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friends in grad school


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First, a little background for everyone.

 

I'm currently a 2nd year grad student in engineering. As I am getting a masters, this will be my last year before I graduate. I went out of state for graduate school, moving from my hometown in AZ to VA as my older brother is getting his PhD here. I figured it would be easier to make the transition away from home. While I have learned so much from my time in grad school and grateful for the opportunity to grow both academically and personally, it hasn't gone the way I wanted it to, particularly from a social standpoint.

 

I spent much of last year without many friends and found myself spending many weekends in my apartment alone. In general, I just find that grad students aren't particularly receptive to social interaction, espeically since most are so absorbed into classes and research. I tried speaking with people within my research cohort. They are also pretty quiet and since most of them are international students, they typically hang with people of their respective ethnicities (not true for all, but have seen it with others). To this day, I have about 3 people whom I would consider as friends, all from which I took classes with. We never really have time to hang out on a consistent basis, given the hectic schedule we all have. I have hung out with my older brother and his cohort, but they seem to talk about work and research all the time, so I feel out of place with them. I tried joining clubs but now that I am much more involved in research, it's hard to keep a consistent commitment. Easy to say that grad school has been one of the most loniest experiences of my life.

 

I have plenty of friends back home and it seemed easier to make friends there, maybe because it's within my comfort zone. I went back home this summer for an internship and made so many friends on the job, but it's a different story when I get back to school. I guess I'm frustrated with the fact I have not been able to fully adjusted to life outside of home, especially after a whole year. Maybe it shouldn't matter since I only have a year left and I will be moving again to who knows where.

 

Has anyone else experience something similar after moving away from their hometown for graduate school? I would definitely like to hear other perspectives.

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Hi! I'm sorry about what you're going through. As an international student, I know what you're talking about. Back home, I am very social and have a ton of really close friends - but it's easy when you've lived in the same city for over 25 years. When I moved to the US, for a while I worried I wouldn't make any friends. I am VERY slow when it comes to being social, going out and making new friends. I'm just sort of awkward and insecure. But, after a while - probably  a year - I started making friends. I think being very active in a school club that I was really passionate about helped tremendously. And in addition to that, I just pushed my self to do more social things, to be more proactive in that arena. After a while I was soooo surprised to see I had made incredibly close friends; friends that happily volunteered to help me move, friends whom i've missed when I was visiting my family back home. So yes, it was really slow for me; but I'd encourage you to feel more confident and be more optimistic about it, because it's definitely a matter of time and putting yourself out there. Also, not worrying about it helps, I believe - I forced myself to do things because I wanted to do them, or because I wanted to learn something, and tried not to think that "I was trying to make friends". The pressure doesn't help. :)

 

(Now I've moved - I'm in a new city for the PhD, so I am definitely starting over. But I'm trying to not worry too much about it. It'll get better! :) )

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I'm in the second year of my masters program and am just now getting close enough to people that I would start considering them friends. If you have a couple people that you like studying with in your classes, I suggest asking one of them to meet up and study at a coffee shop on Saturday or Sunday. I agree that it can be hard to have time for a social life and research and you say that most people in the program are too absorbed in research to want to hangout. I definitely feel the same in my program but one great solution I've found is to meet up with someone to study together. It solves the loneliness issue while also giving you the chance to get some work done. Also, if you can identify some people in your program who typically go to lunch together, try to join occasionally. I used to turn down offers like this because 1) I was always in the middle of research and 2) I felt like I'd intrude. I started accepting the offers a couple times a week which has brought me closer to an entire group of people.

Edited by bsharpe269
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Feeling lonely in grad school is a common thing across all disciplines. I moved from the east coast to midwest for grad school, and my first year at this very cold and snowy town was pretty miserable. I only made maybe one friend during my first year here! It definitely felt like I didn't belong, I guess people could tell I'm not a midwesterner. 

 

But after year two, things started to improve. I joined a lab and started interacting with a group of people on a daily basis. I also got to know their friends, and their friends of friends... Social circles expand over time. It was some time during my second year that I felt 'ok, I think I have a place here'. I understand how you feel, been there felt that... But it will pass. 

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In addition to what everyone said here, I think it's a lot easier to make friends in the first ~4 months of a new program, when everyone else in your cohort is new and friendless and looking for friends too. So, every time I go to a new place, I force myself to be a little bit more social and outgoing than usual. Say "yes" to almost every social event in the first few months. I would even say that you should "overdo" it a little bit and commit yourself to more social events than you would normally want to. I say this because I am normally a person that likes to hang back and test the waters slowly whenever I am in a new or unfamiliar situation.

 

However, I don't think this is a good way to make friends in grad school, from my experience. If you start saying no to things, people won't invite you to other things (that you might enjoy even more). Once you've established yourself as someone who will go out and do things with your colleagues and that you are a fun person to be around, you'll automatically be invited to future outings and people will accept your invites to things too. After the first 4-6 months or so, once you already know them, you can decline more invitations and people will be understanding and still invite you to future things (as long as you don't completely shut down your social life!)

 

In general, this is part of the advice that I like to give to new grad students and that is, in the first 4-6 months, you should prioritize the "life" part of the "work-life" balance. When you are just starting, it's the perfect time to commit yourself to things like social events, joining clubs, starting sports. I say this because if you want to commit to 50+ hours per week of research and coursework right away, you will feel tired and drained and not want to do anything else that is good for the "life" part. But if you start early and make it part of your routine, whether it's going to the gym, going for a hike, seeing movies on weekends, going to the beach etc. it will be a lot easier to balance with the "work" part if you ramp up the "work" part later.

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Everything TakeruK said. I would also like to add that the fist few times you're "socially agressive" (at least that's what I call it in my mind) it will always be awkward and nerve-wrecking. It's not necessarily awkward to other people per se but you'll probably feel awkward yourself. And I think that's an important distiction to make. Most people don't think much of our own actions and behaviors as we do ourselves - they'll likely forget them very soon. So what we perceive is not necessarily what actually is. So don't get discouraged if you don't make friends right away with the first few interactions. These things take time, and you're not supposed to click with everyone right away. Like TakeruK said, make yourself do it, commit yourself to things you wouldn't normally do, extend invitatons instead of waiting to be asked, etc. I'm typically a not-so-outgoing person as well and I thought the transition to grad school, especially in regard to social life, would be tough. But I did make myself to be more active, more involved, more sociable than usual, plus I was lucky to spend a lot of time with my cohort (we have to take most classes together our first year) and to have a cohort that gets along pretty well, but it was still surprising to hear someone describe me as "fun" and "bubbly" and "warm" just a few days ago. Mind you those are not the things I'd describe myself :D That's just a personal annecdote to say that efforts do pay off and it will eventually get easier once you got a group or just a few persons whom you're familiar with. Good luck!

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