Five Influential People You Meet in Grad School

By: Lauren Frances Guerra
January 26, 2018

It has been said that we are a combination of the five people we spend the most time with.

I grew up with a dicho or saying in Spanish that goes: “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.” Translation: “Tell me who you walk with and I will tell you who you are.” Who we surround ourselves with speaks volumes about our character. I find this to be especially true in academia because academia often fosters competition over collaboration. For this reason, discernment and learning to identify who has your best interest at heart is important.

In the doctoral program and as you enter the guild… there are many people you will encounter. I’ve identified five different types of people and how my interactions with them have shaped me as a scholar. As you read my post, reflect on the folks in your circle. Do they provide support or are they draining? Are they consistently negative or are they encouraging? I hope that this reflection can be helpful to you as you navigate the academy and foster healthy collegial, relationships.

1. The Mentor (or Master Yoda)

Mentoring is crucial for a lot of reasons. While establishing a mentoring relationship with a faculty member in your department is excellent, having a mentor outside of your home institution is invaluable. There were many unforeseen circumstances and situations that I had to navigate over the course of the doctoral program. I consider myself a wise and grounded person, however, there were things that I ended up needing to run by my mentor. Successfully completing a doctoral program and becoming a part of the academy is a process. Being able to email or call my mentor who knew me well and was able to advise me on how to respond in certain situations was so helpful. Any number of things can come up as you move from one stage of the program to the next and a mentor can serve as a critical sounding board. To be able to confide in someone in this way is a great thing.

2. The Guiding Light (Or, “How I survived the Ph.D. and so can you”)

Speaking with other doctoral students and recent graduates is also helpful. No one will understand the doctoral program at your institution better than another student who is one step ahead of you in the process. For example…when I was in coursework, my colleagues who had recently completed their comprehensive exams had some great advice to share. Once I had moved on to comps, they provided guidance about the dissertation process and so forth. This is all a matter of paying it forward. I too found myself giving advice to new students who were beginning their doctoral journey and now, I give advice to those who want to know what awaits recent grads after graduation.

3. The Colleague-Buddy (or Group of Buddies)

One the first day of orientation or within the first few weeks of classes, we begin to make new friends. Great minds think alike and folks who are cut from the same cloth tend to gravitate towards one another. It is very important to recognize that the folks you meet and befriend during the doctoral program will undoubtedly become your long-term colleagues. These are the people that you will collaborate with on writing projects and present at conferences with. Beyond academic collaboration, there is something to be said about the deep friendships formed during the doctoral program. I am fortunate to have made wonderful friends throughout my graduate school journey. These colleague-friends are a tremendous gift. Cherish them.

4. The Copycat (or Frenemy)

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Perhaps. This is the type of person who wants to know the exact steps you took on your journey so that they can repeat them. They immediately join the same groups you have joined and follow your trajectory very, very closely. They are constantly asking “how/when/where/why” in an intrusive way. What I see as problematic in this type of relationship is a lack of sincerity because they are ONLY interested what they can get out of you. It is very one-sided. Beware how much you share about what you are doing. Not everyone needs to know the details of your money moves.

5. The Energy Vampire (or Debbie Downer)

The polar opposite of the colleague-buddies who lift you up is what I like to call the Energy Vampire or Debbie Downer. This is the person (or group of people) who has nothing positive to say about anything. Everything is absolutely terrible and nothing is going right. Watch out for these folks because they will purposefully point out every conceivable obstacle in your path!! This is the type of person who will ask you, “Why are you applying? You will never get into that program” or “What makes you think you are qualified?” or in my case…it was the people who were convinced that affirmative action was my saving grace (not that I am intelligent and am making a contribution to my field) Too many times in my doctoral journey and as a young scholar, I’ve heard the equivalent of: “You know they only asked you or picked you because you are Latina.” It is offensive and untrue. In the wise words of DJ Khaled…STAY AWAY FROM THEM!

I hope that thinking about the relationships you have currently is helpful to you. Learning how to navigate the politics of the academy is half the battle. Ultimately be your genuine self, work hard, and let your scholarship speak for itself.

Tags: Diverse Solutions, Thinking Out Loud, Shaping the Future


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