Making Connections in Graduate School
When I got to graduate school, it didn’t take me very long to realize I wasn’t in undergrad any more. During the two years I spent post-undergrad, working in a personality-focused research lab, I thought going back to school would be just that: going back to the busyness, engagement, and large network of friends that undergrad was. Grad school was busy, sure, but meeting other people and getting involved in a community beyond the research lab was much more difficult than I anticipated.
Some of you may be having similar experiences in your first (or even second or third) year in graduate school. While I could give tips about what has helped for me, I think the phrase “different strokes for different folks” applies here; everyone has a different way of meeting others. So we got the graduate student committee together to give suggestions on what has helped each of us get involved and make connections during our transitions to grad school. I’ve tried to organize these suggestions according to a few themes below.
While it can seem harder to find social events to go to in grad school since you’re not always up on the hustle and bustle going on on campus, there are other ways to find out about these types of events. Most cities/towns have a “young professionals” group—and yes, we count!—so get in touch with them and go to meet-ups, happy hours, or networking events to meet people outside of graduate school with diverse interests. For the literary, join or organize a book club (no articles allowed!). Regardless of the event, getting students’ significant others involved in social events can broaden your friend base. And any time you go to a conference (such as SPSP 2016!) attend social hours and receptions.
Bonding Within and Across Departments
Often being in class with other grad students can be the perfect opportunity to form both study groups and plan non-academic outings. Especially look for these opportunities in classes with students from other psychology areas. One member of the GSC, for example, told me about how grad students from both the experimental and clinical departments at her school get together at either a house/bar/restaurant every Friday!
Find a “debriefing” buddy. When someone in a meeting or lecture says or does something that really bothers you, have another member of your cohort who you can go to afterwards to recap and debrief all the crazy. That way, you can got confirmation of your feelings or get a different perspective - both of which relieve the stress of grad school! Also, schools often have a graduate student body, committee, or union that crosses departments; get involved and meet like-minded individuals (it’s always nice when someone else understands that you are often “working” on the weekends!).
After graduating from undergrad, I soon realized there was an entire “underground” of young professional community sports leagues (e.g., soccer or kickball leagues) going on in my city. These are a great way to meet other young professionals in your area—and destress at the same time! Many schools offer discounted or even free exercise classes at the on-campus gym; spin class, zumba, yoga, and turbokick (and yes, I’ve tried them all!) can be great ways to meet other people.
We live in the virtual age, so let technology work for you. Stay connected to previous members of your graduate program if you were close with them. Involve them in your social media groups, for example, ask them advice via email, pick their brains because they probably miss you and you miss them (plus they are a fountain of been-there-done-that knowledge). Establish an easy way to communicate with each other—Facebook groups for your department work really great!
I hope that some of these ideas prove to be helpful, especially for those who might be early in their graduate program and just beginning to realize some of the challenges of meeting others. I know they’ve helped me. And always remember, your GSC is here to help with transitions, advice, and anything else you can think of, so shoot us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) anytime!