Four tips for dating during your PhD

The risk-taking and coping with rejection needed to find love are very similar to the skills that PhDs will also find useful in their job hunt, says Alfredo Cumerma

August 4, 2018
Books arranged on table in shape of heart
Source: Getty

The peculiar life situation of PhD candidates may not seem to lend itself to successful dating. On average, we are 33 years old at graduation and earning $9,000 (almost £7,000) less than the average for our age bracket. We probably don’t own a home, and we possibly don’t own a car. In reality, we have more in common with undergraduates than with professionals in the “real world,” but we are too old for the former. What suitor would take us seriously?

The risks that we take in finding love can, believe it or not, be good practice for our future careers as we discover that a tenure-track position is unfeasible or we are forced out of our comfort zones at key network opportunities. So, here are four tips for making your search for love more creative during your PhD.

1. Tap the cafes

One of the first things I tell my students about learning Spanish is that it requires a complete abandonment of social inhibition – being unafraid of making mistakes, and, in fact, actively looking to make them so you can learn.

As clichéd as the image of the coffeehouse intellectual may be, we PhDs are, in essence, paid to read. So the next time you’re deep into Slavoj Žižek, take a moment to ask the person next to you what they are working on. Chances are that they, too, are seeking an escape from emails or spreadsheets – or worse, Friedrich Nietzsche. Aside from chatting for love, you tend to make new friends as well.

2. End library loneliness

This is my campaign slogan for running for a deanship.

You should know that 15 per cent of US couples meet in the workplace, second only to introductions through friends, at 39 per cent. The rest of the list includes bars, religious functions and sports clubs. Dating apps are at the bottom.

Furthermore, according to a Vault romance survey, 29 per cent of couples who meet in the workplace end up in serious long-term relationships, with two-thirds of respondents adding that they would repeat the experience if the opportunity arose. These results have been confirmed in the UK and in France, too.

Libraries are the workspaces of academics, so don’t be shy the next time you’re checking out a book or speaking to the librarian. Sit among other students in the posh study lounges. That’s what they’re there for.

3. The Professional

Here I don’t mean the 1994 flick about a hitman who teaches a 12-year-old girl his trade. I mean professional conferences.

One of the advantages of “looking” while at conferences is that your efforts can have a double effect. On the one hand, they could pay off romantically. On the other, they are good practice for networking. Many studies have established that charm and physical appearance in job interviews have a strong influence on hiring managers.

In addition, reports show that couples who meet in workplace settings are more likely to marry than those who meet through friends. Especially at conferences on the “alt-ac” or “post-ac” tracks, where the politics of the professoriate are less acute, it can be easy to strike up conversations. The French psychologist Loïck Roche finds that because the workplace is a challenging environment where colleagues share emotional triumphs and defeats, it is favourable for developing close relationships.

Start passing out those business cards.

4. Meetup.com

This is not a formal dating site, but it is a great place for PhDs to make connections with potential partners outside academia. There is a plethora of themed groups on this site – from hiking groups to cigar clubs – that you can filter by interest. This means that the people you meet are likely to enjoy the same activities as you, along with lessened expectations of any romantic advance. This is a definitive asset because that PhD you will eventually hold will appeal to only a small portion of potential partners, according to the dating service Coffee Meets Bagel.

Ultimately, love during the PhD is about people skills. The same skills that you will need when that tenure-track job stands you up. It takes practice in awkward situations, creativity and patience. The failures you will face while finding that significant other will prepare you for the many rejections to come by employers. And eventually, like most things in life, you’ll score a hit.

Alfredo Cumerma is a Gilman research fellow at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches Spanish language and conducts research on Latin American culture and US foreign policy.

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