After researching PhD programs throughout 2019, I began the application process later that year. Fortunately, I was accepted into my first-choice university, even though it meant relocating to another part of the United States and away from my family and friends. I was excited and motivated to start on a new adventure and learn more about Florida International University (FIU), the school I would be attending, as well as moving to Miami.
Connecting with others on LinkedIn.
While Google is often the first place people go when they have a question, it will not help you learn everything about a topic; the best way to learn about something is to talk to someone who is knowledgeable with that area. To discover additional information about FIU and Miami, I decided to contact students that were currently in the program I had been accepted into. Using LinkedIn, I then searched for people currently attending FIU and sent them a private message introducing myself and asked some questions. Since I started my PhD, I have had others contact me this way as well.
Contacting students that are already enrolled at the school you will be attending is a great way to meet them, and this way, you will be able to know people when you start school. My situation was different, however, as I began my PhD in August 2020, during the height of COVID-19. At the beginning of the fall semester, my department typically hosts a welcome-back event that both students and professors attend, but due to the pandemic, no in-person events were held that year. For the students who have contacted me on LinkedIn, they were at least able to know someone when they started, which I am sure made things a bit less intimidating. They also had someone to sit with at the welcome back event, as they are finally being held in person once again.
Reaching out to the Graduate Program Director.
Asking the graduate program director about the other students in your program is another way to meet new people. At my university, the graduate director reached out to me during the summer of 2020 to introduce me to other students with similar interests to me. A year later, they also introduced me to a student who would be starting the program that August and is now my closest friend in the program. We share many similar interests and go out to lunch every week, which gives us something to look forward to. If your graduate program director does not contact you first, then send them an email to ask about other students in the program who are interested in the same topics that you are.
Contacting current students before starting graduate school can be a great way to gain insights into the program, the culture, and the community of the university. It is important to connect with other students in the program and start building a support network as soon as possible. This can help you navigate the challenges of the program and provide a sense of community as you pursue your PhD. Graduate school can be an isolating experience because the academic workload and expectations can be demanding, leaving little time for socializing and meeting new people. Additionally, graduate students often work independently on their research projects, which can lead to feelings of isolation and detachment from their peers. For such reasons, it is beneficial to connect with other students as soon as possible, ideally when you are accepted into the program.