Questions to *not* ask grad students

So, there are a few questions that I’m sick of being asked. Mainly, because every time you talk to someone (especially someone who is not in grad school) they ask you one or more of the following:

  • Are you almost done?
  • When are you going to finish?
  • How long have you been there?
  • What are you going to do next?
  • Why did you choose to go to grad school?

It’s not that there’s technically anything wrong with the questions. It’s just that we’re pretty much never asked anything else. Sometimes, there’s a question about what you’re doing – but they only want to hear at most a couple of sentences before they lose interest.

However, the above questions are actually mostly legit when coming from other grad students – as they’re usually the beginning of a complaint session about grad school and/or comparing experiences. Also, we are much more understanding of replies like “too long” and “not soon enough” and “what’s wrong with me?”

If you want to get on a grad students good side, there are two easy ways. The first is to be actually interested in their research and ask them a few questions about it, letting them go into more depth than “I work with computers.”

The second way, is to just not talk about grad school. Grad students eat, breathe and sleep school. It’s nice to have a break. When grad students get together it’s impossible to ignore the topic of grad school. Which is why it’s great to have friends who are *not* connected to the grad school world. If you’re one of these people, as about hobbies. What they did on the weekend (although don’t be surprised if the answer is school stuff). Do they have any exciting plans coming up? And so on. Yes, some of the questions are also depressing to get as a grad student, when you’re thinking “I don’t have money for vacations and my life is only school” but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good to try and focus on something else.

Overall, the best thing to do is to know the person you’re talking to. If they look interested in sharing information, ask. If a pained look crosses their face after a question, move on to a new topic.


One thought on “Questions to *not* ask grad students

  1. I just happened upon your blog in my late night procrastination from writing a short paper that is due tomorrow. I like that you are writing this blog as you work through your program. It seems like most of the graduate school blog posts I find were made after the person had fully finished or quit.

    I also wanted to chime in to say that I totally agree with this post, and I especially hate when people ask the 2nd one you listed. I usually try to explain to them that in graduate school there is much more to worry about then passing your classes (e.g., comps, dissertation, etc.) so it is not very cut and dry how much longer someone may have left.

    I can also relate to the issue with people not really wanting to delve further into what exactly you do. It’s especially difficult for me considering I am working towards a Ph.D in Human Factors “Psychology”—which is a sort of engineering psychology. All most people hear is the psychology part. They then proceed to immediately ask me if I want to start my own practice, or make some dumb joke related to me being able to psychoanalyze them.

    Anywho, I really enjoyed this post, and you may have motivated me to start working on my own graduate school blog. Btw, I’m just starting my 2nd year!


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