An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Grad Life: Nurturing Grad-level Friendships

  • Fatima Husain, Science Writing

I never dreamed I’d make it into MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing. As I waited for my decision letter, I began to think about what I would do if I didn’t make it in. I drew from my hobby: gardening. If I didn’t make it, I’d plant the most luxurious, vibrant, show-stopping garden within my means. It’s good to have odd goals in life, sometimes. Right?

Fatima Husain is a graduate student in the science writing department.

When I got in, those plans for the garden shriveled up. But my desire to cultivate didn’t end—it only grew.

I decided to embark on a similarly odd journey the summer before graduate school began. I’d germinate an avocado seed—just to see if I could do it.

To germinate an avocado seed, you have to gather some odd tools: wooden toothpicks and a clear glass custard holder with a top just wide enough to fit an avocado seed.  Find the top of your cleaned seed and push the three toothpicks into the seed gently at points equidistant from each other, about a third-of-the-way down from the top. Gently lower the avocado seed into the custard holder so that the toothpicks hold up the seed against the edges of the custard holder. Then, add water into your custard holder until about half of the bottom of the seed is covered.

Then wait. Adjust the position of the seed, add water, nurture. Repeat.

The seed took six weeks to sprout. I had done it. I was ready to start graduate school. And when I got to MIT, I realized that there was something quite similar between the processes of sprouting avocado seeds and making friends in graduate school. For the avocado seed—it wasn’t a normal process: I didn’t just throw it in a hole in the ground like you can do with most other seeds. At MIT, you can’t expect to make friends the same way you did in high school or even undergraduate: at this point, most people have their own lives, relatively defined ambitions, and, further, aren’t in the classroom with you every day.  

Graduate student friendships are like avocado seeds—they require a bit more effort before they take root. Nurturing friendships with graduate students, especially outside of your department (which I highly recommend), takes a bit of, engineering. But, unlike germinating avocado seeds, there is no three-step plan. It’s multi-faceted, and it begins at graduate orientation (for which the Graduate Student Council does a rocking job, by the way). Introduce yourself, meet strangers—take note of where they’re from, what they’re studying, and grab their contact information one way or another. Find a way to meet again with them outside of orientation activities, perhaps in a small group with only two or three other first-years, too. Small group meetups and activities allow you to bond and get to know someone better. Keep repeating this process with different groups of people—again, especially with people outside of your department to gain diverse perspectives on life, the pursuit of education, and science.  When you’re not in the lab, in class, or practicing totally crucial self-care, you should be out meeting new friends!

Eventually, true friendships will take root. Six weeks into my time at MIT, I was exhausted from classwork and writing, but also from meeting up with new friends in every free moment. But it was so worth it—it worked. I felt like I had a solid group of friends from a whole range of departments and backgrounds with whom I could study, go to the Muddy, or check out all the cool events around Boston and Cambridge. The anxieties I had about making friends disappeared. Six months in, I knew I’d made some true friendships—ones that I would miss after graduation.

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