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Ashley Wiersma is a doctoral candidate in the department of history at Michigan State University. You can follow her on twitter at @throughthe_veil.

As grad students, we face numerous pressures – from academic deadlines to family commitments and maintaining our own health and well-being.  However, as many have written before, we struggle to find a balance, tend to give up those things that are healthy but aren’t “productive” and even feel guilty when we take a little time for ourselves.  Although many of us value friendships, we are in fields or stages of research that are isolating and make it difficult to spend quality time with colleagues and friends outside the department. The irony is that sacrificing activities like exercise, making healthy meals, and socializing to get more work done, we often find that we are lessproductive.

“In a national study on the lifestyles of graduate students, the Barna Research Group of Glendale, California found … that ‘Friendships appeared to fuel the search for academic growth by enabling students to learn from the perceptions, experiences, and challenges of their comrades, and they also provided an emotional release from academic intensity.’ Mutual growth from shared experiences is the greatest benefit of peer relationships.” – Nick Repak, “Cultivating the Community of Scholars: Peer Relationships for Graduate Students” (

To combat stress, enjoy life more, and regenerate energy and interest in our work, I propose that we take a little time to develop our support networks:

First: Think about all those who already form the core of your own support network.  This may include a significant other, parents, relatives, friends, colleagues, guidance committee, advisor, and other faculty members.  Do you make time to touch base with these important people regularly? Even just a brief phone conversation while doing dishes or walking the dog can make a difference in how you feel and contribute to the health of the relationship.

Second: Consider those who you would like to spend more time with and get to know better those whom you think may be helpful and supportive, and those you think may need your support and encouragement. We often overlook this last category of people because we feel so overwhelmed ourselves and wonder how we could possibly help anyone else, but just taking a few extra minutes to share some of your experiences with a colleague can mean a great deal to them and provide perspective for you.

Third: Brainstorm ideas to spend more time with colleagues and/or people outside academia and find a friend who can help you stay accountable to this commitment.  Some ideas for structured groups include:

  • Dissertation support groups
  • Pre-dissertation writing groups
  • Collaborative study
  • Reading groups, especially after coursework is completed
  • Second language conversation groups
  • Reading/study groups to prepare for qualifying exams
  • Running, yoga, or other exercise groups
  • Cooking groups: make meals for a week together
  • Grad student peer support groups through counseling services
  • Faith-based groups
  • Music groups
  • Crafts/scrapbooking

Finally: Get online! Yes, there are a number of communities that provide support and even crisis counseling if needed.  Check out some of the following resources:

Related Articles:

Robert Gee’s Collaboration, Experimentation, and Solving the World’s Problems and Community, Wellness, and Economy: It’s What’s for Dinner

 How do you stay connected?  Include your creative ideas for building a support network in the comments section below.


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