cagedbird77

Grad School Bullies

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Hey guys! I'm just finishing up my 1st year of grad school. I love my program and school but my cohort...not so much. I have a fairly large cohort (15-20 people). Most of us came straight out of undergrad. However, we're a fairly diverse group (some are married, some live alone-like myself, some come from different parts of the country, etc.) And while I've made some good friends in my program, I feel a certain hostility from others that I'm not so close to and I can't understand it.

 

All of us take the same classes every semester so we're together quite often. I enjoy our classes and the work, so I try to put my best effort into everything I do (I'll be using this knowledge in my career, so why not?). However, I've experienced comments such as, "Why are you doing it that way?", "You don't need to do all that extra work.", "You're going to make the rest of us look bad.", "You're a know-it-all." Some of these are told to me directly while others I've heard whispered about me. When people in my cohort ask for help, I'm more than happy to help them with the coursework. And yet, I feel like I'm being used for answers, and then mocked about the effort I put in after I've helped them. Sometimes, they roll their eyes when I offer answers in class or giggle during a presentation I'm giving. Then, they complain all the time about the amount of work we have to do, how our classes are stupid and the professors can't teach, and the professors will never know if they share answers on assignments we turn in later. This atmosphere just seems so petty, competitive, and suffocating. Also, I recently got a large sum of funding from the department. I didn't tell anyone except my closest friends in the program because I didn't want to seem like I was bragging (funding is scarce in my department already). Somehow, people found out and no one seems to want to talk to me anymore. It's gotten to a point where I mostly just want to go to class, not raise my hand anymore to contribute towards discussions, and go home immediately after. I've tried to be friends with them (I admit, I'm a bit of an introvert) but nothing has worked. 

 

I knew grad school was competitive but I didn't know it could be this hostile. I don't brag about my grades or funding, so I don't know what their problem is with me. I thought grad school would be all about collaborating with each other and helping each other but I guess not. My family, boyfriend, friends, and the few people I'm close with in the department have been really supportive and told me that they're just jealous bullies and to not pay attention to them. I try but it's hard when I see them almost everyday, and will be seeing them almost every day for the next few years.

 

Has anyone else experienced bullies in grad school? How did you handle it? Please sure your stories and advice. Thanks! 

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This is the sort of petty cliquishness that comes in most work environments. Think of it like a job, stay professional and try to make friends outside of grad school. That will really help put some perspective on the pettiness. You don't have to be friends with them; I'm certainly not friends with all of my coworkers, I don't even like most of them, but we have to work together.

 

Also, I've always been a fan of "killing them with kindness" when people are unnecessarily rude or mean. It's hard to continue that when all you're doing is being friendly and polite.

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I am in no way justifying the unprofessional behavior of your cohort but part of growing up is learning how to deal with people you don't like. You probably won't want to be friends with with most of the people you encounter in your career. That's okay. You're there to do good research, learn as much as you can from your mentor, and be polite to those around you. It's a shame your peers are less ambitious and not the type to encourage you to do you best. Let their comments bounce off of you. Keep working hard and getting funding awards. It's better not to disclose funding to peers, anyway because it breeds jealousy and greed. My boss recently obtained a $12M grant and professors are coming out of the woodwork, giving me their sob stories as if I can somehow relay that to my boss and get them a sympathy grant. The real world doesn't work that way. The best way to handle your cohort is professionally. Kill em with kindness. You'll probably be their boss someday.

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The problem is with *them* and *their* insecurities. It has nothing to do with you. Grad school is great at bringing up all a person's self-doubt, fears and weaknesses, in part because it is much less structured than undergrad. To combat their own insecurities, people bitch about others for working too hard. Or not working hard enough. Or wearing pink cardigans all the time. Or whatever. 

 

You say that you have some friends in the cohort? That's great. Focus your energy on them. It is possible that once your cohort move away from the coursework and get more settled in to their own research that they'll calm down a bit and stop with the nastiness. 

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So sad to hear you are in such a poisonous environment. I had that in the undergrad with folks sabotaging others' work, plotting and gossiping. steer clear and stick to your work and friends. You don t want to be erroneously associated with the uncollegial group of people. At the same time, note well the names so as to avoid those people in the future. I for one have a s..t list. It s not very long, it s all in my head.

I personally would stop telling answers to those who are not nice. Why bother. your friends yes but others? let them go to office hours.

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I'm just getting out of a situation like that. I did undergrad research and my group was mean to me from the beginning. All I did was be nice but they seemed to try to look for the first reason to label me as unproductive or unhelpful when I did great work and created a device that completely transformed (in a positive way) the way one of the grad students conducted his research. I tried to be as helpful and polite as possible but nothing worked and I was never included in lunch or anything after a few months.. Anyway, this situation sounds all too familiar and my advice is to stay strong because obviously professors favor you (with the funding and all). Speakling from experience now, It's pure jealousy on their part and understanding that solves half of the problem. It's easier said than done but hype yourself everyday and go into school as positive as you can. Make your own happiness and don't let them get you down. They got nothin on you! That's the reason why their trying to mess with you. You don't need their validation because it sounds like you're pretty awesome. Keep your head up!

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Thanks for all your advice everyone! It definitely helps. I just need to remember that grad school and this situation is temporary, and that I'll be moving back home when it's all over. In the meantime, I'll do my best to kill'em with kindness  :)

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Yeah, happened to me twice in grad school with group projects.  One group just refused to do enough work to make an A, and they were all redneck drinking buddies and I was the odd girl out, and I ended up making a B because of them.  Another group project I was in, they were busy and didn't want to meet in a group for a group project that was basically a discussion question that needed to be done in the group.  They just wanted to send it in to one group member (who I knew for a fact was struggling a lot more in the class than I) and have him synthesize our answers.  I thought that was a bad idea and refused to send mine in until we met, so they said I wasn't contributing.  So I had to do the assignment on my own. (I got the same grade as them though, so HA!)

 

There really is an ethos to a group of students, and it determines a lot.  I went into my masters a summer earlier than most people, and the class that I was with that summer was amazing.  But then the unofficial leader, and some of the other students graduated, and several influential leaders in the new cohort were mean and lazy.

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Unfortunately, it can be a part of any work environment. Remember though, you get out of the program and yourself what you put in. They get what they put in. If they have attitude now, in this program, they'll have attitude in further professional endeavors. Try not to let it get under your skin. Your department, your bosses, appreciate your work. If you still have some in your cohort who are friends, that's all to the better.

 

In my own cohort, that happens too. It can feel rather lonely. I was lucky to make some friends with people who knock me out of my own head and are able to joke about my own quirks (such as being uber critical thinking minded, less counselor). It helps me to balance out the negative criticism with her laughing voice teasing me. If any in your cohort can do that for you, make sure you let them know. 

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This is so bizarre.  One of my very close friends in the program just went through all of that and I can't help but wonder... :)

 

The advice above about staying strong, leaning on those who genuinely support you, and having human connections outside of the department will be your best bet for survival.  My friend did all of that and she made it to the end of her first year and I am really proud of her and have told her so.

 

I went through the similar issues but my first year ended even worse.  Still, with some counseling, I was able to crawl back and slowly make connections with my peers.  Most people are insecure and they just want to know that you-- the "Know It All" and overconfident-- can relate to their struggles.  Humility, kindness, and professionalism are the keys to surviving.  It also helps just a bit to show a "fun" side of you-- that you don't take everything seriously and you also have some anxiety.  It may sound dumb but try to relate to whatever non-academic conversations they're having.  They need to see that you're human being too.

 

Also, I'd encourage you to say and show less about what you're doing to prepare for classes, exams, etc.  It's not "hiding" in sense of being competitive but rather your desire to obtain more knowledge is none of their business.  If they make those kinds of comments, just say along the lines of "I'm sorry, I didn't ask for your opinion about me."  If you want to go above and beyond the discussions in seminars, then follow up with the professors with e-mails and office hours. The graduate class is double-edged swords-- it acts as a democracy.  If most students are tired, but a few want to continue, professor is more likely to end the class earlier than the latter would like.  Vice versa-- if most students are excited and others are tired and there's still time, professor will run the class until everyone is too tired.

 

How much do the more advanced students actually talk about the kind of work they have to do?  Do they think their professors are dumb?  Do they help each other?  Take cue and make friends with them.  My department's grad student culture encourages relationships across the years and there is almost never any "exclusively X years" kind of thing.  

 

Honestly, the worst thing you can do is actually isolate yourself from those bullies.  You'll only reinforce their beliefs about you.

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After seeing multiple master level cohorts go through my respective program, some cohorts were awesome and the students worked together wonderfully.  The program consistently received good feedback on how impressive the students were from internships and employers once they entered the work force.  

 

One cohort I saw was completely toxic and very much a bucket of crabs.  When they went into the workforce, I heard from their coworkers and supervisors how awful, demanding, and unprepared they were. All from the same terrible cohort. Do not let the cohort ruin your experience and opportunities. If they can't take responsibility for their education, that is not your problem. I would look to the students you trust and succeed together.  You are young, toxic peers and coworkers are something you need to learn to deal with.  Sometimes you ignore them, sometimes you confront them, sometimes you report them, sometimes you move to a better opportunity. 

Edited by WhatAmIDoingNow

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The problem is with *them* and *their* insecurities. It has nothing to do with you.

 

I think this is horrible advice.

 

Not saying the OP is necessarily at fault here. Nor is it always a two-way street. However, if you are having problems with relationships either personal or professional, not looking at your own behaviour and just thinking it's the fault of everyone else is a horrible approach for self-improvement. 

 

For example, people who continually play the victim card and take things way too personally can often create more conflicts than are necessary. Once again, not saying this may be the case with the OP, just an example. 

Edited by victorydance

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Sometimes cohort makeup is just unlucky and random -- there is a broad spectrum of possible hostility / collegiality, as WhatAmIDoingNow nicely described. I experienced this during my M.S., and now, four years into my PhD, have seen some new cohorts come through, with varying dynamics. Unfortunately since "misery loves company," the bad eggs can really compound and feed off each other, and ruin the dynamic for all. The cohort after mine was largely young, cliquey, very close yet super competitive with each other. Lots of drama. 

 

So your "lateral" peers sound like they suck, but hopefully moving on from coursework means you'll be in contact with them less and you can perhaps focus efforts on making connections more "vertically" -- i.e. those already in the program, meeting next year's cohort, or perhaps in other departments.

 

It sounds like this toxic element of your cohort is still in the undergrad mindset of "do well in classes," which is a rather immature approach to grad school. Research, grant-writing, publishing, and professionalization are the things that really matter. I bet they know this deep down and have no idea how to navigate outside the "known" world of syllabi, midterms, term papers, and course structure...you getting an external fellowship probably was a reminder of that. If they don't grow/move on from this...well, avoid the TA office in future years, because likely they'll be in there, complaining bitterly about their students.

I think you've already gotten great advice about demeanor and approaches to the times you do have to engage with these people...I'd only add "divide and conquer;" don't approach them in a group, but let some time pass and you'll may find common ground with some of them individually. During my M.S., a crop of PhD students joined our lab that I found very negative, lazy and toxic (I described it once ). I found this harder to bear than just a term's worth of coursework, since you really can't avoid the same lab users and fellow advisees. They actually motivated me to wrap up earlier than I probably would have, and move on from that institution.

I've since run into two at conferences and had surprisingly positive, collegial interactions. Both were quite forthcoming about the negative place they were in, emotionally/mentally, while living in that city, and how it took them years to grow personally and settle into jobs that better suited them.

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Sorry to hear that, OP!

 

There is this one girl in my program who gets on a lot of people's nerves, and I had the misfortune of rooming with her this past academic year (naturally, we hated each other's guts). She would interrupt other peoples' conversations and was highly inconsiderate and annoying. To the point where someone else in the program told me that she had to put in headphones - without even listening to music - just so that girl would stop talking. One of my friends came to visit me, and he went to my apartment to study and then came back to campus. When I asked him why, he said "[annoying girl] was talking to me and distracting me."

 

Nothing I could do about it, so I just tried to be as friendly as I can to everyone else, made friends with people outside my program, and found my own hobbies. Maybe you could try pursuing a new hobby or joining a club outside your program? 

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I think this is horrible advice.

 

Not saying the OP is necessarily at fault here. Nor is it always a two-way street. However, if you are having problems with relationships either personal or professional, not looking at your own behaviour and just thinking it's the fault of everyone else is a horrible approach for self-improvement. 

 

For example, people who continually play the victim card and take things way too personally can often create more conflicts than are necessary. Once again, not saying this may be the case with the OP, just an example. 

 

I definitely see your point of view, victorydance. I always try to keep in mind my own reactions and demeanor when I'm interacting with them. I try to be as polite as possible. Maybe sometimes always offering help when they ask questions about classwork gives them an impression that I'm a know-it-all? I hope not. I just like to help people, honestly lol. I've taken been trying to take the advice of a close friend of mine and keeping the conversations I have with the members of my cohort free of academics, when possible.

 

Sometimes, I do take things way too personally and it's something I've been working on, both in my professional and private life. Cheers to your advice! I appreciate it!

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Thanks to everyone who replied to this post! I've definitely taken a long look at my program and decided that it's only a small part of my life. I'm not going to change who I am just because of a bunch of sour grapes. I love my grad program and the opportunities it has given me. And I just officially finished my first year ( I had summer classes, gross haha), and I am definitely ready for the second year to begin!

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It's jealously. This was the kind of shit I dealt with ALL throughout grade school. Believe it or not, not many people have to deal with that in grade school. I did, and I wouldn't be surprised if it happens in grad school.You're top of the class, you try to be nice to people, you work hard...and then you have those assholes who choose to mock you, talk behind (or in front of) your back as if you not there, or just choose to act ugly towards you for no reason. I even had an assistant manager at this retail job who always called out on  'only me' out and gave me a bad attitude for no reason when I rarely said two words for her. Yet with the other employees, she would always kid and joke around with them.

 

It's also always the nice,introverted, hardworking, or sensitive people who become victims to this. What can you do? Ignore such idiots and don't associate with them outside of the classroom.

Edited by OneLove21

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I'm glad your perspective has changed a little bit for the better, but I'd like to share another idea that came to mind.

 

First of all, it sounds like your classmates are definitely envious that you're harder working and more engaged than others. I do think envy in this regard is pretty normal. That's not an excuse for being mean, however. Normally with bullies, I would say don't let them see how much they affect you, as it gives them some sick pleasure. However - and I could be wrong - from what you've described, it sounds like because your classmates have started collectively expressing their envy, it's grown into almost a group dynamic that's now normal (giggling during your presentations, making little in-jokes with each other at your expense). If they've never had evidence that they're causing any harm, they might think it's all innocent, that you don't mind, and then it all gets reinforced when it helps them bond with each other (horrible, I know). Again, this doesn't make it okay. But if I'm right (and this is a big if), and if they're not really bad people, then they may feel mortified to learn how their actions make you feel. In this case, I would somehow let them know. I've seen this happen, where a friend of the person being talked about mentioned to the rest of the cohort that everyone's actions had quite a negative impact on the person, which initiated a lot of self-reflection on the parts of the "bullies" to the point that they finally questioned their motivations for making snide comments about the other person and also developed some empathy. So, I guess my long-winded advice is to consider addressing it directly, however that may be, IF you think it's appropriate. Any decent human being should feel regretful about making someone else feel bad, but they have to be aware of the impact of their actions in order to get to that stage and to address their own behaviours. Fo this reason, I fear that it will just continue if they don't know concretely what impact it has on you. And I don't think it makes you weak, vulnerable or moany to be vocal about it, if done tactfully - it means you're strong, assertive and invested in the idea of group harmony. 

Edited by when

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I'm glad your perspective has changed a little bit for the better, but I'd like to share another idea that came to mind.

 

First of all, it sounds like your classmates are definitely envious that you're harder working and more engaged than others. I do think envy in this regard is pretty normal. That's not an excuse for being mean, however. Normally with bullies, I would say don't let them see how much they affect you, as it gives them some sick pleasure. However - and I could be wrong - from what you've described, it sounds like because your classmates have started collectively expressing their envy, it's grown into almost a group dynamic that's now normal (giggling during your presentations, making little in-jokes with each other at your expense). If they've never had evidence that they're causing any harm, they might think it's all innocent, that you don't mind, and then it all gets reinforced when it helps them bond with each other (horrible, I know). Again, this doesn't make it okay. But if I'm right (and this is a big if), and if they're not really bad people, then they may feel mortified to learn how their actions make you feel. In this case, I would somehow let them know. I've seen this happen, where a friend of the person being talked about mentioned to the rest of the cohort that everyone's actions had quite a negative impact on the person, which initiated a lot of self-reflection on the parts of the "bullies" to the point that they finally questioned their motivations for making snide comments about the other person and also developed some empathy. So, I guess my long-winded advice is to consider addressing it directly, however that may be, IF you think it's appropriate. Any decent human being should feel regretful about making someone else feel bad, but they have to be aware of the impact of their actions in order to get to that stage and to address their own behaviours. Fo this reason, I fear that it will just continue if they don't know concretely what impact it has on you. And I don't think it makes you weak, vulnerable or moany to be vocal about it, if done tactfully - it means you're strong, assertive and invested in the idea of group harmony. 

 

Thanks for your perspective and suggestions!! I've never really thought about confronting them about their behaviors, mainly because I'm pretty introverted myself and and I don't like to cause trouble. I'm very non-confrontational and a little bit of a people-pleaser, as I've been told by multiple family members and friends. I've gotten better though.

 

Our summer sessions recently ended and I'm back home with family, old friends, and my boyfriend. It's nice and rejuvenating. I think being away from the grad school setting is putting things in a better perspective for me. I'm actually excited about starting the semester in the fall! Haha but not too soon, of course!

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On 18.05.2015 at 10:02 PM, WhatAmIDoingNow said:

 Sometimes you ignore them, sometimes you confront them, sometimes you report them, sometimes you move to a better opportunity. 

I find these words wise :-) 

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On 18.05.2015 at 10:02 PM, WhatAmIDoingNow said:

Do not let the cohort ruin your experience and opportunities. If they can't take responsibility for their education, that is not your problem.

I agree :-)

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I know this is an old topic, but I feel it is an important one since it has happened to me as well and thought I'd add my 2 cents. I had an issue of superiority, where the grad students felt they were smarter/better than me (this extended far beyond academics). When I joined, there was a guy at the very start who was very impatient and made my life hell. He would outright refuse to help me because he would say it's pointless and I'd never get it. If he did help me he would complain I'm an idiot the whole time. He threw shade at me everyday, telling me my ideas were dumb, my research was stupid, but it extended beyond just the lab. We make jokes and have conversations from time to time with other lab members, but he would always say my jokes sucked and weren't funny. We also played music sometimes, and he would always complain my music was garbage. I should mention he never outright tried to sabotage anything I did, and when he did help me, he did show me how to do things properly, he just was very negative mentally towards me. 

Fast forward 2 years working with him. I hated him at first, but now, I pity him. His project is going downhill while mine is basically almost done (note: this is primarily due to his incompetency and not his project itself). If anything, I just misunderstood the poor guy the whole time. He is very impatient with himself as well, so with me it wasn't personal (which I thought at the time). As his project takes longer and longer, and gets worse and worse, he starts to get pissed at himself more and more. Ironically, he tries to create an image to me that nothing is wrong, but then goes and tells literally every other lab member what is wrong. With his humor he also has clear insecurity issues as well, as he is very self conscience if no one finds his jokes funny, and becomes clearly distressed if we don't (honestly I don't care if nobody finds mine funny, I think it's funny so fuck the rest). Anyways, I'm not going to go into deep analysis, but he suffers from a lot of mental issues that at the end of the day, are targeted towards himself, and I was only getting a small deflection of it. 

One final thing I want to mention, as stated he was not the only one, however, as I've grown (I was 19 when I joined, the rest were 25+) up and "matured", and as my knowledge of the lab has improved (so less fuck ups effecting the lab), they've all gone from enemies to friends. I had a lot of issues when I first joined the lab, I was clumsy, unorganized, unresponsible, etc. It was honestly the harsh criticizms of my lab mates that has helped shape my personality into one that will succeed in the lab, and in all honestly, if it wasn't for their criticizms, I probably wouldn't even be contemplating a PhD program, I wouldn't be mentally ready for it. 

Anyways, tl;dr 2 points in the post. 1) These people who are poisonous may actually have some personal issues with themselves, and they just deflect it onto you. Understanding them and where they come from will help greatly in how you feel towards them, and in extension, the lab. 2) These people who you perceive as poisonous, just keep an open mind. They may be trying to help you, even if they come across as very harsh. Personally, if you insult me and try to bring me down, that only motivates me to push harder and try and be better. i wanted to reach the day when they couldn't even find anything to complain to me about. It was the only way for me keep a positive mindset and not hate my previous lab, and it worked out pretty well for me in the end. 

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Hello,

first of all, I am really sorry about this. It must be difficult. I have never experienced such a thing at the university level (and if I have, I have not noticed it or payed attention to it because I see university as a job. My priority is to get my diploma, not make friends. I have friends outside of school. If I make friends along the way, good. If not, I don't really care because that's not my priority while being there). You know, while these people are being bullies, you're walking forward and are successful at what you do. Keep walking forward. 

I can say though that I have experienced bullying in high school and elementary school so I empathize with you. But I still had the same approach. My goal was to succeed at what I do and to get where I wanted to go in life. I want to have friends but if I am not being respected and accepted as I am as an individual, I'll just walk away and remain on my own. I have no compromises on that. There are plenty of people who are willing to accept you and love you, but they might be outside of academia or school. That was the case for me.

I don't know if this is helpful but this was just my 2cents.

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26 minutes ago, Adelaide9216 said:

Hello,

first of all, I am really sorry about this. It must be difficult. I have never experienced such a thing at the university level (and if I have, I have not noticed it or payed attention to it because I see university as a job. My priority is to get my diploma, not make friends. I have friends outside of school. If I make friends along the way, good. If not, I don't really care because that's not my priority while being there). You know, while these people are being bullies, you're walking forward and are successful at what you do. Keep walking forward. 

I can say though that I have experienced bullying in high school and elementary school so I empathize with you. But I still had the same approach. My goal was to succeed at what I do and to get where I wanted to go in life. I want to have friends but if I am not being respected and accepted as I am as an individual, I'll just walk away and remain on my own. I have no compromises on that. There are plenty of people who are willing to accept you and love you, but they might be outside of academia or school. That was the case for me.

I don't know if this is helpful but this was just my 2cents.

I actually had that mindset when I first started at my university and joined my research lab as an undergrad, and I sorta regret it now. I think it really brings down the whole university experience and hinders networking potential. Making friends at university enhances the experience a lot (especially if you take classes with them and they go through the same stuff you go through), and creates really good networking opportunities (since these people will probably be going into the same field you're going to). I think it's actually really important to make friends in school during your time there. 

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