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BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

The Socioenvironmental Challenges of Grad School: How to Successfully Uproot, Replant, and Nourish Yourself for Optimal Growth

Author: Anne-Marie Di Passa

For many of us, graduate school required us to pack up our things, leave familiar confines, and take a leap of faith in moving to a new city. For some of us, this may be an exciting new journey. For others— daunting. Where once we had embedded roots and strong social ties, we now find ourselves a brand-new seedling in unknown territory. How do we reestablish ourselves and adapt to all of life’s changes so that we can feel stable again? How can we form new ties so that we feel grounded in our new environment?

I had the opportunity to speak with two second-year MiNDS students, Brandon Florek and Anna Froude, both of whom moved to Hamilton for grad school just over a year ago.

For Brandon, the challenging transition from living with others to living alone was a call to independence. “During undergrad, I lived away from home for all four years. I didn't live alone— I had roommates and housemates. So, at least I had experience living away from home, but I didn't have experience living solo. In terms of some hard lessons and whatnot, I think it was more so just having your own bills to account for and having a lot more to do. Shopping. Sorting out transit. How am I getting here? How am I getting there? Those things were a bit easier during undergrad.” Despite these initial challenges, Brandon honed his independence. “In one way,  [it’s] kind of nice that you have your own space. It’s been a good transition overall, but it’s definitely challenging when everything is on you.”

As a brand-new seedling— alone in unfamiliar soil — social challenges are natural. Many grad students experience loneliness, homesickness, isolation, boredom, and a desire for social interaction, following a big move to a new city. “When I first moved here,” Brandon shared, “I didn't know anybody who lived in Hamilton, so that was a challenge. There's definitely some apprehension about starting from square one again in terms of socializing.”


For others like Anna, a natural introvert, branching away from her childhood friends back home in Newfoundland and reaching out to meet people was initially an uncomfortable process. “In the past, I would just stick to my group [of friends] that I've had my whole life since elementary school. I've always been super shy and introverted.”

Despite Anna’s struggle with shyness and introversion, she refused to let this hold her back. “I had to break out of that. I had to put myself out there and go to the hangouts that our cohort would organize.” Now, as a talented member of the McMaster Fencing team, Anna highlights how her initial experiences of being alone pushed her to dive into new athletic opportunities— an adventurous move she would not normally have taken when in the company of her established social circle back home. “I like the McMaster recreation and athletics website! They have different sports, activities, and courses.” By the same token, Brandon encourages others to, “Bite the bullet, just go out to events, and hang out with friends.”

To all the new seedlings of the MiNDS program, the secret to replanting and nourishing yourself is to:

  1. Branch out to your fellow peers 
  2. Not be afraid to embark on a journey of self-exploration

Doing so is essential to feeling reestablished, supported, and grounded in your new environment. 

As the wise Mr. Brandon Florek once said, “You don't make many friends when you're staying at your apartment all day, every day.”

All the illustrations in this article have been created by Anne-Marie!