Let's give this another try, or how can I forget bad first impressions?
September 1, 2017 10:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm starting a professional course-based grad program this fall and my cohort had the opportunity to meet each other for the first time this week. I can't put my finger on it, but I am already disliking these people. I don't want to spend the next two-years disliking these people, so how can I forget first impressions and meet them "again" for the "first time" when our courses start?

Maybe the problem is me and I don't belong in my grad program. Maybe I'm just experiencing pre-grad school nerves. I don't know. I'm in my late-20s and most students are in their early 20s with newly minted BAs. Moreover, I've been working in the field we're "in" for a few years already. Perhaps, I've been away from "academia" for too long and working in a touchy feely environment. I was just taken aback by the (unearned) arrogance, abrasiveness and general snobbery of my cohort. I wasn't expecting to make any BFFs on the first day, but I was NOT expecting that!!!!!!!

I guess I could just spend the next two years doing my courses and getting the hell out of there for the next two-years, but I'd actually like to figure out a way to get along with them. I know this isn't a program to make friends, but I don't want to be rude!!! I don't want to DREAD going to my courses. How do I get along with these people for the next two years? Is it okay if I just don't "click" with my cohort?
posted by anonymous to Education (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is it okay if I just don't "click" with my cohort?
Oh yes. Totally OK. I have just finished a professional course-based post-grad and I didn't make one friend over my two years.

I think the problem is a combination of pre-grad school nerves and unmet expectations. Perhaps drop any expectation that you should have friends in the program, which will mean you won't be disappointed if you don't.

Your negative perceptions of your cohort do not mean you shouldn't be in the program. After all, it's the profession that the program entitles you to do, not the program itself that is important in the long term.
posted by Thella at 11:10 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had a similar experience when I returned to grad school after having been out in the "real world" for a bit. Honestly, I just gravitated to the people who were in a similar life situation as me - I'm not sure if this was intentional or not. Maybe as a starting point, find the one or two other people who have a similar background and build-out from there?

Also keep in mind that the bravado and arrogance is probably being derived from them feeling over their head and scared shitless. They will probably confess this to you four years from now.
posted by Toddles at 11:15 PM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm kind of in your position. I'm in a web dev bootcamp because I've been in the industry for awhile but I want to improve my skills.

Most of the people in my class have been taking classes together for a year or two and they seem kind of cliquey but when I talk to them they're actually OK. When I make a point to join in at lunch or the weekly study group it's a lot less structured than class time and easier for me to participate.

I go back and forth between hating my cohort and loving them all - sometimes it depends on whether or not I eat lunch with them but, realistically, a lot of it depends on my judgment of myself.

Your level of engagement is up to you. Personally I find that [making friends, finding common ground, chatting about the weather] no matter how shallow - with my classmates smoothes over some of the academic tension.

In terms of age... I'm 47. Several of my classmates (out of 11) are 24. You and I already have a lot of experience in our fields. We have a lot to offer in terms of our professional experience.

All I'm trying to suggest is think hard about why they annoy you. Be like a toddler, ask "why" over and over until you find your answer.
posted by bendy at 11:20 PM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think you should welcome the opportunity to get drunk with all of them as soon as possible, if that is something you do - it would be a great idea to initiate.

They may not be good and you may not like them and you may leave, not the end of the world either.

One person/friend ally is really all you need I think, and really the most abrasive people will settle down once you're in class together.

The question is do you like the culture of the program, which will tangibly affect everyone's behavior. You can't know yet. It's ok not to.

Steel yourself and I'd say be open to fun, it would be nice to discover hidden depths after a rough start. Even if many of the asshole exteriors contain assholes, it is quite possible one contains a nice person, so you can think of it as a matter of trying to find that person.

Just don't take any of it personally, basically, and be open to disliking your cohort, you really don't need to like them to have a good time and it may even be more amusing at times not to, as long as everyone is civil.
posted by benadryl at 11:42 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, maybe think of them as your new co-workers. Which they sort of are.

I cannot stand arrogance and snobbery, ugh. But... first of all, the arrogants and the snobs are usually also the most visible in a group, I think. If the group is large enough - and maybe even if there is just a dozen of you - you can overlook the more laid-back, common-sense types at first. Who knows, maybe there are a few real gems in that group.

Then also, sometimes people show off out of insecurity. They might start acting like decent people once they get used to the new environment.

As for what to do, maybe stay neutral and pleasant, and get your feel of the people over time? Just as you would in a new job. And then avoid the negative types if at all possible.
posted by M. at 12:16 AM on September 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

When you meet people for the first time conversion inevitably focuses on what they have been doing previously and how they feel about that. So you (currently) have nothing in common.

Once your course gets started you will hopefully find a lot more focus on what you are all aiming at and then suddenly you will have common ground. I was tying myself in knots before my professional degree started because several of my younger colleagues had spent the summer clubbing in Ibiza, whereas I was finishing a PhD and caring for someone. But it was more than fine and I'm still in contact with nearly all my course mates 7 years later.

The arrogance may also be coming from a position of anxiety and insecurity. I find that a very helpful assumption to make in the early stages of getting to know people.
posted by kadia_a at 1:51 AM on September 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I went through something a bit like this when I returned to uni after a 7 year break. I felt like the oldest person in the whole universe, surrounded by a bunch of children. My advice is, like others have said, treat them as co-workers and things will settle, even if you never become 'friends'.

Do you expect your course will require a lot of group working and shared assessments? That's when it can get tricky, but you can normally sniff out the people who share your working style or level of commitment relatively quickly, just from the way they behave in class. If you buddy up a bit with those people, then the ones who seem snobbish and entitled won't be too much of your concern.

You didn't mention that you'd relocated for the programme so I'll assume not, but you might find that joining clubs or starting activities away from uni will open up a slightly older friendship pool for you. When I started my course I'd moved a couple of hundred miles from home so started going to a film club at a local arts centre. There, people were more my age and shared more of my interests. I immediately felt more comfortable with my decision to go back to uni.
posted by churlishmeg at 2:40 AM on September 2, 2017

I think I would try to think of their abrasiveness as nervousness about beginning a new school. Once you settle down to classes, people will hopefully not feel the need to be the loudest voice in the room as much.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:45 AM on September 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Think of all the arrogant, clueless people in the world whom you _can't_ affect. These ones will probably listen to you eventually.
posted by amtho at 3:15 AM on September 2, 2017

I went through this also when I did a grad school cohort. My best advice is to set aside first impressions because nobody's acting like themselves. Give everyone time to relax and try to see what they all bring to the shared experience; it's highly unlikely they're all arrogant and obnoxious all the time.

As bendy said, even if they're all completely awful (highly unlikely), you'll find it a lot easier if you go out of your way to hang with them and act friendly, because going through a cohort program with a bunch of people you can't stand will make this a really, really terrible experience. The more you can force yourself to be positive and friendly, the more you'll actually enjoy being with them.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:52 AM on September 2, 2017

When I went to the orientation for my professional program, there were actually a few people I clicked with instantly, but overall it felt so schmoozy and competitive. But over the course of the first year, taking classes together, we all got to know each other better and I came to actually like most of the people in my program, and became really good friends with several of them.

I think you have to do a bit of a mind trick here. Resolve that you are going to be completely open-minded and curious about the people you meet and talk with. Sitting next to someone in a class next week who seemed a little bit less boorish than most last week? Ask them about themselves, and resolve to at least try to learn something about them and enjoy their company. That won't work with everyone, but it will work with some of them.

And no, you might not be there to make friends, but this is worth trying because 1. These folks will be part of your professional network and 2. Chances are decent that there are at least a few people you'll like and maybe even become friends with some people, just because you know you share at least some interests.
posted by lunasol at 7:08 AM on September 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just finished a three-year courses-and-clinical professional grad program with a cohort of about 20. I was expecting to be in a group of folks my own age-ish, but it turned out about half the group was 6+ years younger. The person I thought would be the most annoying on the first day turned out to be actually quite lovely (we're not super tight but I'd call them a friend). There were some people who seemed like "ok, but not my people" and who actually are ok, but not my people; we got along and were social in all-cohort situations during the program but I don't expect us to keep in touch. There were a few people I thought I would wind up becoming really close friends with, but it actually didn't quite happen; we're good acquaintance-friends now but not close. And finally, someone I really didn't think much one way or another about on the first day of class has become a very close friend.

It's early days, you just can't know yet! Relax and see how it unfolds. In my program, there was a lot of pressure in the first year to become great friends and support each other... be kind to yourself and seek out the supports that work for you elsewhere if that is the case in your program and it looks like it's not happening for you. I stressed out about it for a while; things got so much better once I managed to convince myself that it was OK for me not to be besties with my classmates and that I could get through on my own / with other kinds of support.
posted by snorkmaiden at 11:15 AM on September 3, 2017

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