This GradHacker post was written collaboratively by Amy Rubens, PhD candidate in English at Indiana University, @ambulantscholar, and Katy Meyers, PhD grad student in Anthropology at Michigan State University, @bonesdonotlie.
Valentine’s Day is fast-approaching, and for many singletons out there, just passing by the grocery store’s “seasonal” aisle can be an unpleasant reminder of one’s relationship status. Of course, being single, even during Valentine’s Day, can be a liberating experience and also a time of personal growth and discovery.
But what if you’re single and you’d like to start dating? What if you also are in graduate school? As we’ve discovered, dating while you’re a graduate student poses its own challenges. Here is some advice from Amy (who is happily taken) and Katy (who is currently negotiating the dating scene).
Meeting people is perhaps the biggest obstacle grads face who are on the dating scene. Think about it: We go to class with the same—and likely small—cohort of people semester after semester, year after year. The same is true for grads conducting research in say, a lab. Conversely, graduate school can be an isolating experience. For instance, those who are in the dissertation stage often work alone a majority of the time. Teaching duties further take away the time and social contact needed to meet someone who is an eligible, compatible date. How, then, do you meet someone?
- Ask around. You might feel uncomfortable asking a friend to play match-maker; however, if friends know of your dating status (actively looking), they might be able to connect you with one of their single friends in the future, by say, inviting him or her to a social gathering where you both will be present.
- Join a campus organization or volunteer in the community. If you’re new to your program, your social network might be developing, so opportunities for social engagements might be limited. Meet other grads by helping to plan a graduate student conference or by participating in activities sponsored by your school’s graduate student government. Volunteering for community organizations, like a local animal shelter or food back, can allow you to meet people outside of school who share similar interests—and you’ll also be supporting a great cause!
- Pursue a hobby, but also be strategic. If you’re not a joiner type, you can meet people by pursuing a hobby that has a social element to it, such as renting a plot at the local community garden. In other words, if you’re dying to learn how to knit socks, that’s great. But, think about whether that activity will help you meet potential dates. (It could – the answer will be different for everyone.)
- Go online. There is no shame in online dating. We repeat: there is no shame in online dating. Sites like OKCupid and Match aren’t just for the socially awkward; they’re tailor-made for those who are busy because they help to streamline the search process. Two words of advice: 1. Be honest with your profile: don’t overestimate or use photos from 2004. You want to meet someone who likes the real you, and 2. Always start out with a coffee date so you can meet the person without the pressure that a dinner date entails and without the perception altering effects of alcohol.
Perhaps the second biggest challenge graduate students face on the dating scene is finding the time to date. We have extremely busy schedules, and it can be hard to make time to meet new people when you barely have time to hang out with your old friends.
- Make dating a priority: Try picking one night where you will try something new, or finally say yes to that online date. Some people get lucky and meet their soul mate while grocery shopping, but most of us have to make time to try new activities to meet people or go to different social engagements. You will always have work to do, so it’s okay to put down the books and check out the bar.
- Be honest about your schedule: Let’s say you go on that first date, they ask for a second and you tell them your schedule is super busy right now. In most cases this is going to be read as you trying to avoid telling them that you don’t want to go on a second date. This is especially true about dating non-grad students. Be totally upfront about your schedule and grad student lifestyle. If they really like you they will understand and wait, and if they don’t they aren’t worth being upset about.
- Make dating fun: Sometimes it’s hard to make dating a priority, so add it into other things you’ve wanted to do. I try to make dates for coffee shops that I haven’t ever been to, or grab lunch at a new restaurant that I’ve wanted to try out. Then even if the dating wasn’t great you still got to try out a new restaurant!
Above all, take a chance! Say hi to the cute guy you see in the coffee shop studying every Sunday, or try out a speed dating event. Honestly, the worst thing that can happen is that you have an awesome dating horror story (trust us on this one). The best thing that can happen? You gain the confidence that comes with practice, which only can help you the next time around.
We’re curious to hear how other graduate students navigate the dating scene, so share your advice (or horror stories, if you dare) in the comments section!
[Image from Flickr user Brandon Warren  and used under Creative Commons License]