Sunday, February 5, 2012

Grad school nostalgia

My department is interviewing for a new faculty position and we've interviewed two candidates so far, both of them just a few years out of grad school. Over lunch with the grad students, it is clear that they both loved grad school and are eager to interact with the grad students (which is great). I'd describe it as grad student nostalgia. I realized at the last lunch that they seem to look back on grad school with the same kind of fondness with which I look back on college. It's hard for me to imagine feeling that way about grad school when I'm a few years out, and honestly it makes me feel like I'm missing out on something really important. But what exactly is it?

I think it has something to do with a sense of shared experience among the grad students. Like I wrote previously, the grad students in my department aren't very close. Even within my lab, we're all working on different projects so there isn't much collaboration (unfortunately, some interpersonal conflicts among lab members have also kept us from bonding as a group). I do my best to help other students who ask me for help no matter what my experience with their project, but I still don't have a sense of really going through this with anyone else. I'm really doing my own thing here, and suddenly this makes me very sad. Have I imagined this isolation, created or exacerbated it? 

After considerable reflection, I think the answers are no, no, and no, but I haven't always felt so disconnected. My first year I had a few classes with a set of people and I tried very hard to invite everyone to parties (Jon and I hosted 3 in our first 6 months here) but realized before the end of that year that not even my cohort was a cohesive group.  When I was in the midst of my interdisciplinary project, I had those other students to bond with, but now most of them are in different places. I was actively involved in two different efforts to create student-led activities for grad students in the department, but neither really caught on and are defunct. As I also mentioned previously, I think this pattern of increasing isolation in the later stages of grad school is pervasive in my department. I've got to try to do something about it. More thoughts on this soon.


gigirose said...

I've had the EXACT same experience in grad school. I went into it really expecting to be part of a great cohort, and to likely make great friends that i'd have for the rest of my life. And sure, I've met a few great people along the way, but for the most part I've felt like I'm kind of doing this whole thing on my own. Very isolating. And, I think, not that great for my science.

michellespidermonkey said...

I think that experience is very common in grad school, particularly once your past candidacies, doing fieldwork, and writing up... I've heard several friends say that they felt really isolated toward the end, and I'm definitely feeling that now.

Through my masters and the first year of my PhD programs, we were essentially stuck with the same group of people for almost all of our classes... and while I think that allowed for a lot of close bonds to form, it also generated a lot of gossip and drama that I'd rather not have dealt with.

I also spent 15 months in the field and now that I've returned, I feel that so many people that I knew are now gone, and that there's so many grad students that I don't even know... It's a very different experience from before I left for fieldwork.

But I really have a hard time imagining being nostalgic for grad school... I'm so ready for it to be over.