Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Ode to the Study Date, Part 1

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ode to the Study Date, Part 1

Do not become this person. Study with friends to preserve your sanity.

“Many hands make light work.”

I am sure this adage was not meant to describe life as a graduate student, but it has become my mantra for Master’s. The saying applies to many kinds of “work,” including the tasks that are a part of grad life – reading, writing, and research. I have found that although no one else can do your work for you in grad school, and not all projects are collaborative, sharing study time with others can lighten the (academic) load.

Being a full-time grad student is a rare opportunity. At 25 years old, my job consists of reading, writing, and working towards an advanced degree. I attend class about three evenings a week, and I usually work from home, which affords me a good measure of flexibility and autonomy.

I can study in my pajamas or under the covers in bed. I can listen to my favorite songs at top volume. I can stop working whenever I might want to make a sandwich, call my mother, or go for a run (not that I ever do that, regrettably). If I begin to feel stir-crazy, I can leave wherever I am working to sit in a coffee shop, good ole Walsh, or anywhere with outlets and wireless.

Usually, I spend my days reading on my living room sofa and writing at a desk in my bedroom. I don't take full advantage of the flexibility in my schedule, but it’s great to have options.

Whenever I start feeling swamped by school or distressed because of a particularly long and dense article I have to read for class, I remember what a sweet deal I’ve got – learning and creating full-time under whatever conditions I deem best.

The trade-off, however, to this flexibility and freedom is isolation. Reading, writing, researching (and all the other more mundane grad student to-dos like Xeroxing, waiting for hundreds of pages to print, and scouring the internet for articles that aren’t on JSTOR) are solitary activities.

Knowing I am “living the good life” hasn’t always been enough to keep loneliness at bay this past year. At the beginning of my first semester at Fordham, I realized I could go days without seeing another person. I had enough work to keep me busy through the week, and I enjoyed my classes, so it was easy to fall into the work completely. I could work through meals, eating at my desk while I typed. Sometimes, I'd receive a phone call from a friend in the evening and become startled when I realized her voice was the first human voice I had heard all day.

Being a grad student was different from being a college student living in the dorms and participating in clubs. It was also different from working in an office with coworkers, a boss, and lunchtime conversation. My course of study was largely self-directed in grad schools. It was just my work and me.

Thankfully, I worked as a Graduate Assistant to a professor but even after the hours I spent assisting him in his office, I still had to devote the majority of my time to my studies. Having social weekends and evenings helped but wasn’t quite the solution to the isolation I was beginning to feel. 

By November, I was ecstatic about going up to Fordham on days when I had class. In class I could be around people. Talk to them! See their human faces! Brush my human shoulder against their human shoulders! Interact.

I recognize that some grad students might thrive in such solitude. I certainly enjoy time alone, and I do my best writing when I am by myself. But in the fall of last year, I became a grad-school hermit who never left her desk, broke bread with another person, or stepped out of her apartment during daylight hours. 

It was clear something needed to change. And then I remembered…

The Study Date!

I was a big fan of study dates in college, and I decided to bring them back into my life as a grad student. While it would take more coordination than it did as an undergrad, when everyone lived on the same campus, I was determined to make study dates a staple in my grad life.

I started meeting up with friends (and potential friends) in coffee and teashops around the city. We worked together at small tables, caffeinated and mostly in silence, but the company was superb. After a while, just planning study dates or revision parties made me feel like I was breaking out of my hermetic existence. 

How about you? Have you felt like grad school was making you become a hermit? Did you enjoy immersing yourself into independent work when you started grad school? Or did you miss the distractions and social interactions of pre-grad life? Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments.

And if you want to read more about the study date and why it’s awesome, check out Part 2 of Ode to the Study Date. (Part 2 will include the actual ode!)


  1. I see this article is not new. However, I'm an undergrad student and I've never been into group work. Now that I've read your article and have come to think of it, I can't think of one bad thing about it. :-) I'll certainly plan something next week (I'm back home now, on holiday). Thanks for this great article. :-)

  2. I do agree with all the ideas you have presented in your post. They’re really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are very short for newbies. Could you please extend them a little from next time?..Keep this great work..
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