As I prepare to begin my sixth and final year in graduate school, I feel nostalgic, not so much for the graduate school experience itself, but for the relationships that have been built throughout my time here.
I’m a sociologist, so it only makes sense that I focus on the relationships between people.
When I started graduate school, I was pretty tight with my entire cohort. There were sixteen of us. Over the years, some have transferred to other programs, some have moved away for a variety of reasons, and others I have simply lost touch with.
It’s hard to imagine that we are all so close once, but I have fond memories of taking classes together, battling through statistics class, and supporting each other through the things that we would all go through, such as preliminary examinations.
For me, there was a core group of four of us who became really good friends. We spent a lot of time together for the first few years. Then we made sure to have celebratory end-of-the-semester brunches, to fill each other in on all that had happened in the previous months.
After this summer, I will be the only one of the foursome who is still in Ann Arbor full time.
While it’s sad to think that commiseration will be a phone call or e-mail away, rather than a coffee or lunch date away, I guess it is important to celebrate the fact that we are all on to bigger and better things.
And for me, several people outside of my program have really, truly impacted my life. I sort of am a member of a “sick chic” club. In some ways, we found each other by accident, but in other ways, these relationships were meant to be. There are certain people who, after they come into your life, you can no longer imagine life without them, and you aren’t sure how you ever survived without them.
And I think it was precisely the fact that they weren’t in my program that made us close. I have never had to filter myself with these people. They have been there during some of the toughest times of my life so far, and offered me help and support that could only come from people that have experienced their own health issues/crises.
Being a graduate student is difficult. And being a graduate student with a chronic illness or disability is even harder. So I can’t imagine what I would have done without these people supporting me. They supported me when almost everyone else was telling me to give up.
You know, I tried a traditional support group, but it didn’t gel with me for a variety of reasons. A “mock” support group is the next best thing. And these people actually understood what I was going through firsthand because they are graduate students, too, along with having health issues; whereas in the support group I attended, most of the people were older than me and weren’t in school anymore, so they didn’t understand the unique challenges that come with being in a Ph.D. program and dealing with chronic illness.
I feel so lucky that, even if in a roundabout way, I found my support group.
As I think to next summer, when I finish the program and go on to other things, I can’t quite imagine what life will be like without having these people in close proximity.
While there have been many connections made and relationships built in graduate school, those that have had the profoundest effect on me are the three women from my program and the three women from outside my program, who have been there since almost the very beginning.
I don’t know what I would do without these women.
So as I look toward the end, I come full circle back to the beginning. And I can’t quite believe that after everything I’ve been through, I’m finally here.
About the Author
Leslie Rott, Ph.D. Student, Sociology
Published in: Student Voices