Time and time again, you hear students talk about how lonely graduate school can be. To fight the loneliness, graduate students often befriend each other, play board games together, go to trivia nights together, or yes even party together—only on weekends and always responsibly of course. Even though this makes graduate school less lonely, the research itself may remain a lonely enterprise.
Yet it doesn’t have to be: future professors, inventors, and intellectual powerhouses are residing on the desk across from you, why not take advantage of that?
On day one of graduate school I wished someone would have told me so many things (e.g. difference between theory-application, how run certain models) but most of all I wish someone would simply have told me: “Student peers are fundamentally important to your academic life.”
Of course, everyone knows you want to befriend and get along with the students in your department. However, unlike during your undergraduate studies where friendship is the ultimate goal, in graduate school so much more can occur. Graduate students are not just potential friends, they are potential colleagues, co-authors, discussion partners, support networks, and walking encyclopaedias of various literatures. Fellow students are the one of the biggest and most powerful resources in graduate school, yet we often overlook this fact.
No matter who your advisor is, he or she will not be around as much as your fellow students who are almost always there. They hear your ideas in class and lab, attend your conference presentations, talk at length with you over coffee and lunches, and see your ideas develop from day one. In many ways your peers often know your ideas, thought processes, passions, and weaknesses better than anyone else. This is especially true for students working with multiple advisors or switching between advisors.
Yet, often we simply don’t take advantage of our friendly fellow students. We don’t follow the example of the Psych Your Mind students who spend one lunch a week talking about ideas just amongst themselves. We don’t take the time to kick ideas back and forth, or just be someone’s sounding board. Instead, we stumble into advisor meetings will ill-prepared pitches, when a pre-conversation with a peer could have drastically improved them.
Recently, a group of students at a conference agreed to start a purposefully small and private online message board group, so they could communicate about important topics and questions. With this message board system, these students can get insight on complicated questions, methods, cites, and theories within an hour. A network of graduate students supporting each other can be at times more powerful than any individual meeting with a faculty member.
Lastly, even if we talk together or form networks, we don’t tend to co-author with each other. Remember last time you just couldn’t figure out the right stimuli, couldn’t handle the stress of a revision, and got writers block? Or remember that time you needed feedback from your advisor, but the advisor was in a conference in Spain? That’s when a student co-author would have saved you.
Professor Gavan Fitzsimons at Duke University often gets praised for one interesting talent: he’s good at putting graduate students together and building research teams. He knows how powerful a network of graduate students, senior professors, and often also young professors can be and his CV is a testimony of that.
There’s a belief in Improv Comedy that when two performers get on stage and make up a scene together, the performers create something that is greater than either performer would have created own their own. Improv performers believe that putting two passionate people together creates true greatness as they positively build upon one another’s ideas. Whether it is as co-authors, giving feedback on manuscripts, or just chatting about research over lunch, togetherness is a path to greater things.