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.


How To Decide Whether To Stay At Home Or Go Abroad For Grad School

August, 2010 · By Justin Bengry

You might not have gone far from home for your undergraduate studies. Perhaps you only went as far as the nearest major city.

Or, like me, just to your local hometown university.

Is a degree abroad with experts in the field worth the added expense and challenges? Sometimes it is.

But for grad school, it’s almost inevitable that you will have to consider universities away from home. But what if away from home is also away from your home country?

After completing undergraduate studies at home in Alberta, I applied to study abroad for both my master’s and my PhD. A number of factors influenced my decision to remain in Canada for my master’s, but go away to California for my PhD.

Moving to another country for grad school is an enormous change and commitment. How do you decide whether to stay at home or go abroad?

Program of study

Finding the right program, or even just a school that offers your program, can take you to places you never imagined you’d live. The program might only be offered at some institutions, and those universities might be a province away, or even a country away.

Sometimes you have to weigh the strength of a program, and prestige of professors there, in your decision. Is a degree abroad with experts in the field worth the added expense and challenges? Sometimes it is.

I could have completed degrees in history anywhere, but for my doctorate I wanted to work with a world leader in my field. She was based in Santa Barbara, California, so I learned more about the program there and ultimately ended up working with her for five years.

Cost of living

Many countries have very different costs of living than Canada. Sometimes this can be advantageous to Canadians studying abroad, and other times, it can create a more costly situation, making it impossible to study there. Despite being accepted to leading U.K. universities, I was unable to attend because of the prohibitively high cost of living, even after securing funds to cover tuition and fees.

But the cost of living isn’t always consistent. Different cities and regions of countries have widely varying costs of living. I couldn’t afford to study in London, but might have been able to afford other, less expensive cities. And when I went on to do my PhD in Santa Barbara, the cost of rent was astronomical compared to what a friend paid who completed her PhD in North Carolina.

Tuition and fees

It is important to know that tuition and fees are set at different levels for domestic and foreign students. These costs can be as much as double or more for foreign students wanting to study abroad. These extra costs influence the decision to study abroad. But so too can differing funding structures in other countries.

When I applied to study the U.K., I was offered almost no financial support, scholarships, or funding. But when I applied to PhD programs in the United States, my acceptance to the university came with a multi-year funding package that covered my tuition and fees, health care (critical to have when studying abroad!), as well as wages as a teaching assistant. This funding and work package was the deciding factor in being able to complete my education in the U.S.

Going abroad for graduate school could be a great decision, especially if it is made with adequate planning and careful preparation. Never be afraid to contact departments and professors, wherever they are, to ask about the program, the people, and the policies of your potential university.

This post was originally published at TalentEgg on 17 August 2010.


4 reasons to extend your degree

June, 2010 · By Justin Bengry

Sometimes it’s just not the best idea to finish your undergraduate degree in four years. You might need more time.

Whether it’s because you want to take an extra credential or major, do a co-op or work placementtravel or study abroad, or you just need to slow down the pace, extending the length of your degree is a serious but viable option.

It can even make your degree stronger if you plan it effectively and use the opportunity to your advantage.

Here are four reasons you might want to extend your degree, and how you can use them to position yourself better after that degree is done.

Extra major

Completing a double major or adding a credential to your degree can make you more appealing on the job market. If you like languages, you may be able to combine it with business studies for a degree tailored to international business. If you like music, history or sociology, combining these with an education degree opens doors to be a music or social studies teacher.

Double majors and extra credentials show employers and grad schools that you are driven and motivated. And pragmatic combinations position you well for competitive fields.

Co-ops, internships and volunteering

Many of us finish our degrees with the classic problem: lots of education but no experience. But how do you get experience in the first place? You get it during your education as a part of your degree!

Co-opsinternships and volunteering are becoming an increasingly valuable addition to many undergraduate degrees. Some offer you the opportunity to earn while you learn, but each helps build contacts and network in your chosen career. Or you can just use them to give a career option you may be interested in a trial run.

If you choose this path, by the time you finish, you’ll already have practical skills, a stronger resumé and important references.


Taking time to travel is one of the most valuable experiences in life. Extensive experiences abroad show employers you are adaptable, pro-active and confident. But travel is often expensive and time consuming.

Study abroad programs and international internships offer another chance to live in another country, experience another culture, and gain a sensitivity to international issues and global concerns. They may last the summer, a semester or an entire year abroad. Some even allow you to count courses toward your degree.

But if you continue to take courses while living abroad, they may not all transfer back to your home institution. Always plan foreign study with an academic advisor.

Personal reasons

The transition to university can be a difficult one, especially for students studying in a new city or province. And the pace of courses in your program might be more than you expected. It’s OK to slow down. Many of us also have to earn an income while going to school. Undertaking a full course load at the same time might seem like a necessity in order to finish, but it could do real harm if your grades suffer, or if you fail classes. Repeating them only takes more time and money.

Be sure to look into summer courses, which you may be able to use as prerequisites for other classes, or as required elements for your degree.

It is important to plan ahead since extending your degree can be costly and confusing. Some programs require that students follow a set plan, and many courses have prerequisites that aren’t offered every semester. Make sure to weigh the benefits and consequences of remaining longer at university.

Will you be able to pay for that extra year or semester? Do you want added student loans? Sometimes the answer is yes, but before making any decision,discuss your goals and options with a counsellor or your department advisor.

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