Surviving Grad School 101: Find Your Person

By MaryLyn Silverstein

In season two of Grey’s Anatomy, there’s a moment between Christina Yang and Meredith Grey that establishes their forever friendship. Christina is talking about a doctor’s appointment she needed to make and in order to confirm her appointment, she had to designate an emergency contact person. In the middle of a bar, she very casually tells Meredith that she is her person.

This moment from Grey’s Anatomy always stuck with me. It was a vulnerable Christina Yang who caught my attention. She was focused, determined, and oftentimes cutthroat but even Christina Yang needed a designated person.

As I’ve survived a year and a half of graduate school, the best advice I can give to anyone entering their first semester is to find their person. No matter how big or small your graduate cohort is, finding your person is a necessity. Your person is the one that you call when you’re drowning in homework, had a difficult conversation with a student, and still have a hall council meeting to go to. Your person is the one that brings you a Big Mac with buffalo sauce when you’re crying in your office because of how stressed you are. Your person stays up late with you to quiz you on interview questions while watching cheesy Christmas movies.

Your person can be a fellow graduate student, a supervisor, or just a friend from classes. As long as your person supports you unconditionally, tells you when you are being irrational, and listens to you without trying to fix everything then they are qualified to fulfill this role.

During my graduate career, I have designated about three people as my emergency contact persons in Manhattan, Kansas. One is a dear friend who I latched on to as soon as I met her. Her name is Kandace and she is so full of life and laughter that she can always make me feel better regardless of the situation. Kandace reminds me that I am never alone, no matter how lonely I may feel. She hugs me when I need to be hugged and loves me for exactly who I am.

The next person that I designated as an emergency contact is Andrea. Andrea and I worked together in our first year of graduate school, and at the beginning of our career together, I went full Christina Yang on her. In my eyes, Andrea was seen as competition rather than a friend. As we continued to work together, we started to open up and talk about our life experiences and struggles. I soon realized that she and I worked better as a team than as competition. Andrea is someone who always listens. She uses silence against me, quietly waiting for me to crack open and share everything.The last person I am lucky enough to call my emergency contact is my current supervisor, Sam. Sam is supportive, genuine, and caring. She challenges me to be the best graduate student that I can be and pushes me to do what she knows makes me uncomfortable. She listens to everything I say, no matter how ridiculous and dramatic I am being. She lets me distract her from work and treats me as a teammate in managing our hall together.

Depending on the day and the situation, I call on one of my emergency contact persons and am never disappointed. The relationships that I established during graduate school are the reasons why I have managed to be successful. As you are beginning your career in graduate school, make sure to identify who will be your emergency contact person(s) and hang onto them for as long as you can.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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