• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


“Everyone’s Leaving Me Behind!”: Dealing With Others’ Transitions

Moving beyond sadness and fear, and embracing friendship and change. 

March 19, 2018

Florianne Jimenez is a PhD student in rhetoric and composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She tweets via @bopeepery.

In the world of graduate school, spring is a time of transition. It’s when we start hearing about incoming cohorts, but it’s also when people start firming up their post-graduation plans. On a sadder note, the end of the spring semester is also when people might transfer to other programs or quit graduate school altogether. Sadly, the attrition rate for PhD students is extremely high. About half of all students who begin a PhD program leave without completing their degrees. While the research on why graduate students leave and exactly how many is spotty, it still stands: part of being in graduate school is watching your friends leave.

Given the long slog that graduate school is, it can be alienating to watch everyone “move on.” More simply, it’s also incredibly sad to see people who have become friends and colleagues, who celebrated and struggled alongside you, move on. If you’re struggling with the existential crisis brought on by hearing about others’ transitions out of grad school, here are a few pointers.

Remember that grad school isn’t a race.
Graduate school lends itself to competition by comparisons. When it comes to milestones, it can feel especially punishing to see people finishing “faster,” “slower,” or “on time,” and wonder where you are on that timeline. I put all of those terms in quotation marks because what constitutes time in grad school is so arbitrary. There’s the time to degree that a program recommends, and then there’s the actual time it takes for students to finish. Within institutional and personal limits, consider approaching finishing graduate school through what works best for your individual project and personal circumstances. Just because someone finishes by a certain time doesn’t mean you have to finish by then too.   

Plan a reunion.
When people graduate and move away, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never see them again. When you hear that a friend is leaving, consider planning out when and how you’ll see each other again: at the next conference, on a research trip, or at a friend’s wedding. Identifying opportunities to meet up can make the sting of a friend’s departure hurt a little less, and planning ahead can save you money and time in the long run.

Think about how you’ll stay in touch.
Thanks to social media and technology, it’s easier than ever for friends who are several states or even countries away to stay in touch. Facebook Timelines are a reliable standby, but you might want to try another outlet that’s more personal—a weekly phone or Skype call, a monthly postcard or letter-writing agreement, or even small care packages every once in a while. Building up some fanfare around friendship can make staying in touch more fun, so it feels less like an obligation and more like a physical date with a friend.

Put energy into your goodbyes.
When your friends are leaving, sometimes it can be tempting to avoid seeing them or even to pick fights, so that their departures don’t hurt as much. Don’t do that! While goodbyes are always sad, you’ll regret not having a nice, solid farewell once your friend is gone. Like rituals for keeping in contact, it’s cathartic to have a little structure around a friend’s departure, either through a party, a last coffee date, a hike in the woods, or even by helping them pack up and move. Even though the feelings of abandonment can be scary, make an effort to properly show up for your friend and colleague who’s leaving. They might be worried about leaving too, and your presence will definitely be appreciated.

How have you dealt with others’ springtime transitions out of grad school? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter via @GradHacker!

[Image from Flickr User Umedha Hettigoda, used under the Creative Commons license]


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