It’s finally happened.
You’ve thrown your bejeweled graduation cap into the air, taken a thousand pictures with your parents and fellow now-alumni, and partied like there’s no tomorrow (while still managing to keep it together in front of your grandparents).
You’ve officially graduated.
But, are you ready for what comes next?
Yes, there’s the job search or applying to graduate school to worry about, but have you thought about other parts of your life that are going to change? The choices you make after college are going to affect your relationships. Intense programs like med school and law school will change the dynamic you have with your significant other. As will certain jobs.
We took a moment to speak with Katherine Braden about how she’s coping with dating a med student after college—and how those lessons apply to anyone with a significant other who’s going through some significant education.
Katherine graduated from the University of San Diego in May 2012 and majored in Psychology with a minor in Sociology.
She is currently working at a fine dining restaurant in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Though she is working full-time, she made the decision to enjoy “the spoils of Hawai’i,” attempt to learn to cook, and travel as much as possible (to the neighbor islands, Bali, and San Francisco, to name a few places) during her first couple of years out of college.
Now, as her boyfriend embarks on his first year of medical school, she is taking the next step in furthering her education. Together they’re figuring out how to survive the conflicting schedules, crazy workloads, and future career decisions.
Here are Katherine’s tips for dealing with a significant other in a rigorous graduate program.
1. Designate a Time for Each Other
Katherine admits that this first year with adjusting to her boyfriend being a med student has been challenging. She works evenings and he is often asleep by the time she gets home and then already at school when she wakes up.
“We’re basically ships passing in the night,” she says, “sometimes I think if we didn’t live together that we would never see each other. But we make it work.”
She is so thankful that there was an orientation seminar for new students entering into John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). Senior medical students shared experiences and advice about how to keep healthy and strong relationships as/with a med student.
Some of the best advice they gave to incoming med students was to pick a duration of time during the week that you devote to each other. During this designated time, you’re encouraged to put everything on pause and not get distracted by all of the things you have to do (if only for a few hours). This goes for both parties (or family members).
“Saturday mornings and evenings are our time. We typically make a big breakfast, go to the beach or on a hike, and reconvene in the evening to cook dinner and watch a movie.”
That time together allows you both to recharge after your busy and largely independent workweeks. It also helps with being realistic about the heavy workload of the average med/law/grad student and supportive and understanding of that, as opposed to resentful of it.
2. Avoid “Glorifying the Doctor” (or Lawyer, or Whatever!)
Katherine is careful to warn that there can often be a tendency to “glorify the doctor” as a result of the arduous training the profession requires, the importance of their role in the community, as well as their salaries.
She couldn’t be more proud of Shaun, but totally sees how his career choice could potentially overshadow her own.
Her advice to combat this is to never let yourself believe that just because your partner is pursuing a career as an MD that you and your career are in some way of lesser value. This is the same even if your partner is going to law school or any other type of graduate school.
“Lucky for me I have a boyfriend who believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself, pushes me to do my very best, and is proud of me no matter what I pursue as long as I’m happy.”
3. Pursue Your Own Career While Being Supportive of Your Significant Other
But, that being said, Katherine recommends that if you don’t have any strong feelings about what career you’d like to have, you may want to consider a career with more flexibility. Though this shouldn’t inhibit anyone’s passion or career aspirations, it is something to think about.
Like many recent graduates, Katherine felt pretty blindsided after she graduated. During school she had been so focused on her academics that she had inadvertently missed the bigger picture—life after college.
“When I realized that I didn’t necessarily want to become a psychologist, that sense of uncertainty really chewed me up.”
She knew that she wanted a job that would allow her to work toward alleviating social inequalities, but wasn’t sure exactly how. Then, one of Shaun’s classmates at JABSOM told Katherine about the Masters of Public Health program at the University of Hawai’i. This program had a concentration in Social and Behavioral Health Sciences which really appealed to her.
“After doing my research on the program, I got to work studying for the GRE, requesting letters of recommendation, ordering transcripts, and working on my statement of objectives in order to apply.”
Katherine applied and has just been accepted into the MPH program. Starting this fall, she will be working toward her Master’s degree full-time. Though she is not sure what kind of job she will want post-graduation, she is confident that the diversity of careers offered in the field will allow her to find a career path that aligns well with her interests. She’s also happy with the amount of flexibility the field she’s chosen offers.
“Based on what I’ve decided to pursue, if we had to move to say, North Dakota in three years for Shaun’s residency, that wouldn’t necessarily restrict my career. Not to say that if I had my heart set on a career with a more rigid course (like becoming a psychologist, which would entail getting into a highly competitive PhD program, five to seven years of rigorous academics, and a practicum much like a residency) that I wouldn’t have pursued it because of Shaun’s career choice. Rather, I found myself in a situation where I simply didn’t know what to pursue and my ability to move with Shaun became a factor I considered.”
Having a significant other in a rigorous academic program or being in a relationship where both partners are pursuing strenuous academic/business pursuits can really put pressure on that relationship. It’s important to be prepared for the life changes that come along with these programs.
There’s no guidebook for life after college. It’s up to us to figure out what we want, where we want to be, and who we want to share it all with. This means learning to take each day as it comes, dealing with the challenges along the way, and figuring out how to piece it all together.
Homework time! Are you or your significant other preparing for a rigorous academic or professional pursuit? See if your/their school offers orientation like the one Katherine described (this is pretty common for many rigorous programs like med school, MBAs, etc.). Take Katherine’s advice and set aside a specific time to spend with each other every week.
Also, if you’re anything like Katherine and feel blindsided after graduation remember to Explore your options on AfterCollege. You don’t have to become a Psychologist just because you got your degree in Psychology (this goes for any major). For example, just check out the all the different career paths there are for English Majors.