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Friendly friend

In grad school, I had a very close set of friends who were grad students in a different department, and they did wonders for my mental health. Because they were also PhD students, they knew really well what I was going through - but because they were in a different discipline, we didn't talk about work all of the time.

Since then, I feel like all of my friendships have been ones I've fallen into by happy accident, so I don't feel like I really know how to give advice. Maybe - try to find people who you don't need to make small talk with. Time is precious on the tenure track, and I want to spend mine talking to people who I actually want to connect with.

As for relationships, I met my partner the first week of grad school, and here we are 11 years later, having found a 90% satisfactory solution to our 2 body problem. But, if you can help it, save yourself the difficulty of navigating that problem, and try not to fall in love with another philosopher.


Dating apps for the “where”…

I had two long term relationships suffer because the other person didn’t think I really worked and didn’t really respect my time. (There were other reasons they ended too… .) It’s hard for someone who goes to an office all day to understand what academic work encompasses. At the time I slept in til 9-10 if I felt like it, worked part of the day in a coffee shop, working in my department in the afternoon, etc. Make no mistake - many hours were (and are today) spent on academic work. But like most academics, if I wanted to a day off on some Tuesday, I could have one. If I wanted to work late when I was really into a paper, I would. But the result was a mix of resentment and the general view that I didn’t have a “real job”. I put in a lot of hours and was a stressed out mess late in grad school. The last thing I needed was someone looking at me like I was on vacation all the time. I was not on happy vacation time! This was really hard to deal with (for both of us).

The solution… (not by design). I’m now in a relationship with someone with a PhD in the humanities who doesn’t work in academia. They totally get it! They get that sometimes working is just thinking. And that sometimes you aren’t in the right mode for writing. And that it’s stressful and hard in its own ways to self motivate. And that going for a walk at 2pm to clear your head doesn’t mean you aren’t, in some sense, at work.

So tip: keep an eye out for people who are at least well positioned to get what self motivated, isolated, thinking-oriented work is all about.

Burnout is way worse than you think

In grad school, I went through a tough patch when funding sources fell through and I was suffering from burnout at the same time. I was, at the time, married, and the marriage suffered a lot as a result. I just wasn't emotionally there, and my lack of presence during that burnout episode caused my spouse to resent me even long after (despite both of us making a sincere effort to get over it). The marriage would have ended anyway for unrelated reasons, but had that burnout not happened, it would have been much less bumpy. So my first and foremost advice for healthy relationships is, learn what the early warning signs of burnout are and avoid burnout at all costs.

Ph.D Student

My advice is to avoid relationships within your department so far as possible. I've watched folks in my department try to form romantic relationships several times and it has always ended badly. Furthermore, these ended relationships have fractured friend groups and caused a lot of unpleasantness. I know there are people who have made it work, but it is a recipe for disaster if it doesn't work out.

Trystan Goetze

With regard to keeping an active social life while in academia, the strategy that has worked well for me (and which I wish I had started earlier) is to play Dungeons & Dragons or another tabletop roleplaying game with a group once or twice a week. For me, it's been a great way to combine socializing, fun, and creative fulfillment. Since it takes many sessions to finish a game — if, indeed, the game is ever finished — it forces you to set aside a regular block of time (usually 2–6 hours) when you're deliberately not doing work. And since there are now many digital tools to support these games, it's been an aspect of my social life that has stayed consistent even during COVID times.

My spouse also plays, so this speaks to the point about cultivating healthy romantic relationships too!

junior faculty

I am very sympathetic to the questioner's plight. During my Ph.D., the non-academic friendships I formed at the beginning were difficult to maintain over time -- when I had to turn down invitations in order to finish a paper or meet a deadline, people eventually stop asking. I had a few friends who were Ph.D. students in non-philosophy departments, and those relationships were great and a source of support. However, the sad thing about being an academic is that as you progress through your degree, all your other academic friends start leaving one by one. It was such a bizarre experience, when it first happened, a couple of my best friends graduated and left for jobs on the other side of the country but I was still a couple of years behind. It is hard to form friendships with people who are local as you are always on a different path, your time in the city has an expiration date (if that is, the job market goes well for you!). I got lucky and met my partner toward the end of my Ph.D., he is not an academic and he was willing and able to relocate for me when I was lucky enough to get a TT job offer. I don't know if this is even good advice, but one of the things I screened for when I was dating is whether the other person was in a profession that was easy to re-locate.

On the flip side, some of my closest friendships are with other philosophers, some I met during grad school, some I met at conferences. I think part of it is learning how to maintain long-distance friendships -- lots of Zoom calls, virtual writing groups, etc.

Now with the benefit of some hindsight, time management is key! I was terrible at this in grad school. I try to take at least one day completely off a week (I'm still early career) and prioritize quality time with my partner.

Assistant Professor

The comments from junior faculty resonate with my experience (also as a junior faculty person). My closest grad school friends and I all moved away for jobs one after the other and that was tough emotionally though great professionally. On the flip side we stay in touch by not only being friends but also by being colleagues who continue to work on projects together which is quite easy to do at a distance and keeps a connection going.

Also like junior faculty, my partner is not an academic and it is great to have a partner who supports me and my work but isn't doing the same thing. We are not in professional competition with each other, no two-body problem, and I think having non-academic interlocutors makes my work better.

Having a non-academic partner and non-academic friends is also helpful for me to think about how I organize my time and why. A great thing about being an academic is being able to have a flexible schedule and organize your time in ways that work best for you and your goals and needs - and it doesn't need to be a rigid 9-5-ish schedule. But some of my goals and needs include not being overly stressed out by deadlines, having time for my personal life and relationships, and being reliable to people I care about. For me that translates to a routine/schedule that allows me to get the work I want to get done in ways I feel good about, and know that I have time for my family and friends (and myself!). Developing a consistent work routine during grad school and setting work/professional boundaries is really helpful for cultivating healthy and satisfying relationships in grad school and beyond. When you have a job that you could do anytime of day, and might never feel like you are "finished" since there is always more you could read or write, figuring out what is good enough for you and when and how you can achieve your goals best is important to set boundaries and limits in order to free up time for non-academic pursuits and relationships.

Graduate student

I haven’t kept a single friend that I’ve made in graduate school, which is unusual for me because in every other area of my life I make and keep friends very easily. In large part, I decided to leave academia because the social environment is so horribly isolating for me.

asst prof

In terms of my social life, grad school was actually the best time I've had so far. For romantic relationships, my advice is to be really serious about prioritizing your partner. Aside from during my last push on my dissertation, I always made time for my partner, no matter how busy I was, and that positive relationship ultimately supported my success in grad school (along with, of course, being highly valuable for its own sake). In grad school (and academia in general) there is *always* more work you could/should be doing, so there's always a justification for not making time for people, but you just have to commit to making the time.

In terms of friendships, you have a built-in group of people who share your interests (your fellow grad students), so that's a great place to start. In my program there were one or two people who were highly social and took the lead in proposing get-togethers for my cohort before the first term even began. These became really valuable and fulfilling friendships. So my advice would be to *be* that person who organizes get-togethers early on, if no one else is doing it. The downside of socializing a lot with your fellow grad students is that it can help you forget that there's a world outside of grad school. So maintaining other relationships is important too.

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