This GradHacker post was written collaboratively by Amy Rubens and Katy Meyers.

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]


5 Responses to Negotiating the Dating Scene in Grad School

  1. Keith Chan says:

    I like this article and it all sounds like great advice. Also, I’m single, ladies….

  2. My wife and I met and eventually married while in grad school. It helped that we both lived in the grad student housing provided by the university; we met at a meet-a-greet at the grad student community center at the beginning of my first year (she’d been there a while). The rest, as they say, is history.

    Since we were both grad students at the same university (different disciplines, though: I was medieval studies, she was biology), and we both lived on campus when we started dating, it made it easier to carve out the time to be together. We would go dancing with the ballroom dancing club and attend plays/movies/musical performances at the university’s performing arts center. And since we lived a five-minute walk from classrooms/labs, and a 30-second walk across a parking lot from each other, we were able to easily do things like have dinner with each other each night (we’d take turns cooking).

    Good luck and good wishes to all those out there still trying to find the one!

    • Katy Meyers says:

      That is one thing I have noticed about dating in grad school, much easier if they are also a grad or professional student! You can have small dates on campus, you can have study dates, and you both understand that your lives are primarily revolving around academia. Thanks for the comment!

  3. J says:

    I found that Match and OKcupid have their benefits in expanding the size of the dating pool for the average grad student, but remember that these are public services so you have to be specific in your searchers for other people, especially if you have a particular type of person in mind. Besides finding people with similar interests, you can uniquely identify the level of many other statuses, such as education. Immediately you have a greater potential of meeting someone at your own level that you may have never had the chance of meeting before. And who knows, you may even meet someone “super cute” at your school with similar interests and goals! It’s worth a try! I recommend it! 😉

  4. […] a number of Gradhacker stories including: “Publishing Your Presentations Online”, “Negotiating the Dating Scene in Grad School”, and “Branding Yourself: Not as Painful as You Think”. We also interview Dr. Ken Frank, […]

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