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Social Life of a Physics Grad Student

  1. Jul 19, 2006 #1
    I'm trying to get perspective on what life is life for a physics grad student, namely on the social side of things. When I was an undergrad (UC Irvine), it seemed that the majority of the graduates at my school were dedicated, quiet, and exceedingly introverted. However, my sample size is very small...I only interacted with maybe half a dozen grad students. Most of the grad students seemed to be depressed at some level. I'm just curious if that's the case at most physics grad programs.

    So I guess I'm asking people to describe their lives as a physics grad student...daily routine, social life, etc. Is there ample socialization within your program? Or do you find yourself reaching outside of the circle to make new friends and socialize?
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2006
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  3. Jul 19, 2006 #2
    i used to feel bad for music majors, as their time seemed to be consumed with classes and recitals et al. they seemed to have no lives at all. now i realize that they were merely consumed by what they were doing. sure, you will need to be dedicated to be successful in grad school, but that doesn't mean that you won't have a life... it's just that your life will revolve around school. but really, spending time doing what you are passionate about, what could be better?
  4. Jul 20, 2006 #3
    I don't think social life is any different after graduation, except that if you go to undergrad parties, unsuspecting people might look up to you. Grad students are the social paradigm of getting a master's in slacker-dom.

    I think they get most depressed when they aren't being challenged enough. Here they are, spending all this time and money to focus and become an expert on something, and they're just asked to do more bullwork. Original thinking, to our grave misfortune, only really happens when you're going for a doctorate at most schools.
  5. Jul 20, 2006 #4


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    a graduate student who has much social life probably will not graduate. that was my downfall the first time through the process. when i waS AN UNDERGRAD the nerdy guy who went in the library after class and came out when it closed had all A's. But things are different after they get jobs.

    It is a lot more time consuming to be an 84 hour a week swimming pool builder like i was at 19 (at a dollar an hour) than a grad student, or a 7 to 4 meat lugger as I was at 25 (too tired to move afterwards). And there is no future in physical labor.

    so i went back to school, spent 10 years of constant studying. only breaking long enough to recover and stay sane, and have enjoyed 30 years of interesting, at least survival wage employment, as a professor since then.
  6. Jul 20, 2006 #5
    congrats mathwonk for being able to pursue what you wanted
  7. Jul 20, 2006 #6

    I imagine it depends on the department, and the environment more than anything else. Just going off my experience with the summer grad students and post docs I've met in the past few weeks, here everyone is fairly socially active, but we're surrounded by like minded people, and lots of them all day. So its easy to be social when you have a fair amount in common with a room full of people doing astrophysics research. Incidently, this is the same experience I've had at my undergrad campus, where we have a very close knit and social department, which means a lot of people with common interests. So, depends on the environment. To be honest, the image of physics students as locked up away from society all alone with no life makes no sense to me. I've never actually seen that (which isn't to say it doesn't exist, but its certainly not universal).
  8. Jul 20, 2006 #7
    You can have a social life but dont make the mistake I did. I had to leave the PHD program in physics cause I cared more about having fun than learning.
  9. Jul 20, 2006 #8
    That's what I am looking for in a program: interaction with peers and faculty in such a way that we can easily relate. I'm just afraid I'm going to join a program and find that most people are just interested in doing their own thing. Strong group mentality is a must for me.
  10. Jul 21, 2006 #9

    Then ask around the department. Tour the department before applying, meet with students and ask them questions. That would be the easiest way to find out.
  11. Jul 21, 2006 #10
    This is very important. The social life of the grad students varies immensely from school to school. I actually transfered after my second year of grad school to the school I am at currently.

    At my first school, I enjoyed a very good social life (with the little personal time that is available to you in your first two years). All the grad students in the physics department would go out and grab some dinner and beers at least once or twice a week. We also did a weekly grad student lunch. A couple times a year I would host a party, usually after the semester was over.

    At my new department there is absolutely no social life. The students do not ever get together with each other- except the foreign students from the same countries tend to hang out- but they live together... I digress. When I moved, I assumed it would at least be similar. It isn't. There is no interacting outside of classes, no going out for drinks, no grabbing lunch together, no nothing. Everyone is VERY competitive. It is really disappointing. I hang out with grad students from another school just down the road from us and some people I met outside of school.

    So... go and tour the schools before you decide. Go and see how the students interact. Do they offer to take you out while you are there? Or do you only get to go out with faculty at a nice restaurant?

    Good luck. But remember grad school is about learning.
  12. Jul 21, 2006 #11

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    When I was a grad student, a small group of physics grad students went daily for lunch at the graduate student pub to have sandwiches (usually without alcohol) and chat. At lunch on any given weekday, there would usually be at least half a dozen physics grad students in the grad pub (closed at lunch on weekends). After scarfing down a couple of sandwiches (either purchased or self-prepared), it would be back to work in the physics department. Also, a couple times a week, a subset of a larger bunch of physics grad students would get together for a late supper of pizza and beer.

    At these get-togethers, the conversation would range widely: the general frontiers of fundamental physics; research projects; courses; stories about profs; philosophy; literature; movies; sports; politics; music (of all kinds); who was going out with whom; etc.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2006
  13. Jul 21, 2006 #12


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    Hello everyone. I'm a physics grad student and this is my fourth year without a social life.

    (after applause recedes) In my case, I think it's not entirely my grad program that's responsible - no doubt it's a strong contributor, but despite it, I could have had something that resembled - albeit if only to the zeroth order - a social life. The primary reason, in my case, is me. I'm antisocial. I've rarely find happiness through people. There's barely a handful of people I know that can stimulate me intellectually. So, instead, I limit my social interaction to books, nature, and PF.

    PS: Does teaching count as part of a social life?

  14. Jul 21, 2006 #13


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    Hey, didn't you just get married? Well, then you've got someone, besides other physics students, with whom you can interact.

    A social life is dependent upon the person. One can interact with fellow students in the physics department or seek out people with mutual interests in other departments.

    When I was a physics undergrad, the professors were always encouraging students to participate in extra-curricular activities within and outside the department.

    I then did nuclear engineering undergrad and grad program. Our social life was somewhat wild, since engineers tend to drink a lot of beer and some prefer cocktails. Friday afternoon usually meant margaritas at a local bar, but I preferred to drink beer. I got married at the end of my undergrad program, and that changed the socializing quite a lot - not as wild. :biggrin:

    If one doesn't mind, religious institutions are good places to interact with people. That may be too much for some people. :biggrin:
  15. Jul 21, 2006 #14


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    I did say there were a handful of people...and my wife's a handful alright!! :biggrin:

    < yikes, that will be the death of me!!! :eek: >
  16. Jul 21, 2006 #15


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    Famous last words, well maybe not famous - just last words. :rofl:
  17. Aug 11, 2006 #16

    George Jones

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    A brave man.
  18. Aug 11, 2006 #17


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    I'm a third year undergrad.

    A lot of the physics grads I saw were in the Society of Physics Students and were always doing 'fun' projects together. I've never been into that kind of thing. Like Gokul, I'm antisocial, so a social life isn't all that important to me.

    I have a couple friends, a girlfriend that I could probably stand to be with for a lot longer, and my physics community. That's pretty much all I need. I also go out and jam (play improv music) every once in a while, but that's been scarce since declaring physics.
  19. Aug 11, 2006 #18
    I tend to find that people who think of themselves as being antisocial are in fact quite social, Pythagorean you mention having a pretty steady girlfriend and a bunch of friends in your physics community, that sounds social enough.

    just because one doesn't chose to spend their time going out to do some project, or going out to get drunk every night doesn't make them antisocial.
  20. Aug 27, 2006 #19
    So... say someone wants to play an instrument + work out (like, 5 hours a week each). Is that viable? I am also non-social (anti-social means you are indifferent to human suffering, among other things and generally means you are a sociopath. I don't think that's any of us here, right? :)), so I don't want to go to parties or "hang out". But I want to play bass guitar and do something like boxing and lift weights.
  21. Aug 27, 2006 #20
    The social life of mine I could say is nonexistent, that is how I think. But, in another hand how my farher thinks I am OK. Since I am a girl of Serbian (Yugoslav) origin, not 19 yet and a 2nd year EE student my father thinks it is the best to stay home and be A GOOD GIRL:-)
  22. Aug 28, 2006 #21
    It varies from department to department. My department is very social. We have parties on the weekends, and any given weeknight you can find at least one grad student/faculty member at the local bar. That's not to say we don't work very hard, but many of us even have time for spouses or boyfriend/girlfriends. There are a lot of hours in the day. If you work 16 hour days theres still time.
  23. Mar 26, 2011 #22
    Hmm, I'm interested in this as well. I've visited a few grad departments so far, but haven't really noticed anything that would suggest the students there are all depressed and antisocial. There were some students that weren't talkative and looked a little emotionless, but that could just be their personalities. At one school I visited where a prof and his students took me out to lunch, the students were pretty quiet and didn't socialize that much.
  24. Mar 26, 2011 #23


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    Just out of curiosity, what search terms led you to this five-year-old thread?

    When I was a grad student, I hung out with a couple of small groups of other physics grad students. We'd go out for supper, or play video games (this was in the days when video-game arcades were popular), or go to a movie, or whatever, for a couple of hours, then return to the lab for some more work before going home for the night.

    We shared offices, or had cubicles in the same large rooms, and tended to have the same eccentric working hours, which fostered a sense of community.

    I still remember (about thirty years later) one expedition we made from Ann Arbor to see a Detroit Tigers baseball game. Most of the group was from New York, and they were really there to cheer on the visiting team, the New York Yankees. One guy knew practically nothing about baseball, so we explained the rules to him as the game progressed. At one point, the Tigers were behind by three runs, but managed to load the bases, and their most popular player came to bat. I leaned over to the "baseball newbie" and said something like, "Now, if this were a grade B baseball movie, this guy would hit a home run." "And that's called a grand slam, right?" "Right!"

    And the guy actually did hit a grand slam! :bugeye: This gave the Tigers the victory, and the Yankees fans in our group had to go home disappointed.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2011
  25. Mar 27, 2011 #24
    searching for the posts of one of the posters in this thread
  26. Mar 27, 2011 #25
    I did not have much social life in mechanical engineering graduate school.

    I worked for 4 years as an engineer before returning to graduate school. After underestimating the cost of school 4 years later, I finished most of classes in one year and returned to work full time as an engineer while writing my thesis.

    I would basically work all day, go to the gym for an hour, come home and write my thesis on my laptop until I could not stay awake. The cycle would repeat Monday-Friday. I would see some friends on weekends. Glad I did all this when I was young and single.
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