If there is one thing that I heard often before I entered graduate school and even when I arrived, it was that this experience can be an isolating, lonely one…IF I make it that way. As a result of hearing these words of wisdom from friends and mentors, I made it my business to be intentional in creating a support network while building and sustaining community on campus.
Graduate school is an incredible experience that will test your limits, be they intellectual, emotional, health-oriented, or anything else. My friends and my family are my number one support system in graduate school, and I lean on them like crazy.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned is that it’s important to be honest. Especially in the first year of a program, there will be the people who are trying to put on airs to seem like they work the hardest (most common phrase, “I got no sleep last night”) or that they are the smartest (most common phrase, “I read < article > where < big name in the field > referenced < theory > that said ___”) and if you get bogged down in trying to play that game, you will end up feeling inadequate. Not to mention, those people are
probably definitely exaggerating.
The problem with putting up a façade is that you cut yourself off from receiving the support that you actually need. So, instead of saying “I got no sleep last night,” talk to your cohort mate or a more senior student about how you’ve been spending your time, and ask for advice on how to make sure you’re focusing on the right things. Support systems can’t work if you are not honest and open about the kind of support you need. Nurture those relationships, and you will have a much more fun, if not enjoyable, time in graduate school!
One thing good about the internet is the ability to more easily interact with your family and friends. Now, when I mean interact, I don’t mean mindlessly scrolling through their Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr profiles. It really means having a 2-way interaction, whether it be as “slow” as sending them an email update or as audio/visual as a Skype conversation.
I’ve already explained to you the academic portion of my summer. Even though it took up most of my time, I did manage to squeeze in two trips back east. The first was to go home for my sister’s birthday and for family BBQs. That was also the first time I brought my dog Dexter home. I am from NY and I didn’t want to pay for a plane ticket for my dog I decided to drive. The trip from Bloomington, IN to NY, NY is about 14 hours depending on traffic. I’ve driven it several times, with friends mostly and alone once. I mention this because when I decided to drive it was probably the week before it was time to leave. I hit up some friends to see if anyone needed to go to NY and within a day or two I had a full car, 3 people and two dogs in a 4 door. The drive was still long but it went much smoother because the dogs could entertain each other and we rotated driving so no one had to drive tired. It was a good reminder to me that no matter how focused you get into your research it is very important to keep your social life alive and healthy.
The second trip home was for my line brother’s wedding (I am in a fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi and a line brother is one of my fraternity brothers who joined at the same time as me). That was an amazing trip for two reasons. The first being that I he got married and it was a beautiful ceremony. It was in Philly and even though I had been to Philly before I had never been to that part and It was very beautiful. The second reason it was an amazing trip is because it was the first time in 4 years that all 8 guys from my line were together again since we joined. We love spending time together but two of us have moved out of state (one is in the marines and I am in grad school), two more have kids (one just got married and the other is engaged) and everyone works full time somewhere. That being said scheduling is a bit difficult. But the time spent with them was fantastic and even though I was still working through my exam my summer was still amazing simply for that one trip. Once again I want to stress that you must keep the balance between your 9-5 and your 5-9. You are in school to accomplish something that most don’t have the desire, determination or drive to complete. However your friends and family are the ones who will keep you grounded and help you bounce back when things get rough, and they will get rough. Grad school is an amazing experience that you wont want to do again. At the end of the day you can do it.