Maintaining Peer Morales in Competitive Programs

I am a fourth-year philosophy student. While it does not appear this way at first glance, I’ve found philosophy to be an extremely competitive program. Because there are (extremely) limited jobs available to philosophy students that are relevant to our field at the completion of our undergrads, almost all students coming into the program come with a certain path to pursue in mind: mostly to pursue law school, or to pursue further studies in philosophy after our initial undergrad degrees. As a student who has spent a long time considering grad schools, and who will actually be applying to grad schools next year and as someone who hopes to attend law school during my post-secondary career, I have competitive tension among a number of my peers. While a sense of competition can be healthy (it can push you to be your best self, and to working harder towards your goals), being constantly in competition with people you spend lots of time with can foster toxic mentalities among peers. While earlier in my university career I often found myself struggling to maintain healthy peer morales, I have since been able to find a healthy balance between supporting my peers while pursuing my own goals. Here are a few guidelines I’ve used to ensure an appropriate balance between positive and healthy relationships among peers working alongside the pressure of getting into your dream grad school program.

  1. 1. DO help each other when needed.

    It is amazing how much we can all learn from each other, whether that be by sharing notes and clarifying concepts in class, or to help each other see a point of view they may not have seen otherwise.

  2. 2. DO encourage each other to do well.

    Learn what your peers are interested in and what their goals are, celebrate any success’s anyone may have, offer to give notes to people who don’t make it to lecture.

  3. 3. DO find common interests with people in your program.

    This can include chatting about interesting topics from class, encouraging each other to go to talks on subjects relevant to course material, passing along readings or TedTalks you think someone might find particularly interesting, and going to departmental socials.

  4. 4. DON’T talk about your grades.

    This should be a no-brainer, but I have witnessed so many people do this and seen it result in both toxic relations among peers, as well as toxic for individual students who start comparing themselves to others.

  5. 5. DON’T trivialize the goals or stress of others.

    In second year, a girl in my program mentioned to me that she hoped to write the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test), simply because she thought it would be a “fun experience” right after I had expressed stress over my potential test score and getting into my law school of choice. Brushing away the stress of someone else by reducing their pursuits belittles their goals and is a way of implying that you are better than their goals, which is ultimately condescending and not supportive enough.

  6. 6. DO appreciate each other.

    We are in university for such a short period of time, and while it seems like our undergrad goes on forever, we are only going to be surrounded by and growing with a group of intensely driven and bright students for a finite number of days. Make sure you take the time to properly take everything in and enjoy your time as a student.