Anjali Gopal is a PhD student in the UC Berkeley/UCSF Joint Bioengineering program. You can follow her on twitter at @anjali_gopal.
It’s often not very easy to form good social groups in graduate school. In August 2012, Gradhacker Megan Johnson wrote about the Lonely Life of an Academic and more recently, Quartz wrote about the “general feeling of isolation” as one of the more unsavoury parts of pursuing a PhD. Creating and developing new friendships in a traditionally independent field of work can be hard. Many times, I’ve really missed the late night study sessions and wine-and-cheese nights that were a staple of my undergraduate college life. What is a lonely grad student to do?
However, sometimes the places we fail to look are the most obvious places--in our case, it can be our graduate cohort. I’ve been fairly fortunate due to the fact that the UC Berkeley-UCSF joint Bioengineering graduate program already has a very active student group and support network. But solidarity does not come without effort! In this post, I want to take you through some of the simple ways we developed camaraderie in our cohort--and how you can create some in yours, too.
1. Create a Facebook Group
With over 96% of university students on social media, creating a Facebook group is one of the easiest and most convenient steps you can take to create instant connection between students in your graduate program. Even if you don’t have your entire cohort friended yet (I certainly didn’t; there were 30 of us, initially), it can be relatively straightforward to get people to join: either send an email to your graduate program’s student mailing list, or ping your graduate group’s administrative assistant, and forward a link to the group. Facebook groups are an incredibly efficient way to notify your cohort about interesting events happening in town and share common knowledge. It’s my number one source for guest lists for party invitations.
2. Get involved with your student society
Most graduate programs should have some type of student governance. For instance, Berkeley/UCSF Bioengineering has the Bioengineering Association of Students which is responsible for planning including our annual retreat, peer mentorship, regular social activities, etc. This is a great way to meet both your cohort members and your upper years. Moreover, most of these committees usually get some form of financial backing through the department--which means you may be able to get that wine-tasting or grads’-night-out subsidized, making it a sweeter deal for everybody.
3. Optimize for low-effort bonding events
You might not have the energy (or the space) to throw a big party every weekend. That’s okay! Many of my cohort’s most successful social events were drinks at the neighborhood pub, attending the local food festivals, or board game nights. If you have a Facebook group set up, it’s especially easy to plan and invite students to these events, even it’s only a few days in advance. Potlucks are another great way of hosting dinner parties with minimal effort.
4. Bring back coworking sessions
Study parties don’t need to be a relic from your undergrad life. Many graduate programs still have several course requirements, and group work is still one of the most efficient ways to trudge through assignments. Even if the only thing you need to do this weekend is read papers, you might still find it more enjoyable to do it with similarly burdened students from your program (alternatively, if you need to spend the weekend writing, Kelly Hanson has a great article on forming your own writing groups). Of course, group coworking sessions aren’t always possible--some of us really do need to be in the lab to get our work done--but even in my busiest weeks, I’ve been able to spend at least a few hours getting some much-needed social interaction from coworking with fellow students.
GradHacker Ashley Weirsma previously talked about the importance of creating good support network. Developing such networks and communities in graduate school may be, at first, a lot more difficult than in undergrad. However, even when it seems like everybody’s too focused on their research or their careers, I’ve found that people’s need for social interaction and bonding eventually pulls through. It may take some initiative, but I’ve generally found that reaching out to my cohort and intentionally developing friendships is well worth the effort.
What are some ways you’ve been able to connect with your graduate cohort?
[Image by Flickr User Barnacles Budget Accomodation and used under Creative Commons license]