5 Tips for Forming Strong Working Relationships in Grad School
This is part two of a two-part series on mentorship and relationship building in graduate school. For part one, head to our post “Advisors, Professors, and Mentors: Relationship Building 101”
In my previous post, I talked about why it is important to build strong relationships in grad school and offered suggestions for identifying individuals with whom you should connect. In this post, I’ll provide 5 tried and tested ways to nurture and build your relationships.
1. Come prepared
Coming prepared to class or a meeting with any of the individuals we talked about is a fundamental way to build trust. Doing the expected work (and ideally going above what’s expected) shows this counterpart your commitment and drive. Strong relationships are about giving and taking, and proving your excitement for the topic at hand gets you off to a wonderful start.
2. Be an active participant and add value
From an office work meeting to a class debate, you should always consider ways to add value. By this I mean thinking of unique topics, points, or questions to add that have not been covered yet or to share an anecdote from a personal experience. The leaders and even peers around you will appreciate this because, in a way, you are making their job easier and showing your commitment to learning and fueling growth. I believe this makes you a more valuable asset and helps build respect and rapport.
3. Schedule 1:1s and ask for specific advice
Take advantage of the formal opportunities you have to meet with your academic advisor, professors, and career counselors by scheduling appointments or going to their office hours. These times are set for you and are a powerful way to get to know someone in a one-on-one setting. Make sure to come up with questions and find a focus on your goals for the meeting. The better these conversations go, the more your relationships can grow.
4. Chat before or after class
Humans are social creatures by nature. Professors who teach in higher education likely enjoy social interaction. Chatting with them before or after class is a great way to show your friendly side and get to know things about them they would rarely otherwise share in the lesson.
These conversations can be as simple and broad as "how did you spend your holiday" or more academic, "how did you choose your dissertation topic to research?" People like people who are genuinely interested in them, and you will also learn unique things about these individuals you otherwise would miss out on if you didn't make the extra effort to chat.
5. Keeping in touch
Last but not least, remember to keep in touch with these individuals! You never know when you might need to reconnect for a PhD or job letter of recommendation or a friendly hello.
As semesters pass, don't be afraid to drop a friendly note to those professors or internship managers from your early start. Keep nurturing your excellent connections even after you graduate. Emailing around holidays or sharing milestones and small wins with them after you've parted ways is always a great reason to get back in touch. Remember to add these people on LinkedIn; it can be another helpful tool to keep you connected.