What About Your Friends? Building a Community in Your PhD Program


Written By Dr. Chloe N. Poston

If you attend enough panel discussions on diversity and inclusion in the academy, you will eventually pick up on a ubiquitous theme of “creating a community”. Usually this speaks to the idea that people are more likely to thrive in a difficult program or department if they have a solid support system and do not feel isolated. Check out this video to learn more about how important community can be.

To be successful in graduate school, and perhaps to have a bit of fun, you will want to be strategic about who you choose to be a part of your community. Here are some key people who you might want to seek out during all of those “getting to know you” activities before class actually starts.

1. The study buddy: this person is as ambitious and committed to completing their program as you are.  They don’t have to be in the same program as you, but they are open to sneaking you into the best conference room in their department (the one that has the dry erase markers that actually produce ink and enough white board space for you both to work through ideas) for a study session from 7pm– until… This person will also make sure that you are home safely when “until” is 2am.

2. The motivator: this person will look you squarely in the face and tell you that you have been slacking and if you don’t get it together, you won’t graduate. This person also listens to you cry for any reason and tells you today may have been a bust, but tomorrow will be greater. You actually believe them when they tell you both of these things.

3. A Professor: this is not your academic adviser or anyone on your committee. This is a person that you can come to for advice about how to deal with your academic adviser and your committee. This person will help you learn how to navigate the nuanced world of academia while stepping on as few toes as possible. This person is more difficult to identify, so seek them out diligently and be very mindful of their time constraints. When a professor you meet says “stop by my office” and you aren’t taking their course at the moment, you really should stop by.

4. The ABD (all but degree) friend you rarely see: this person is trying to graduate. They are usually on a strict time clock. They are making plans for the future and trying to write a dissertation. This person can give you truckloads of advice about how to survive this stressful phase. This advice is going to contain the phrase “start writing early”… They will help you prepare applications for jobs or figure out how to network your way into a great post-doctoral position. Even if it’s not advice, you can learn from their example on what to do and what to avoid as you think about your career after graduate school. You can get face time with this individual by offering them free food and/or coffee.

5. The “I work” friend: during my PhD program I had an awesome cohort of friends and we all were in school, except for one friend who always replied to the tired graduate school conversation starter of “what department are you in?” with a confident “oh, I work”. This person reminded us all that there was a life outside of the university. He invited us to events in the community and helped us build lives off of campus. You need this friend for your sanity as a whole person. Trust me.

6. The “WE GOTTA MAKE IT” friend: This friend is willing to listen to your oral proposal defense 10 times until you feel comfortable with it. They will read chapters of your thesis and make corrections. They will quiz you on topics for important exams and they won’t say anything about the inconvenience not only because they know you will do the same for them (and you will), but because they truly believe that WE GOTTA MAKE IT!

All of these people will show up to support you in your highest and lowest moments and you’ll consider them your dearest friends by the time you are Dr. So and So. They will be the main characters in your “remember that time in grad school…” stories for years to come and what you come to think of as your supportive community.

What other kinds of people do you think are important to create a supportive community as you matriculate through a PhD?


4 thoughts on “What About Your Friends? Building a Community in Your PhD Program

  1. Pingback: A PhD in Zen: Six ways to keep your sanity while in a PhD program and beyond | The Poston Collective

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