When you were an undergraduate, you were probably one of the most motivated and engaged students in all of your classes and had no problem balancing work and life. You probably received the highest grades and were chosen by your professors for leadership opportunities both inside and outside class. Your sense of responsibility, accountability, and perfectionism undoubtedly motivated your decision to pursue graduate studies and try your hand at balancing work and life as a grad student. These qualities and characteristics allowed you to stand out and shine as an undergraduate because there were fewer students like you in your undergraduate classes. In graduate classes, however, most of the students possess these qualities and characteristics, so you may often feel like you have become one star among many in graduate school. If you are feeling this way, then you can rest assured that many of your peers in your graduate program are also feeling this way. The desire to prove oneself in graduate school often leads to competition among peers, and excessive competition among peers can lead to unhealthy peer relationships, especially when everyone is competing for the same limited resources (fellowships, internships, assistantships, grants, professors’ time, etc.). In the following sections, we will discuss why it is important to maintain healthy relationships with your peers and how you can do so.
Why You Should Maintain Healthy Relationships with Peers
The demands of graduate school are many and great; many students have problems balancing work and life as a grad student. You may often feel like you need the support of someone to talk to who understands what you are going through. There are many resources for financial, personal, or academic support while you are in graduate school, but time and other circumstances often prevent you from seeking support. Who better knows what balancing work and life is like than your fellow graduate students? You see your peers more often than almost anyone else (including your family members) while you are in graduate school, so it is sometimes easier for you to seek help from them before, during, or after class than it is for you to find time to visit an academic advisor. Furthermore, your peers know and understand better than anyone else does what the challenges are that you face during your graduate studies, such as balancing work and life. If you allow them to, your peers can be your greatest source of emotional support during graduate school, so, whenever possible, you should try to foster and maintain healthy relationships with them.
How to Maintain Healthy Relationships with Peers
Much like your family, you do not get to choose who will be your peers in graduate school, so it may be difficult to find common ground to unite so many different people. Attending university-sponsored social events is one way to foster healthy academic relationships among peers, but conversations at these events can often return to academic discussions, which can further increase competition. Besides attending university-sponsored social events, you could organize group activities for yourself and your peers, activities which would improve everyone’s sense of trust and community. These activities might include exercising or playing team sports together, volunteering or fundraising together, or even studying together.