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Making Long Distance Relationships Work During Grad School

December, 2010 · By Justin Bengry

Baby, please don’t go

Anyone can find themselves suddenly having to endure the challenge of maintaining a relationship across borders.

Changing schools, going on an international exchange or even starting afirst job can change our lives and relationships dramatically.

By maintaining open communication with your partner, balancing work and romance and prioritizing time for love, however, you can sustain a long distance relationship through the challenges of grad school.

But, more than almost any other group, graduate students are among the most likely to endure that pain of separating from those they love.

Students especially prone to relocation include those in research-intensive programs, those in the humanities where extensive archival work is required, and those who must undertake on-site investigations abroad.

In grad school, you have to plan for change and uncertainty. Research trips sometimes involve months abroad. Fellowships might require solo relocation of up to a year or more.

But even though long distance relationships may seem inevitable for grad students, they aren’t insurmountable!

Whatever issue you’re facing, remember that many couples have been there before and have made it work. We caught up with some far-away couples and took off with their best tips.

Meet Erin and Shane

Erin and Shane* met as undergrads in Canada but eventually went on to different grad schools. Erin went to the U.S. while Shane remained in Canada. Living in different countries for an extended period, they have always had to prioritize communication.

According to Erin,  “Technology is the key! We schedule time to talk on webcam for at least an hour every night [using] Skype.” And, when Shane finished his coursework, he was able to spend weeks and even months visiting Erin while completing his degree—something nearly impossible in non-academic long-distance relationships.

Meet Karen and Adam

Karen and Adam are separated by an ocean—the Atlantic, to be precise. Karen studies in Europe while Adam remains in Canada and they prioritize spending time with each other as much as possible. For Karen and Adam, trips to visit each other aren’t seen as a cost to one, but as an investment by both in their relationship.

If one can travel but can’t afford to fly abroad, the other helps pay. This works, according to Karen, “because the visit is a benefit to both of us. We’re not paying to travel but to spend time together.”

Meet Jason and Michael

Jason and Michael met while Jason was on a research trip abroad. Michael, who is not in grad school, had to stay behind when Jason returned home to complete his studies. Since then, they’ve struggled with periods of more than six months without seeing each other. But, like Karen and Adam, Jason and Michael find every chance to be together.

While grad students may be perpetually poor, one perk of higher academia is the necessity to travel extensively—for research purposes, naturally.  “We useconferences, research trips, and other work-related travel to see each otheruntil one of us can finally move abroad.” Jason and Michael also have built-in summers, an extended Christmas and spring break—all of which give grad students extra time to enjoy with loved ones.

No one likes long distance relationships

They’re hard, emotionally draining and difficult to sustain over long periods. Research, readings and papers are all a part of the grad school experience. But, too often, so are the challenges that come with long-distance relationships.

By maintaining open communication with your partner, balancing work and romance and prioritizing time for love, however, you can sustain even a long distance relationship through the challenges of grad school.


This post was originally published at TalentEgg on 1 December 2010.

 

Love among the Books: Relationships in Academia

April, 2010 · By Justin Bengry

We might only learn the practical elements of survival at grad school by, well, surviving grad school. Some of the most important handy hints and warnings never make it into orientation materials and grad handbooks: Research trips can be lonely – you might gain weight. Conferences can be dull – it’s ok to skip panels. And no one tells you that grad school can make relationships hard, really hard.

Relationships often involve long distances. But, if you find yourself in a successful relationship of any length during grad school, it is almost inevitable that you will be separated from your partner for a lengthy period. Research trips sometimes involve months abroad and fellowships might require solo relocation of up to a year or more. And unless you land a job in a convenient location immediately upon graduation, the reality of term positions and adjunct work, not to mention the current job market, means that you might have to move to places you never expected to see let alone live. And on the job market, balancing career opportunity with relationship priorities can continue to be challenging.

This is where I have found myself, in a fulfilling and committed relationship, but one which emerged toward the end of a research trip. I was able to spend two years in the UK with my partner, but with the knowledge I’d have to leave. I’ve returned again after completing my PhD, but am faced with going back to Canada in a couple weeks until such time as work or funding make it possible to return. Confronted by the reality that it will get harder before it gets easier, I’ve surveyed friends, and friends of friends, who have successfully made a go of it. What’s the trick to making these long-distance grad school or academic relationships work?

Erin and Shane* met as students in Canada, but went on to different grad schools with Erin relocating to the US. Living in different countries for an extended period, they have always had to prioritize communication. They devote at least one hour every night to online cam chats using skype. And when Shane finished his exams, he was able to spend weeks visiting Erin while writing his own dissertation, something nearly impossible in non-academic long-distance relationships.

Karen and Adam similarly live apart and also emphasize communication. They prioritize spending time with each other as much as possible, and treat trips to visit each other like an investment in their relationship, and not a cost to one partner. So, if Karen is free but can’t afford to fly abroad, Adam chips in to help since they both benefit. They also work each other into research and conference trips, using their careers as opportunities to bring them together more often.

So, while grad school can make many relationships almost impossible, it also opens up a world of possibilities available only to a lucky few. As junior scholars we are poor, but travel a lot, and can potentially bring our partners. We can take random days off to enjoy a sunny Tuesday afternoon in April together simply by working on Saturday instead. We have built-in summers and extended Christmas and Spring breaks, all of which give us time to enjoy with our partners. I’m learning from these surveys and friends that even though I’m returning to Canada in a few weeks, with no definite plans to return to my partner in the UK until work or funding permits, there are ways to make it continue to work.

* All names are altered.


This blog was originally published at History Compass Exchanges on
8 April 2010.