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Home » Discover Rackham » My Disillusionment, and How I Consequently Made Friends in Graduate School

I was having a talk with my bestie about making friends in graduate school. I’ve been in my program for close to 3 years now, since I came straight out of college. She worked for a couple years and then went back to graduate school for architecture this past fall. I experienced this too when I started, but recently she’s been telling me about her work-life balance and/or mid-life crisis of spending all her time working and never actually getting a chance to get to know people. All of this got me thinking about the past years and how my relationships with people have changed, and now I am going to reflect upon it in this blog entry.

Graduate school is different from undergraduate education primarily because everyone is at a different point in their lives. Some people have just come out of college. Some people already have their Master’s. Some spent years working before coming back to school. Some are married. Some are single. Some have families. Some have families overseas. Some have been to graduate school before. What ties everyone together is that we are pursuing a graduate degree, that we live in the same town, and that we attend the same university.

It should probably come as no surprise then that, with such diverse backgrounds, we don’t connect as readily as we did when we were younger. Friendships now take effort to forge, and some of us just don’t have that sort of commitment or interest. They also don’t entail the same frequency of “hanging out” as in the past because we just don’t have that sort of time anymore.

I realize now, in hindsight, that because we are peers we are also competitors. I don’t think of my colleagues that way, but in a way that is a part of what our relationship is. And because we are friendly competitors, we hesitate to really lay ourselves out for others to see us as who we are. It’s very natural to default to the much abhorred “small talk” to avoid getting closer to others. It wasn’t until I really opened myself up in front of others that I felt some walls begin to come down, and they revealed themselves as who they are in front of me.

I’m a nerd. (That goes without saying.)
I like to be goofy and immature. (Who doesn’t?)
I’m not really striving to be the very best. (Like no one ever was…dun dun da dun.)
I just want to find a way to enjoy my life while also enjoying my job.

For the first two years in my program, I spent a lot of time planning social events for a group of people I considered my friends. This is not to say that those people were not my friends, but I decided to stop investing so much effort and time into getting people to hang out when sometimes they didn’t really seem to want to. I thought, when I did that, I just wouldn’t really hear from anyone ever again–that maybe it was something about the graduate school dynamic that kept us all apart. But then I was pleasantly surprised to find that a certain few continue to invite me to things, to ask me how I was doing, and to grab lunch with me on a fairly regular basis. It turns out that there were some people who appreciated what I was doing, and some people who enjoy my company enough to want to continue the friendship. As an added bonus, I also learned how to enjoy time to myself rather than consistently trying to plan things with others. I’m pretty content with the way things have turned out.

My bestie is telling me how she hasn’t connected yet with anyone she’s met in graduate school and how she feels that this is shocking because she is in New York City, where there are things going on all the time. It seems that her opportunities to meet others are hindered by the fact that she constantly has to work in order to keep up with her studies. This reminds me of my first year where I also was constantly working, only occasionally pausing to take a breath and realize that I was really lonely in Ann Arbor, and then planning some sort of hang-out for my group of friends. After my disillusionment where I realized that graduate school and my career would never be like what I imagined it to be, I learned to make the most out of what I have and what I can achieve. And with that, the front I had been struggling to put up showcasing myself as a hard-working, high-achieving, bright and intelligent student came down. And it just so turns out that, even without projecting myself as I thought I should be, people had this opinion of me anyway. People who mattered. Peers. Friends. Colleagues. Cohort. Competitors. Whatever you want to call them.

We’re all nerds. (At work and at home.)
We all like to be goofy and immature. (But can be mature when we need to be.)
We’re not really striving to be the very best. (But I’ve found that some of us kind of are the best.)
We all just want to find a way to enjoy life and to enjoy our jobs.

So it turns out that people with really diverse backgrounds actually have more in common than I initially thought we did, and that developing meaningful relationships with people was not as impossible as I thought it was. It was basically when I stopped poking around for friends that they began to emerge. And it’s true, things will change as our circumstances change, but for now I really do appreciate everyone who has made the effort to get to know me while I’ve been here. Y’all are the best. My life is better because of you.

I just want to conclude by saying that my relationships didn’t just change with people I met in graduate school. When I stopped spending so much time getting people together here, I ended up with more time that I spent reconnecting with my best friends from my undergraduate years. I owe them for all the effort they put in to maintaining our friendship while I struggled with my work-life balance in graduate school. Y’all are the best. Let’s be friends forever. Let’s see each other again soon.