Building a Support Network

Published: Tues., Sept. 22, 2020

Every successful graduate student has a support network that helped them along the way. This may include faculty and staff, graduate student colleagues, friends, and family. There will be lots of questions and challenges throughout graduate school. Having people there to support you and help you through those times is essential to your success.

Find faculty/staff mentors and advisers

First and foremost, you will have faculty advisers in your department. Typically, you will have an adviser, who may be assigned by the department, that will help you choose the classes to take and help direct your research plans or professional goals. Some students may also have additional mentors or advisers in their department who support them. Sometimes these are mentors around specific skills or experiences. For example, some students might have a teaching mentor who helps them learn skills besides the research skills that are the focus of their academic program. Many times, these additional mentors come from reaching out to faculty to you like or that you think might be able to advise you in a specific way. If you think a faculty or staff member might be a good mentor for you, reach out to them and ask them.

You may also have support from staff outside your academic department. Office of Graduate Studies staff often support students as they go through graduate school. Whether you reach out to our office for support with teaching or job applications, submitting graduation forms, or some other reason, remember that we are all hear to help you through the process. We also are here in part to be your cheerleaders and to encourage you along the way. Many of us have been through graduate school ourselves and we understand the ups and downs of that experience. We may also be able to help you find resources. There are also staff all across the campus who are here to support you and

Connect with departmental colleagues

The biggest pieces of your support network will probably be other students in your department. These are people you see daily in class or in the lab who understand exactly what you are going through. Make an effort to get to know these colleagues. There may be socials or similar events for students in your department organized by departmental GSAs or your department. Don't pass up these opportunities. Not only will these connections help in graduate school but they will be there to support you after graduation. Professional networks are small, so you just might run into someone you attended graduate school with later in your professional career.

Get involved

You do not want to just surround yourself with people in your department. It can be beneficial to meet people in other departments because they may have different perspectives to share or you may connect with them better on a personal level. For example, you may find that there are people outside you department that you share common interests with. Having hobbies and interests outside class will help you relax as well as give you a support network not connected with graduate school. You may meet these people through getting involved with cultural groups (e.g. the Bangladesh Student Association) or special interest groups. The GSA is made up of students from all departments and can be a great way to get to know people in other parts of campus. Who knows where you might meet some close friends?

Remember your family and friends

Another important part of building your support network is maintaining the connections you already have. Your friends, including those you knew long before graduate school, and family will always be biggest supporters. You may be living far away from your family or childhood friends. Don't hesitate to call them and stay in touch with them as you go. They may not always understand everything you do, but sometimes it's helpful to just talk through things with someone and share your thoughts with them. Maintaining social connections has become even more important now and many people are having virtual happy hours and parties. There are also a variety of online game platforms that allow you to have a relaxing game night away from work even if you are not in the same city as your friends.

Cultivating your social network takes time. It may take a few interactions before someone is comfortable enough to be part of your inner circle. Seek out new connections and nurture the ones you have.