Get a Life! (Connecting to Success)

PhD Student Advising Articles written by Shannon E. Williams, Assistant Dean for Student Engagement at the Schar School

Happy New Year! The holidays are over, Qualifying Examination is in the hands of the reviewers, and fall grades are in. For those of you still in the coursework stage of the program, another week of winter break stretches out ahead. For the rest, work on your proposal or dissertation continues. Wherever you are in your doctoral studies, this is a great time of year to make an investment in the program by nurturing connections with fellow students.

Research indicates that social relationships play a role in completion rates for PhD students. Hoskins and Goldberg identify “program match” as a significant influencing factor for students’ persistence in a doctoral program.[1]

Program match is made up of more than a correspondence between a student’s goals and the program curriculum. While critical, academic match is only one component. Social-personal match is also a key element in the fit between student and program.

Students interviewed in their study term this social-personal type of match as connection. “Connection” is defined as “The establishment of a relationship or the failure to do so with faculty or fellow students and a judgment of the quality of that relationship.”[2] For many students, a strong sense of connection is an essential ingredient for staying in, staying on track, and finally earning the degree.

Connection may not top your list of priorities. The academic requirements of a PhD program demand time and attention, and you may not believe you can spare these resources in order to cultivate your friendships. Consider, however, the important role social relationships can play in your academic journey. Not only can classmates give you a critical outlet for the stress of the program, they can provide insights into jobs and encourage your research. Collegial relationships can drive your momentum – and that of your colleagues – as you move through the program.

Think of this next week a window of opportunity for cultivating your community of scholarly peers. All you need are an internet connection and a few focused moments. Below are a few ideas for building your relationships within and outside of the program:

Ask a classmate to exchange a paper-in-progress with you. Make comments on each others’ work.

Reach out to a colleague. Remember that student you always wanted to get to know better but you never had the time? Chances are that she felt the same way about you. Shoot her an email to say hello, ask her about her progress, and find out her plans for the upcoming semester.

Make contact with students organizing events. The Schar PhD Student Association (SPSA), Mason’s Graduate Student Life, the Schar School research centers, and several annual graduate conferences at Mason all run on student involvement. Find out about their activities. Peruse the calls for papers, and think about ways to get involved or to present. Mark your calendar now for future events.

Seek out students who share your research interests, your stage of the program, or your geographic location. This is especially useful if you are working on your proposal or dissertation. At this stage, classes do not provide you with face time with classmates. Many students find they benefit from informal but regular meetings to keep their work on track.

Ask fellow students about professional guilds or associations to which they belong. Has the membership enhanced their experience? Research one you might like to join. Your network should not begin and end with your classmates and faculty members.

Your classmates now will be your community of scholars in 10 years. Nourishing those relationships will serve you throughout your doctoral studies and lay the foundation for a broad and convivial network of colleagues in the future. Reach out, and enjoy the rest of your break!


[1] Hoskins and Goldberg, “Doctoral Student Persistence in Counselor Education Programs: Student-Program Match,” 179.

[2] Ibid., 183. ______________________________________


Hoskins, Christine, and Alan Goldberg. “Doctoral Student Persistence in Counselor Education Programs: Student-Program Match.” Counselor education and supervision 44, no. 3 (2005): 175-188.