Finding your community at the doctoral school


You will need people, both inside and outside the academy, to help you succeed and keep your feet on the ground.

At some point, higher education will be difficult. And when the going gets tough, the wise lean on each other. This message may or may not be widely shared within academic institutions. There is, after all, a long tradition that academic work is seen as a lonely endeavor. Autonomy and self-reliance are among the greatest rewards of pursuing research, but they can also lead graduate students and other young researchers to the false impression that success means going it alone.

In fact, the opposite is true. Strong networks are the key to success during and after graduate school. You will need people to celebrate with when you are successful in your compositions or defending your dissertation proposal, and you will need people to say encouraging things when your conference proposal is rejected or your experiment fails for what appears to be the millionth. times. You’ll just need people, period.

However, two particular types of community stand out to help individuals thrive during their higher education. The former are those who can share the experience because they are also pursuing higher education, or have done so in the past. These are people who care as much about a (perhaps obscure) subject as you do. They can retrieve your references; they laugh at your very specific jokes. These people will make all the difference when you need to talk to someone from gets this.

On the other hand, there are those who help you come out of this experience by keeping you connected to other perspectives. They might not know what PI stands for, but this community (usually your friends and family) outside of academia has a wealth of knowledge about other work environments and the kinds of professional standards that might be there. be modeled. This knowledge is incredibly rich and useful. Listening to the questions they ask you about graduate school will give you the opportunity to reflect more on practices and assumptions that you might otherwise take for granted.

Do you want these people in your life? Here are some ideas for where and how to find them.

Your community within the university

  • Don’t see them as competitors. Whether you walk into your program as one of six or 66 students, your graduate cohort is one of the easiest places to bond. You’ll likely progress through most of the program at a similar pace, so your milestones and progress will easily align with each other. While it can be tempting to think of other students as criteria for measuring your own progress, try to focus on solidarity rather than comparison.
  • Welcome the wisdom of senior students. Graduate students who are more advanced in the program offer the value of hindsight. Learning from their experiences can save you a tremendous amount of time and effort, so feel free to seek out advanced students and ask them what they have learned and what they would like someone to tell them.
  • Faculty Members: Think outside your committee / specialization. Your supervisor, committee members, and people working in your subfield will likely already play a vital role in your graduate career. But what about faculty members who work in your department, but study different fields? Or maybe someone from a neighboring department? For example, if you are a literary scholar specializing in a particular period, it may be beneficial to connect you with historians who study the same period.

Your community outside the university

  • Maintain the links. Even with all the tasks and responsibilities that you will be juggling as a graduate student, try not to lose touch with your friends, family and former colleagues. They will often be the ones who keep you grounded and in touch with aspects of your identity that might otherwise get you wrong. As Jennifer Romolini writes in her excellent book on Building Professional Identities: “Make sure you don’t need constant validation, so that every positive accomplishment or reinforcement, negative comment or rejection doesn’t redefine who are you. Call your grandmother. Do something nice. Think about someone else for a moment.
  • Nurture a multidimensional identity. When I suggest graduate students consider including their hobbies and interests in a resume, I sometimes get blank stares. The intense pace and workload of most graduate programs can make it difficult to find time for other activities, but the pursuit of outside interests serves several purposes. If they’re social, they can come with a built-in community (especially useful if you’ve moved to a new location). Even if they aren’t, they do give you something to say other than your research, and it can be very useful when meeting people outside of the academy.
  • Think digital. Whatever social media platform you choose, it can be a great way to engage in conversations and foster community. Keep in mind that this content can be easily accessed, especially by supervisors and professors, potential employers, or the students you teach.


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