Grad School 102: Maintaining Relationships in the Digital Age

With the holidays coming up and the New Year approaching, it is likely many of us will be seeing loved ones very soon. But how do you stay in contact until then?

Luckily, we live in an age that makes instantaneous communication easier than ever. This became incredibly important for me personally after starting grad school this fall. I moved to Ann Arbor knowing absolutely no one. No family in the area, no friends going to the same school(or even in the same state), and no one living with me for the first time ever! I’d always had at least one roommate, so living alone in a new town has been a big adjustment for me. I started to utilize to its fullest extent the array of communication methods available to me to keep up the people in my life.

Now, when I say maintaining relationships. I don’t just mean romantic ones. Keeping up with family, friends, former classmates and coworkers, is equally important. So, I’m going to list here some of the different technologies I use to keep in contact, and give some short pros and cons of each. All of these methods are great, and help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation in a new place. The best one is really up to you and your personal needs, but here are my top 3:

  1. Facebook.

This one should be obvious. It seems anymore you have to have a Facebook profile to acknowledge that you live in the 21st century. But even though some users are starting to pull away from this social media (don’t want Grandma seeing pictures from that house party, now do we), it offers a lot of ways to keep up with people from your closest friends to people from high school you forgot you knew.

Favorite features: Group chat-great for groups of friends to communicate collectively without all your online friends knowing your business; the “like” button- easiest way to acknowledge you still care about someone, but are also in grad school and have about 12 papers to write.

102 FB image

Drawbacks: Somehow you end up here late at night, scrolling down your newsfeed, wondering why you too don’t have a new puppy like Theresa from high school who you had gym class with and she ended up with Jimmy Smith! I didn’t even know they dated I have to go back and see when this all started….

2. Snapchat

Contrary to what the evening news wants you to believe, this can be used for something other than sending sexually explicit images. 1 to 10 seconds of picture or video isn’t a lot, but it can give you a visual of someone who lives thousands of miles away, and make them feel much closer. Also more feasible to use if your internet connection isn’t strong enough for live video chatting..

Favorite features: Replay, because I can’t read text on images in 6 seconds; Filters-fun little add ons that make a picture a little more colorful.

Drawbacks: Not great for long conversations or communication of great substance. Suited more for a quick hello and look at how cute my dog is. Snapchat-4307106512813496554

But really, look at how cute my dogs are.

3. Skype

This is maybe one of my favorite inventions, and an essential for grad school in my opinion. It’s great if you want to talk to someone for a longer period of time and want to see their facial expressions while talking to them. I’ve used this for friends, significant others, and even my Grandma, who wanted to see what my apartment looked like.

Favorite features: The combination of audio and visual that you just can’t achieve with a conventional telephone setup. Looking at someone you’re having a conversation with makes it feel much more personal and natural.

Drawbacks: If your internet is spotty, forget about it. A strong connection is a must if you want to have any sort of comprehensible conversation.


Those are just some of the many options out there. Talking on the phone is still a great way to keep in touch. I call my parents about twice a week just to catch up. texting is also great, but both of these can be limited by phone plans. Email is fine too, since as grad students we are almost always on it anyway. In fact, my Dad emailed me to wish me a Happy Birthday this year.

While nothing can beat going home for the holidays and hugging someone you haven’t seen in months or years, using technology can really lessen the pain of their absence and give you that little boost you need to finish that paper or make it through the week.

Happy Holidays!

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