From the Science Student Council

Achieving an optimal work-life balance: Dating in graduate school

Some practical tips on romance in graduate school whether you are single, dating, or married.

By David R. Kille

It’s February and that means that love is in the air. Unfortunately, so are pressing deadlines, over-due literature searches, and mid-terms to mark. Finding or keeping a romantic partner during graduate school can often take a back seat to the demands and stressors of pursuing an advanced degree. Fear not, there are some relatively simple ways to earn an A+ in your love life, regardless of whether you are currently single or coupled.

If you’re single: It’s easy to immerse yourself in your studies. What’s more difficult is putting yourself out there to meet the right person. I recommend taking part in a recreational sporting league, available at most universities. In addition to fitting exercise into your schedule, you could be pleasantly surprised by who you’ll meet. If sports are not your forté, there are typically other special-interest clubs at universities. Consider joining one (you might want to choose a club oriented toward graduate students).   

Although you cannot plan love, there are dating situations it may make sense to avoid. If at all possible, try to avoid dating a lab-mate or fellow student in your division with whom you will undoubtedly be spending several hours a week. Although at first blush having your partner by your side day and night may seem appealing, if things don’t work out as planned, remaining productive at school could prove to be a challenge. Even if you do make it as a couple, finding two jobs in the same division may be particularly difficult, especially given the current economic climate. If you do date a fellow psychologist, and you both intend to stay in academia, I recommend trying to either clearly differentiate your research programs, or “teaming up” as a research duo.

If you are in a relationship: If you have a romantic partner and you’re fairly certain that he or she is not going anywhere, itis easy to prioritize your academic goals ahead of your relational goals. Achieving an optimal work-life balance isn’t always easy. We know from research that couples who engage in a novel and arousing activity together can have a positive impact on one’s relationship and alleviate boredom (see Aron, Norman, Aron, et al., 2000). Try to fit in a new leisure activity or sport that you do together, for example rock climbing, playing an exciting video game or even dragon-boat racing. 

Sometimes it’s  difficult to remember that life doesn’t revolve around your graduate career. Be sure to make compromises to accommodate your partner’s schedule. Bear in mind that although your latest set of data might be the most exciting thing you can think of, you’ll need to be able to  talk about topics both inside and outside the realm of your research with your romantic partner.

While there are obviously no hard-and-fast rules for dating, try to fit building your social bonds into your busy schedule. You, and your current or future partner, will be happy you did.  


David Kille is the social psychology representative on the APA Science Student Council. He is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Waterloo. His interests include how self-esteem can impact relationship functioning (e.g., how can those with low self-esteem be encouraged to perceive their relationships in a more positive light) as well as how, when, and why relational goals receive motivational priority.