't do it" bit.

First, you need to know and believe that it's totally possible to survive a long distance relationship; I did it myself for several years and am now engaged. It's obviously difficult and emotionally taxing, but if you go into a LDR with doubts, or constantly question whether or not you'll be together in the end, that negativity will slowly seep into the foundation of your relationship and it will fester. Don't even bother thinking about what may or may not be 5-6 years from now; you're not Miss Cleo and you'll only drive yourself crazy trying to predict the future. Keep focused on your relationship in the present--enjoy it for what it is now, and nurture it now to enjoy it later. It really is that simple.

You also need to communicate. A lot. No matter how much work I had on my plate, 11:00p.m-1:00a.m each night was reserved for my guy. The scheduled conversations not only gave me something to look forward to each day, but it also helped me keep focused on my studies because I knew that I needed to finish my daily tasks by a certain time. We obviously didn't restrict ourselves only to this time frame--things do come up every now and then--but we tried to stick with it as much as possible. Sometimes, we would plan to do the same activity, such as watch the same movie, or read the same book, so that we could keep our conversations fresh and interesting. This also helped to detract attention away from the fact that we couldn't be together.

Speaking of communication, be self-aware, flexible, and forgiving. Miscommunications are bound to happen when your only means of connecting is through e-mail, phone, skype, etc, and it is all the more easy to allow that miscommunication to turn into a lover's quarrel. Be aware of your words, and always keep in mind that the LDR is difficult on BOTH of you, not just you, so do what you can to also understand your partner's needs. Remember: we all want to be right, but the only way to have two winners is to compromise.

Visit often, and just enough. The first days of a visit are awesome. The last day sucks. The last day can suck a little bit less if you know when your next visit will be. Plan your visits so that you can see your partner regularly, but don't go broke or sacrifice your grades as a result. My partner was on the west coast while I attended school on the east coast, so tickets were several hundred dollars each visit. I tried to visit once a month, which worked out pretty well for us. There was one semester that I wasn't able to go home at all until the end of the term, though. That was a really, really, tough semester to get through.

Be committed. This is a no brainer, but you both need to be on the same page and committed to the relationship. Discuss, set, and mutually agree upon the rules and expectations for your relationship before you leave.

Lastly, be mentally prepared for the possibility that this may not work out. Every relationship has the potential to fail, but the added stress of LDRs inreases the likelihood. If you're going to go forward with an LDR, you need to understand and accept that your partner (or you) can walk away from the relationship at any time, for any reason. There is no way that you can prepare for this, and there is no way for you to know whether or not this will happen to you. But the sooner you accept the risk, the sooner you can get on with enjoying the relationship for what it currently is (this goes hand-in-hand with my first suggestion).

Hope this helps. If not, you're certainly free to ignore it ;)

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I am a year older than my gf, and graduating a year sooner. She will be abroad in Asia next semester then when she graduates, she will be in the military so my going abroad for a 3 year PhD program won't really be that much of an issue, as there would not be much visiting happening any way.

We have also been going out for 2.5 years and visit each other about once a month if lucky, and usually do not see one another during the summer.

We have both talked about what will happen and neither of us expect to see the other for the first year, since it will be her sr year and my first year at the PhD program (read: no sleep, no friends). The next two years would depend on where she was stationed, and if we decided to get a courthouse wedding for the spousal benefits and location.

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The only people I know who made it through a long distance relationship did exactly what dimanche suggested above -- regular, scheduled time set aside to communicate, and regular enough visits that when one ends, you know exactly when the next one will be. The people I know also said that visiting each other really early in the "separation" is very important so that both of you know what it's like to live where the other person is living. I've heard that it's easier to feel connected to them and their life if you can visualize their environment even though you are not physically there.

But everyone I know who made it through a LDR had a well-defined separation time (i.e. they knew they would be back together in a certain time, e.g. 1 year). It's hard in academia because as others said, the job dictates where you will move. It will make it much easier if you commit to living in the same place after your graduate program, no matter what. But this means that one of you probably will have to compromise or sacrifice part of their career in order to do so. Are you okay with taking a job in Denver that may not require PhD level skills? Is your boyfriend okay with moving with you to wherever you do get a job and giving up his lab job in Denver? Are you both of you okay with knowing that the other has given up something they wanted to be with you?

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I've had friends who have made the long distance thing work, but when they finally were together again (in a more permanent set-up),

things were somehow 'different'... I suppose, as has been said, it depends largely on the couple.

I am so grateful and relieved that my partner and I were placed within 20 minutes of each other - and I only applied to

my school randomly at the very last minute, they were literally about to meet to start discussing applicants!

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