What do former grad students need?
November 20, 2007 5:10 AM   Subscribe

What can I do for a friend who may soon have to leave grad school?

I have a longtime friend who is facing a crisis point in his graduate career. I want to know what I can do for him if things don't go well. I've already told him that I'll stick with him no matter what, and that I can help him get back on his feet if he needs it. Is there anything else I can do or say? Is there anything I should be careful not to do or say?

I know very little about his specialized field. He currently lives quite far away, but may decide to move back to my state.
posted by yomimono to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Congratulate and encourage him. Getting out of academia may be the greatest thing that has ever happened to him.
posted by Benzle at 5:20 AM on November 20, 2007

If he, like I, began to hate his field, do not suggest that someday he may go back to it, or try to find jobs for him, especially in that field, unless specifically asked. People keep saying to me that they expect me to go back all the time and right now, the last thing I want to do is deal with academia or the museums field. While I may still deal with my field on my own terms, having other people imply that it was the best fit for me, while I know, in my brain of brains, that it wasn't, pisses me off to no end.

Also, don't let him drink alone.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:41 AM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Offer to help him w/ his job search? You could proof read his resumes and cover letters and such.

Depending where you and he live and whether he has access through some other criteria (job, alumni status) he might appreciate a gift membership to an academic library (I'd ask first, but this is the kind of thing I'd have liked.)

Cobaltine's comments are good, but if he DOES still like his field he might appreciate encouragement that he may someday be able to go back to it, but this would probably be appreciated most from someone w/knowledge of the field/schools/job market, which it sounds like you're not.

You might also offer to help him move, at least unpacking and such if he arrives back in your state.
posted by Jahaza at 10:53 AM on November 20, 2007

You might try to spend time with him. In these situations it helps to have an old friend to take your mind off dropping out.

If he moves back home, then make sure to get him out of the house and help him get reacquainted with the area. If he stays far away, you might consider paying him a visit.
posted by oddman at 11:34 AM on November 20, 2007

Best answer: If your friend actually leaves school, I can't second cobaltnine's recommendation enough. Be the friend that doesn't keep asking if he plans to go back.

Job search help would be very useful (I found it very helpful to have advice on writing a non-academic resume), but only if he asks you.

You're already on the right track- whether he stays or goes, your support will be very important to him. Treat this as any other experience he might have that could be both traumatic and exciting. If he does leave and move back, spend time with him doing things that have nothing whatsoever to do with his field. Go to movies, talk about non-academic books, gossip, whatever. Reading novels again was a relief when I left my program.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:08 PM on November 20, 2007

My wife (friend at the time) dropped out of a PhD program after finally realizing that her misery was unnecessary and she didn't actually want to be in that particular field. It has taken her a long time to let go of a feeling of personal failure, though it was the right decision for her and was, in my mind, a real success for her.

Be there for your friend and keep an eye out for that sense of failure. Help him understand that, while you can't change the choices you've made in the past, every moment from here forward is still up for grabs.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 2:50 PM on November 20, 2007

Best answer: Grad school can be bruising.

It can leave highly intelligent, extraordinarily capable people convinced that they are incompetent and worthless.

What your friend will need as a recovering grad student (if he decides to quit) will depend on him and his situation, of course, but my suggestion would be to look for the occasional opportunity to pay him a really sincere compliment. Don't lay it on thick and smarmy, but for example if you hang out for a weekend and he makes you the awesomest pancakes in the world, let him know that he just made the awesomest pancakes in the world.

Beyond that . . . just do whatever you would do for a friend who's going through a rough time of any other sort. Watch a brainless movie together. Play a few rounds of whatever game you used to enjoy. If he's not nearby enough to hang out, send him funny things that you find on the web. And I agree with cobaltnine--don't bug him about his future in his grad school field, or even his future in general. Treat the end (or temporary "crisis") of his grad school career as a sucky thing that is happening to him, like breaking a bone, getting dumped, or getting sacked from a job, and don't try to make it all better; just be there.

That said, I'll second Jahaza and TheWhiteSkull: especially if your friend went straight from undergrad to grad school, without getting non-academic work experience in between, he might appreciate a little help navigating the non-academic job search. I'd say put the offer out there, or send just one email tipping him off to websites etc. that you've found useful, and then let it drop unless he asks for more.
posted by Orinda at 8:27 PM on November 20, 2007

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