The GTA for my research class seems like a really cool person. We seem to have a lot of common interests, at least academically that is. He is also pursuing the degree that I would eventually like to pursue. I know we probably should not hang out while he is still grading my work, but is it weird to ask to be friends with the GTA after the course is over?
--GTA: Friend Or No?
Dear GTA: Friend Or No,
College is a great opportunity to make friends and networks at all levels of education. It is not uncommon for undergraduate students to develop personal relationships with graduate students. Graduate students can offer guidance and support on your path to pursuing your graduate degree of interest.
Although you are correct to assert that you should probably wait to develop this friendship until the course is completed, there is little reason why you should not be able to be friends after the semester has ended. However, it is important to note that graduate students are often assigned different courses in which to assist each semester. Thus, if there is a chance that this person might be your GTA in the future, it may be best to wait to develop this friendship until there is no longer a possibility that there will be a future conflict of interest. In your particular case, it seems likely that you may have this student as a GTA again in the future because your academic interests are aligned. If you plan to take other courses in this same field, it is recommended that you wait to develop this friendship.
Whichever your ultimate decision, there are several advantages to becoming friends with a GTA. First of all, as previously mentioned, graduate students can serve as excellent role models for your own academic progress. Not only have they probably experienced many of the same obstacles during college, but they know how to successfully overcome them, as evidenced by the fact that they successfully completed their undergraduate degree and have shown enough initiative to continue pursuing their educational goals. They are often fountains of knowledge and sage advice regarding graduate school applications, the best courses to take to prepare yourself for graduate school, and the best (and worst) research labs to join in your undergraduate institution.
Despite the many advantages, there are several considerations that must go into developing a relationship with a graduate student at your school. First, this person may be privy to confidential information about your grades and personal information as well as the grades and information of other students you know. Thus, it may be difficult (and awkward) to develop a friendship with someone who knows so much about you and your friends, especially if you are interested in spending time together as a group. Further, it is important to see the situation from the GTA’s perspective. They may be in a precarious situation of balancing being a student and a young professional trusted by the professors they assist. Thus, although they may realize it is not the best idea to start a relationship, friendship or otherwise, it may be difficult for them to disclose this to you. Be on the lookout for any signs that the GTA is uncomfortable with developing a relationship even after they are no longer your GTA. If everything seems comfortable to you and the graduate student, and there are no specific university policies prohibiting the relationship, it could be a very promising friendship to look forward to!
--René Paulson, PhD