2265337682_a49b549695This GradHacker post is co-written by Carleen Carey and Katy Meyers, PhD graduate students at Michigan State University.

Valentine’s Day is finally here, although the decorations and candy have been on shelves for the past month. Last year for this heart shaped holiday we gave some advice on how to negotiate the dating scene. We gave some advice on potential ways to meet people and some advice on how to make time for it. In this post we want to talk about negotiating the relationship in grad school. This year we want to focus on celebrating all of your relationships: family, friends, co-workers and significant others! Beyond thinking about academic (and non!) crushes, how do you see yourself in your existing multiple relationships both within and outside of academia?

1. Be honest and open: grad school is a daunting academic marathon, and you need to make sure that this is understood by anyone you are in a relationship with including family, friends, etc. Graduate school may be perceived as being just an extension of undergrad or like having a job- its not. To help others understand your life as a grad student, ask yourself tough questions, such as why you’re in grad school and who you serve by being there, and be ready to share your answers with non-academics. Beyond the esoterica of the academy, nearly everyone understands passion and purpose. These can help you to be honest about how much time you can spend socializing, doing work, clarifying what your responsibilities are to whom, and fulfilling them.

As a number of the comments from last year raised, you also need to be honest about the future, and your goals around the personal, professional, and other arenas. Many grad students are at institutions in cities or states that they will not settle down in, so it’s important to be up front about the possibility of moving, the pressures, and the stresses that are unique to your academic path. When you think about relationships that enhance your future goals, what are the top three ideas you need to communicate to the people in your support system/network of relationships?

2. Be honest with yourself: Even more important- be honest with yourself about the amount of time you can spend on your relationships and the realities of your education. Take the time to become knowledgeable about and comfortable with your own goals; it is a precursor to making the most of the time you have in your relationships. Once you’re clear on time, be explicit about communicating that to the people around you, and relentless at keeping on top of time.

3. Find harmony:  Prioritize your work, but remember that socializing, being with family and being in a relationship are all fantastic. You will always have papers due, exams to grade, and another grant to write in the academic world. Outside of it, grads have all types of relationships, including friends, family, faith communities, mentors, as well as hobby, volunteer, and political clubs. In appreciating the fullness of your relationships, ask yourself which kinds you need more of to help you be professionally productive.  Finding time to do your own work and be an individual is not only healthy, it is critical to being whole in general.

4. Let loose a little: one of the best ways to connect with anyone in your life is to do something active that creates bonds between you two, your whole family, or friend group. Our relationships are a critical avenue for our own growth, and trying a new sport or hobby, picking up a new co-op video game, or just trying to make a new recipe can help us to relieve stress and build up our relationships simultaneously. What grad doesn’t want to work smarter, not harder, and not just at academic work?

5.  Make them a part of your life: for people not in grad school your work can come off as some black box or intellectual unknown. By making sure others in your life are a part of your work life, you will help them better understand the environment you’re in and the responsibilities you have. Use them as a sounding board for new dissertation ideas, ask their opinion on your chapter organization, or share interesting new research with them. It can also help to involve them in the non-academic aspects of grad school such as grad student association events or department parties. By involving others in your work, you escape the dreaded ivory tower or silo effect. It reminds us that there are worlds outside academia. Achieving a pleasing arrangement of these notes, we mean, factors,  in all of your relationships is a work in progress. Yet, we hope in encouraging you to look around for the various ways you have love and the relationships you can use to expand it, you may begin to appreciate the many ways that love has already shown up in your life.

What is your advice this Valentine’s Day for maintaining relationships, regardless of what type they are?

[Photo by Flickr user Sloanpix and used under Creative Commons License]


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