Supportive Relationships in Graduate School

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014; by Christy Burger

Christy Burger portrait

Graduate school requires hard work and perseverance. Most students entering grad school anticipate higher expectations, some long nights working on research and papers, and the need for life-work balance, but probably don't think about the importance of building and maintaining healthy relationships. Relationship-building is an important life skill that becomes even more necessary in graduate school. My support group (my family, friends, co-workers, and mentor) continues to support me as I complete my degree. I wouldn’t have been able to get through school without my support group.

Here are some things I’ve learned in graduate school that will help you build strong personal and professional relationships.

Be honest and forthright

Sit down with the people most important to you and explain why you’re taking on this challenge. Be clear about your goals, and that you may not have as much free time in the near future. You also need to say what kind of support you want. Being honest may help prevent future miscommunications.

Be supportive yourself

Sometimes we get so caught up in our research, projects, and concerns that we stop seeing the needs of people we care about. What’s going on in our loved ones' lives is just as important as what’s going on in ours. Ask what support they need from you. Don’t ignore other people’s lives because you get caught up in your own.

Find balance

Sometimes when we get focused on our work it shows in our relationships. Unwinding allows us to regain control, recharge, and remember why we’re on this journey in the first place.

Plan to relax

Before starting a big project, figure out how you’re going to unwind. Personally, I work out, paint, and spend time with the people I care about. You could also try to think of activities you can do with people you care about in order to spend time together.

Be positive about the future

Sometimes we get so focused on the here and now of graduate school that we worry about the future. Remember that you’re on this journey to better yourself, and that the skills you’re developing in graduate school prepare you for your career. Make sure that your support group is aware of what you want the future to be like, and how your goals develop over time so that it can continue to support you.

It’s up to each of us individually to create and maintain our support groups. Make sure that your time in grad school does not distance these relationships. Work to keep them close to ensure that you’ll have people to celebrate with when it’s over. I know that I wouldn’t have finished my master’s degree if it weren’t for my family, friends, and mentors. These people encouraged me to finish my degree to better myself and to make life decisions based on my goals and aspirations. While I’m on my way to attaining my goals, I know that the people in my support group will always be there for me.