[Note: Before I begin, I think it’s fair to warn you that I just realized that I’ve been wearing my jacket inside-out all morning, so before you take anything I say seriously, remember that you are putting your faith in a person who can’t even dress properly].
Sometimes philosophers decide to attend graduate school in philosophy. Grad school in any subject can be difficult, but grad school in philosophy has the potential to be Hades—for you and for your philosopher. This post will be particular to those of you who are partners of new graduate students.
Granted, some former grad students have expressed to me how much fun they had in grad school or about how much current grad students complain about how hard it is when it is, in fact, easy-peasy. For most of you who claim this, I’m going to file your claim under “selective memory” [and I actually romanticize my high school marching band camp experiences], and for the few that had an easy time in grad school: kudos to you.
I’m going to say it again: grad school has the potential be Hades—for you and for your philosopher.
I think I’ve talked before about how hard grad school is for philosophers, and I’ve even given you tips on how to help them through the hard parts like the paper-writing season. For once, though, I’m going to address this post to you partners of philosophers. This is about doing something for you—not just your philosopher.
My philosopher and I have been down this grad school road a few years (two unmarried; three-ish married), so I feel like I’m finally getting the rhythm of things. I know that on certain days of the week I just won’t be able to have a conversation that moves beyond routine conversations (“Sweetie, you need to stop staring at your socks and get dressed so you don’t miss the bus”). I know that certain days will find him in despair, hunched over the computer for hours while he prepares for a presentation. I know about what time of the year to expect him to come home with bags of books and printed articles and start piling them around his desk.
The first year of grad school is the hardest, I think. Your philosopher will be excited about her/his studies, meeting new students, and taking classes with super-smart professors. Your philosopher will also be scared to death for several reasons:
(1) They might look stupid in front of their peers
(2) They might look stupid in front of their super-smart professors
(3) They might not get good grades on their papers
(4) They might fail out of grad school
The first year of grad school can also be hard on you for the following reasons:
(1) Your philosopher might be constantly worried about any of the reasons listed above, so you might find yourself doing a lot of reassuring
(2) You will probably find yourself doing a lot of things on your own
(3) You probably moved to a new area [we moved across the country] where you won’t have any friends or family members
(4) The added stress from the new grad school experiences will probably put stress on your relationship
So how can you survive this first year that your philosopher is in grad school without divorce/breaking-up/maiming/gaining 50 pounds? Here are some methods I’ve picked up and/or observed that seem to really help.
1. Make your own friends
Duh, Katie. No really; this is important. Your philosopher will be busy—seemingly all the time—and you will feel left out and lonely if you don’t make your own friends. Get out there in the community and join some groups (I joined an awesome knitting group). You will find that many grad student partners (from all sorts of disciplines) end up joining similar groups. I learned after a very lonely first semester without trying to make any friends that I was just hurting myself.
2. Consider getting a job
You may have already considered this when you first looked at the small stipend amount your philosopher would receive every nine months [“We moved to Texas for this!?!”]. If not, consider getting a job—even if it’s only part time—for your mental health. Seriously. Not only will this give you a chance to interact with “normal” people, but you need to feel like you’re also an important person making important contributions in this relationship. It is very easy to find yourself feeling marginalized because the work that your philosopher is doing is so important to the field of philosophy.
3. Take classes/Go to grad school yourself
Hey, why not? Why should your philosopher get all the fun? You’re going to be materially poor anyway, so why not take advantage of this time in your lives to both be poor together, but rich in knowledge (and great conversations!)?
4. Get involved in the community
My first thought when we moved here for grad school was, “We’re only going to be here a few years, so why should I care about the community?” Yes, you are likely only going to be in a place for a few years, but getting involved in a community is a rewarding experience. Volunteering or involvement in community organizations will help you feel a sense of place that you might be missing and/or give you a different group of friends/acquaintances that you would not have met otherwise. Being an academic or in an academic relationship can feel very transient. Academics tend to move around and travel a lot. It’s very helpful, I think, to develop connections with a community, even if you’ll only be there for a short time.
5. Be willing and prepared to have difficult conversations
Your philosopher will be stressed and busy and will tend to (not always) let her/his philosophy stuff take over her/his life and become more important than you. Grad school becomes for them rather like a new baby becomes to a new mother: time-consuming, demanding, and the most precious thing in the world. You must remember that you are also an important person in this relationship. Be prepared to address any feelings you have of being unimportant in your philosopher’s life. Tell your philosopher that you want to spend time with them apart from philosophy. Remind them that you want them to succeed and grow as super-philosophers, but that you feel ignored or pushed aside for the new philosophy-baby. Help your philosopher work out times in the week when they spend time only with you (no philosophy!!).
[Note: It’s best when having difficult conversations not to attack philosophy or attack your philosopher, even if you’re upset. You are upset because you feel a certain way, not because philosophy is stupid—though stupid things have certainly been done in the name of philosophy].
I’ve had academic-partner-friends who just sit on their feelings and things go very badly for them. Relationships can be ruined if you don’t address negative feelings.
“Ok, Dr. Laura, so what do you do if your philosopher won’t listen?”
Bake cookies. Eat them all by yourself. Hide all of you philosopher’s books and claim innocence when asked.
Seriously, some philosophers (like any other group of people) are jerks and won’t listen. I don’t really know what to do with those sorts of people other than reacting negatively, especially to the patronizing ones.
6. Eat lots of chocolate
Or other indulgences. Really, it will help you feel better. Plus side: your philosopher will be too busy to notice that you ate half of the cookies in one sitting. Negative: weight gain. Take up running.
After you learn how to cope with these harder things, you’ll find yourself really enjoying the time that you do have with your philosopher while she/he is in graduate school. It’s especially fun, I think, to watch philosophers (yours and others) come into a department so scared and unsure of themselves and leave as more confident, serious people who just love philosophy.
You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), add me on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed), or send me an email (left sidebar). I’m going to be working at another philosophy conference for a bit this weekend, so hopefully there will be more inspirational fun for blog posts. Really, you non-philosophers should attend at least one philosophy conference.