Making Friends in the Faculty Sandbox

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The transition from grad student to faculty was a cognitive shift for me.  I still live with a grad student, I have friends who are grad students, but I found myself creating professional distance from some of them (besides PIC). My shift from student to faculty has recently started to take shape and I’ve had the good fortune of coming into some excellent faculty company.  I have been a regular at a yoga studio now for almost three years.  I go at least once a week for the workout, the improved flexibility, the meditation, the silence, and now the great women with whom I’ve started to build relationships with. Just like any new situation, I was tentative and quiet, going to yoga for the health benefits, but after a while you start to chat with folks and strike up conversations.  Being asked to brunch after yoga one Sunday was a pleasant surprise that led to a dinner party and other social activities.

The biggest difference between these ladies and grad students is that the LAST thing we discuss is work. It’s great!  These women are smart, articulate, intelligent, and don’t have anything to prove.  The feeling of camaraderie is very pleasant and I’m thankful to finally have the opportunity to get to know these women.  We range in ages from a late 40’s full professor to me, the early 30’s just starting out faculty member.  The women in between are late 30’s to early 40’s and it’s a nice mix of women.  With different ages, different stages in our careers, and different home and personal lives, we have found some ties that bind us.

  • We are the ‘bread winners’ in our houses.  In all of our situations where there is a partner involved, all of the men are successful and happy in their careers, but it’s the women who are the dominant financial earners.
  • We see the inequalities of women in the workplace.  No, we do not gather over a cauldron boiling over an open fire to form spells for men, but we do share insights and compare stories on being a female in the professional world.  Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to chat without fear.
  • We hardly talk about work.  This might be my #1 reason why I enjoy these women.  They are more than their research and teaching.  It’s great.  It’s nice to be around people who aren’t trying to prove themselves all of the time, which is what I found in grad school.  I hated it too. When we do discuss work, it’s minimal or it’s full of humor.
  • These women are intelligent, dynamic, and generally fantastic.  All different personalities, all different stages of life, but we never run out of things to discuss.  Perhaps it’s because we have similar situations with different shades of grey.  I don’t know the real reason, but it’s so refreshing.  I am really enjoying it. I think I have said this once already.
  • We can just be. We don’t have to explain every nuance or define every term, we all speak the same ‘language’ because we’re all in similar professional and home situations.  There’s no judgment, but a general understanding of one another. Kindred spirits?  I don’t know.

We all feel similar pressures and share similar stories and while our conversations are usually full of laughter and good humor, the vibe among the group is legit and humbling.  We do discuss the big question: Can women have it all? I know the article in The Atlantic spurred quite a bit of conversation and HBR ran a blog post about women having to choose between career, family, and spouse–something always gets left behind. In our situations, everyone is different and each personal relationship they have is different.

No matter what happens tomorrow, next week, next month or next year, it’s nice to have some other female faculty to share some laughs with, share stories with, and NOT talk about work.  It’s genuine friendship that isn’t easy to come by and each week (or as regularly as we can) we find an hour to discuss everything else but work. As a new faculty, it’s important to build positive relationships with people you don’t live with, don’t work with, and perhaps don’t see every day at the office in order to keep your sanity in check.  There will always be those forced social interactions with your partner’s friends, work obligations, and awkward moments in professional life, but it’s nice to put your professional self on a shelf for a few hours, work for the weekend, and be who you really are without judgment.

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3 thoughts on “Making Friends in the Faculty Sandbox

  1. […] that with all of the fender benders come great rewards. Meeting and forming relationships with other faculty outside of ‘school time’ has been fun, mentoring grad students, undergrads, and forming […]

  2. […] smarter, not harder. Carving out time, taking emotional and physical care of yourself, and finding people outside of your discipline that can climb on board “team _____” to be your support […]

  3. […] to your gym, maybe someone who’s always at the same coffee shop. I’ve written about finding friends in the faculty sandbox. It takes time, but it’s worth […]

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