Grad school gossip

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.



I recently alluded to some drama at school,  but I didn’t want to get into it in too much detail in public.

The gist: I don’t associate with some people in my program because I prefer to surround myself with positive, honest, helpful, kind, enabling individuals.  I do not like to sit down at a table at dinner with someone and have him or her immediately talk negatively about someone I know or try to pull negative words from me.  If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  Or at least, don’t be two faced.  If you hang around someone all the time, don’t come to me and start talking smack.  I will immediately lose some respect and trust for you.  That doesn’t mean I’m perfect.  I am far from perfect.  I say things I should not say about people, but I try to limit it to things I would say to that person’s face.  Or I limit intimate conversations about others to my closest friends.

I thought I would post something general about the interpersonal politics of {insert any competitive professional work environment}.

I treat grad school as a professional work environment. We are adults and colleagues.  The line between student and faculty is blurred such that we are all on a first name basis.  I do not like drama and avoid it at all costs for my personal well-being.  I am friends with my boss outside of work, but we are able to compartmentalize our professional and personal lives because we are on the same page.  That is a special circumstance that I do not share with many of my fellow students.  A few of my close friends in my program also treat grad school as a job.  That’s right, I only have a few close friends in school.

Why I am not close with most of my cohort

Competitiveness + high intelligence + psychology background + neuroticism + poor coping skills + long distance relationships + insecurity + extreme stress mediated by a small, cohesive cohort predicts interpersonal disaster.  (That was my awful attempt at a regression equation to predict grad school drama. But you get the idea.)

There are very few of us in the program.

My business, if I talk about it, will become everyone’s business.  Everyone knows everyone in any small graduate program.  My classes range from four to twenty students, so we all know each other.  Word spreads fast.  I prefer not to share the most intimate details of my life with anyone in the program outside of the few people whom I consider real friends.

There is some separation based on age.

Some students come straight out of undergrad and are still going through their party phase in life.  Their “getting to know themselves” phase.  Their “experimental” phase.  Been there, done that, over it.  That is not to say I don’t know how to have a good time. I can drink wine and dance all night with the best of them.  But I’m 27.  I’m not 23.  Others, like myself, worked for a few years before going back to school, we have established healthy relationships and we don’t want to mix work with personal life too much.  When you are 23, you think you are an adult.  And then you turn 27 and realize that you are always growing, changing, discovering new things, and re-evaluating your priorities.

I tend to socialize more with older students because I find that our interests and priorities are similar.  It doesn’t mean those students who want to go out to the clubs every night, to come to class hungover, or to be promiscuous with one another are necessarily doing something wrong.  They are just doing some things I do not want to do personally.  Life is too short not to live it up a little.  I also believe life is too short to be cruel to anyone or to hurt oneself.

Then there is the issue of PhD versus Master’s students.

Some PhD students are a little “judgey” about the Master’s students, despite the fact we are taking the same classes..  In my program, the first year requirements are the same regardless of one’s concentration.  The Applied Experimental Master’s students, Clinical PsyDs, Human Factors PhDs, Applied Experimental PhDs and Industrial/Organizational PhDs take some of the same core courses.  It is not until the second year that we split into concentration areas.    In general, we mingle and see each other regularly. But there are a group of PhD students who think they are better, smarter, more capable than the Master’s students.  It is like high school all over again for some.  Or the PhD Jets versus the MS Sharks, if you’re into musicals.  In my opinion, at this level in our education, we are all equal.  Everyone has a different set of skills, knowledge, abilities and interests.  The Master’s students in my program, including myself, began their graduate education with a terminal Master’s degree because our GRE scores were not great, we had been out of school for awhile and we did not know exactly what our research focus was going to be.  We needed a Master’s program to help guide us in the right direction and better prepare us for a PhD program.  Fortunately, there are PhDs who believe we are all colleagues.  And I hope to be a good role model by being inclusive once I enter the PhD program in August.

Then there is the issue of competition between students.

This is, after all, academia.  The Ivory Tower of Academia can be a pretty dark cave in which to reside.  Julie at Escape the Ivory Tower, one of my favorite blogs about grad school, definitely touches on this aspect of interpersonal relationship in academia.  Fortunately for me, my fellow Human Factors students are very cohesive and supportive of one another.  We give each other notes, discuss research ideas, work together on projects and papers, and are always there for the other in times of need.  Such cohesion does not always exist in grad school because everyone is vying for a chance at being the best of the best.  Law school and business school come to mind, based on what my friends have told me.


Why do you think there is always drama in a traditional workplace or in academia?  Why do you think the academic world breeds such negative behavior?  What do you do to remove yourself from drama in professional environments?

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12 thoughts on “Grad school gossip

  1. So, here I’m a something-come-lately… sigh… I blame it on conferences and paper deadlines…

    Anyway, I honestly believe that some of the drama comes from people’s incessant need to distract themselves from the real portions of their lives. Yes yes, what is “real.” I’d prefer no theoretical debate, but rather I mean when things get pressured, folks want to high-tail it and run…. the drama is a way of staying and running at the same time. Not to mention, and sadly and quite frankly (<— language I am forced to repeatedly edit in my work), when one becomes immersed in any single space, one attempts to stretch it to conform to their needs (even if that means for excitement). I, too, see school as work–it is my workplace. And, honestly, it has kept me WELL away from the petty intra-department/colleague dramas (oh dear god, the bad romances). But, I would be somewhat dishonest if I didn't also admit that moving to an entirely different place and not having the time to get to know it, and thus not connecting with the wider community, has left me somewhat isolated. Yes… positivity is a must… consequently… well… at least I have my pets.


    1. You so hit the nail on head with your comment!

      I think grad school is important, but I do not make it my first priority all the time. It is PART of my life, but it isn’t everything to me. I don’t have a ton of friends here because I distance myself from the drama, but I can go to sleep at night knowing I’m not hurting myself or being a drama queen.

      And yes, I thoroughly enjoy the company of my cat. Thank goodness for that ball of joy :)

      Thanks for you comment!

  2. I just stumbled over to your blog for the first time today from, and I’m glad I did. I love, love blogs about grad school. I’m a full time grad student also, and while my blog’s title suggests that my blog is ALL about grad school, it’s not really. But I do a fair number of grad school posts, such as “the people you meet in grad school…..”

    Anyway, I’d love to follow you but I’m a blog noob and I’m unfamiliar with wordpress (i use blogger). So I may just add you to my blogroll over on my site.

    Either way, I’m enjoying your blog so far! :)

  3. This sounds a lot like my law school experience, only people are NOT cooperative. Ridiculous things would ensue because of the competition involved, such as people’s computers being completed deleted or pages of research books that were needed being stolen from the library.

    People would talk so much crap about each other it was like high school all over again. And we had lockers. And there was a law school prom. Oh yah, and student council. It was flashback city.

    I think there is drama in most places, however when you get some young, intelligent people together in a high stress environment it can be explosive.

    Much like you, I found myself hanging out with the older crowd, although some of the 22-23 year olds were nice. Most of them partied a lot though.

    Sounds like you are doing a great job at keeping your peace though. Kudos!

    1. First, Hi! Nice to meet you. 😀 Second, thanks for reading and I will head over to your blog in a second!

      I have heard horror stories about law school from friends. I don’t think I could handle all of that competition. Props to you for finding a way to cope with all of that. It’s amazing how different people are at 23 than they are a 27. I am thankful I took some time off after undergrad before beginning grad school.

  4. I think most drama is caused by dramatic people. Some people just create and carry drama with them everywhere they go, no matter where they are and who they are around.

    I’m sure those people are just instigated more by high pressure and highly competitive environments, but I think it’s all in the people.

    SBUX isn’t a competitive place at all, at least my store isn’t. We have VERY little work drama at this point in time. But that’s because we have very laid back people working there right now that want to get along and peacefully work together. When you throw one “bad egg” into the mix, it all gets turned upside down, though.

    There was also no competition in the preschool, but those women, bless their hearts, created more drama in a day than a years worth of Desperate Housewives. So, I had to switch jobs. Not worth it.

    1. Why is it that when you put a group of women together things explode? I hated retail for that reason. I would have enjoyed retail much more if I had worked with men. But throw together a bunch of women and we are so competitive. I always think of Rita when I think of gossipy work environments. I know all the socio-cultural factors behind it, but it still really bugs me. I am SO blessed to have a female boss who treats me as her equal and she is a mentor. She has HIGH self-esteem and knows there is not a soul who can threaten her job. She is confident because she worked her ass off for years in grad school to learn what she needed to learn. I think as women we should do our best to empower each other because we need more women in higher positions. It’s time to change the caddy behavior. And I totally agree that dramatic people make drama no matter where they are, despite competition. SIGH.

  5. I think there is always drama everywhere: at work, in academia, and even in the blogosphere. But, I’m an inherently undramatic person, so I mostly find it pretty easy to avoid. My program doesn’t have a lot of drama. In general, I feel like we’re all pretty supportive of each other, but I cross a couple of different spheres an in my philosophy classes especially, there is definitely this feeling like you’re constantly being sized up by your intelligence. I hate it, yet sometimes I find myself getting sucked in; it makes me feel insecure, so then I’m watching other people more closely to see how I compare to them.

    One thing I was told really early on is that your relationships are in academia are the most important thing. It’s your colleagues that will make all the decisions in regards to getting tenure and all of that. And even across schools, everything is very tight knit, so you could be burning bridges without realizing it.

    I think it’s funny that within my university, the people in my school are considered the weird ones and then within the school, the people in my program are considered the weird ones. I’ve been told several times that I’m normal for the program I’m in. It’s all just so weird and unspoken! So, it’s nice to talk about it!

  6. First off I just have to say that I absolutely loved the following: “When you are 23, you think you are an adult. And then you turn 27 and realize that you are always growing, changing, discovering new things, and re-evaluating your priorities.” So true…

    Honestly, I think there will always be drama because there will always be the people who surround themselves with it or create it. Whether it be immaturity, jealousy or just plain disrepect and diregard towards other people, there’s always going to be someone out there to start something. As far as academia breeding that behavior…I think it’s going to be where ever there is competition. You have that in a professional setting as well. People striving to get to the top of that corporate ladder and willing to do anything to get there. I think some of us have forgotten to keep our integrity in tact while doing so. You can work hard and be an honest person while attaining your goals.

    I am like you. Not perfect. Working on a lot of things myself as far as being a better person. I have learned through many of my own situations that the best way to steer clear of drama is to cut those people out of your life. My theory is: If you are going to create problems for yourself, walk head-on into a bad situation or complain about your life and not CHANGE anything about it, I can’t help you and honestly I am too tired. Sorry. Sounds mean, but I have to keep my sanity and deal with my own life’s problems…

    Great post Alex!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. And no one is perfect, but you can tell when people are purposefully being nasty and gossipy to get something. I agree that it’s important to distance yourself from people who make their own lives dramatic. They want to suck you into their drama. But we have to set boundaries for ourselves. :)

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