Coming into a new university can be intimidating, however some students face more challenges making friends than others. While undergraduates often find themselves in frequent contact with other students—in classes and in residence—graduate students sometimes have limited opportunities to socialize due to the high level of independence in their studies.
Recognizing this problem the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) has taken it upon themselves to facilitate friendship through an event called ‘speed-friending.’
It follows the same format as speed dating. Participants go one by one, meeting each attendee of the event through short ‘dates’ to identify people with similar interests. Afterwards, attendees can let their new friendships blossom while playing board games like Settlers of Catan, Apples to Apples, and Mousetrap.
According to Elizabeth Cawley, PGSS member services officer, the idea for ‘speed-friending’ came about last year as the result of a survey by PGSS’s Health and Wellness committee. When attendees at one of their events were asked questions like “Do you feel isolated?” and “Do you feel alone in your graduate experience?” 25 per cent of the people who responded said ‘yes.’
“There are lots of issues with people not necessarily knowing how to meet people: where to go when they’re in trouble, how to find information, how to be integrated into the McGill community—it’s a huge problem that we face,” Cawley said.
Cawley attributes the struggle for graduate students to establish relationships in part to the lack of opportunities for them to interact with one another. Graduate students have neither an orientation analogous to Frosh nor consistent chances to meet new people, as they spend most of their time in labs or offices.
“Some weeks you can go without seeing anybody else—even your supervisor,” PGSS Financial Affairs Officer Erik Larson explained, speaking from his personal experience as a grad student. “You might see him once or twice in the hallway without even seeing the outside world. Especially in the winter, it can get depressing sometimes.”
Cawley highlighted the poignancy of this issue for students who are on placement at one of the hospitals, like the Douglas Institute or the Montreal General Hospital, and who choose to live near their workplace for convenience.
“You don’t even feel like you’re a part of McGill,” she said. “You’re far, it’s not downtown, and it’s even harder to run into people.”
Additionally, PGSS members are at very different stages in their lives: a masters student in his or her early twenties may be more interested in partying, whereas a post-doctorate fellow may have a family to go home to after their work day is done.
Cawley said that Internal Affairs Officer Michael Krause has been trying to diversify their events in order to better serve the needs of the community. Just this past month, PGSS has hosted a diverse range of events, including apple picking, a Halloween party, and trivia nights.
Larson mentioned that another way to bring students together is through departmental groups, which were instrumental in his own experience. Individual departments set up events to help foster a sense of community.
“I met some people on my first day here and then once you start building on a small group […] it just snow balled,” he said.
Whether it’s through academic interests, or through speed friending, Larson and Cawley agree that becoming engaged in the McGill student body can provide students with a unique support network that cannot necessarily be attained elsewhere.
“It’s super important to have a McGill community because there’s something about the McGill experience that I find is completely different. I know students at other universities [.…] They can relate, but […] you need that sort of commonality,” Cawley said.
The ultimate aim of speed-friending is to help get past the initial hurtle of creating these fundamental bonds.
The first event last year had an impressive turn out, with people hanging around playing games all night.
“To have 40 people come to an event like that was super shocking,” Cawley said. “It’s just the simplest idea, but people want the opportunity to meet other people.”
Due to last year’s success, PGSS is bringing back speed-friending this semester. Looking for some more grad student friends? Head to Thomson House basement at 7 p.m. on Nov. 21.