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I think you're right that department culture is so important in cultivating (or not) collegiality. I chose not to pursue my doctorate at the institution that would really have been the best choice for my field, because it had a reputation for being extremely cutthroat. Instead, I chose a program with a reputation for cooperation and collegiality, which suited my own personality much better. It was a wise choice, not only for my own sanity, but to have experience in a well-functioning department - this has served me well ever since. I think we collectively put up with a lot more crap (why do we tolerate behavior that would not be acceptable in most kindergarten classrooms??) than we have any good reason to.


I'm sure you're absolutely right that the departmental culture and colleagiality (or lack of colleagiality) is a major factor in the way graduate student friendships form. I think a couple of additional issues are at work in making graduate school friendships difficult, at least in fields where jobs are highly competitive.

First, if someone's thinking in terms of the easy friendships a lot of (most?) undergrads make, s/he's probably going to be disappointed.

It's harder to make friends in the undergrad way because grad students don't usually live in as close contact, many people already have established relationships/are part of a couple, people are older, and so forth.

Also, people generally realize that they're going to be moving FAR away, and that long distance friendships are hard to maintain unless there's some other connection. You may see an old grad school pal and feel rekindlings of friendship a couple times a year at conferences for a day or two, but other than that, you're going to move on.

As people get further into programs in competitive fields, they see sad/bitter/disappointed people without jobs at the end of the program. It's hard to deal with that pain (both as the person without the job, and as a friend), and I've seen a lot of people on both sides self-protectively draw back from those relationships or from allowing those relationships to develop.

That's not to say you can't make friends or have great relationships. The best relationships I had in grad school tended to be with people outside my subfield; that was especially true in my dissertation writing group.


Grad school is unfriendly. My advice-- get a head start on what you will need for a well-rounded and healthy emotional life after graduate school: friends outside of academia. Doing what you have to do to meet them, know them, sustain your relationship with them, will have the pleasant side-effect of reminding you that your self-worth is not only tied in to work.

academic coach

Oh, camicao, thanks for coming over to comment. Great advice, as usual. We miss you...

New Kid on the Hallway

Camicao's advice is very good. I'm sorry I've never managed to take it! (Seriously - with the exception of my college friends, basically ALL my friends are academics.)

academic coach

And New Kid...
once you have kids/if you have kids, most of your friends will become mommies and daddies. sigh.


grad school is not unfriendly per se. that's just unfair. departments differ. mine works hard at collegiality and it works. I love my cohort and will be friends with them for life.

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