I was a little bit surprised to read this comment thread on the Chronicle of Higher Education, which suggests (among other things) that faculty shouldn't fraternize with grad students. I think this site has a different slant than CHE, so I thought I would bring up the question here. Is there anything wrong with faculty socializing with grad students?

I agree that professors should definitely avoid getting romantically involved with grad students, or getting drunk with them. Moreover, I agree that a heightened sense of boundaries is important.

But is there any reason for a professor, who would otherwise be interested, to decline offers to attend parties thrown by grad students, or to go hiking with them, or to play soccer with them, or to go to bar trivia with them? I've observed this to be common in math departments, and appreciated by faculty and students alike.

  • 5
    I guess this strongly depends on culture on an almost fractal scale. I (a PhD student) agree with most of your observations.
    – gerrit
    Aug 15, 2013 at 18:31
  • 7
    While I cannot speak for all cases, I can say I have a very amiable relationship with my research adviser. He treats me as a colleague rather than a subordinate. He is that way with all of us in the group, and it is noticeably different than the way he treats the general student body. Aug 15, 2013 at 18:38
  • 4
    Even at the undergraduate level, the occasionally we would play board games with some of the professors in the department. In my experience, the best thing a professor can do is treat a student as an equal when he/she is ready to be treated as such. Not only does that make it a more comfortable work place, but also allows for stronger collaborations in the future.
    – Neo
    Aug 15, 2013 at 19:26
  • 28
    this comment thread on the Chronicle of Higher Education — I think you misspelled "comical". If you find yourself in a department that describes graduate students as hoi polloi who need to be kept in their place: Don't walk. Run. Even if you're faculty.
    – JeffE
    Aug 15, 2013 at 20:51
  • 1
    For the most part that article does contain some good advice (especially DON'T VOLUNTEER!). But I agree with others, a little socialization does no harm.
    – Raydot
    Jul 22, 2016 at 16:30

7 Answers 7


I suppose it depends on whether one views grad students as hoi polloi who need to be kept on the other side of a "class boundary" (as the CHE comment put it), or whether one views them as colleagues who just happen to not be as far along on their academic journeys. I prefer to see them as colleagues.

For what it's worth, when I was a grad student my advisor often had us (his research group) over to his house for dinners and drinks, and I'd often play racquetball with one of my dissertation committee members. This made us feel appreciated and made it much more palatable to put in crazy hours when needed to meet a proposal or paper submission deadline. And now, as a tenured faculty member, I take my students out to lunches and dinners and beers and hiking trips (alas, I'm too old for racquetball now). I enjoy getting to know my students as whole individuals, and find that the socialization engenders a sense of community that makes things more pleasant for everyone.

Socializing with students is very different from being "buddies" with them: the relationship between a professor and an advisee is very different than that between friends. But IMHO this is no different than any other professional relationship with any other colleague: there are some things that are fine to share and others that are best left unexplored.

  • 16
    "Socializing with students is very different from being "buddies" with them" is a very good point. I think this is a distinction that makes these arguments much sillier when forgotten. Aug 15, 2013 at 21:06
  • 1
    What about students being buddies with members of faculty who are not their advisors or on their dissertation committee?... and in some universities, untenured faculty may simultaneously be grad students -- can they not have any university buddies?
    – Max
    Aug 15, 2013 at 21:32
  • You are in good company. This very well respected teacher would have students over to his house for dinner exactly for the purpose of getting to know them as people.
    – earthling
    Aug 16, 2013 at 6:15
  • 1
    Exactly. In my field students who have entered full-time research are widely treated as colleagues (and we all know that it is the most senior and able grad students and the postdocs who get most of the work done). There is plenty of socializing across the PhD horizon, it's just that it is work social rather than play social. Aug 17, 2013 at 3:23

In answer to your main question: NO

Depending on the rules of the faculty, there is nothing particularly wrong with academics interacting with grad students, particularly if the boundaries you suggested are adhered to.

I am fortunate enough to see this from the perspective of being a high school teacher and as a grad (PhD) student - in the grad-professor interactions, both parties are adults, professionals in their fields and are largely working together on the project. The supervisors/advisors are not teachers in the traditional sense, but as their role states - advisors (supervisors in Australia) - often as co-authors of mutual papers, effectively a colleague.


Just know the boundary between "socializing" and "fraternizing" and you should be fine. I've seen a few examples where crossing this boundary was rather detrimental to the PhD advising process (though nobody got fired or expelled; it just got very difficult to force the student to meet her obligations and to carry out the required assignments because the student got an idea that she had a right to argue with and to question everything she was told to do). However, I don't think that maintaining some "class hierarchy" makes much sense at the PhD student level or even during extracurricular undergraduate activities like Putnam training, etc. though I'm all for it in the low level undergraduate classes ever since the time I was being kept on teaching nothing higher than engineering calculus for four years in a row, and the idea of introducing some kind of "faculty uniform" like in the military is not altogether alien to my mind.

One thing to remember however is that no matter how friendly you are with your students outside the classroom, when you are lecturing, you are the boss and they are subordinates. The joint soccer game or beer jug yesterday should not become an excuse for not turning in the homework today. If this principle is understood and followed by both parties, I guess that's all "hierarchy at the graduate level" we need.

As to the journal article in question, it was written by an administrator, albeit a clever one. Most advices he gave are excellent but at some places you certainly get the feeling I had some twenty years ago when I was pulled over for speeding by a policeman, asked him what would be the maximal speed they would allow in that state (North Dakota), and got the reply "Sorry son, but all I can tell is that if you go under the posted limit, we won't bother you").


A rather emphatic "No!"

I socialize and have socialized with my advisers and other related professors many times. In fact, its rather encouraged in our department.

We have an informal departmental event almost every week called HBI (Human Beer Interaction - yes, rather cheesy given the HCI focus of our department) where graduate students and faculty in the past have been known to hang out and talk about different things.

Different professors socialize differently. Some professors have movie nights with their lab. Others organize dinners/lunches/pizza making sessions at their houses. Its a great opportunity to meet their better halves and families. Its also really great to go to the major conferences (CHI/CSCW) in our areas and hobnob with the professors there. I found the linked article to be rather out of sync - at least as far as our department of information science is concerned.

Anecdotally, I know that in other departments in our university, there have been co-ed professor-student intramural soccer/softball teams, ice cream sessions, beers, dinners etc.


Answering as a student: No.

My teachers and the students at my institute (Life sciences, for reference) socialize a lot. We have a yearly volleyball tournament in which my teachers participate, have drinks with them sometimes, are allowed to call them by their first name and I had dinner at their house for an article in the school newspaper. You could almost describe the relation between the two groups as informal. This isn't always the case at the other institutes at my university.

My point is that socializing helps a lot with the work ethic and morale. Because we know our teachers and professors better, it's easier to have meetings and productive discussions. We also tend to work together as a team more (where the professor has the lead obviously). We're all adults after all.
An important factor is that we never forget the professional distance between us. They are the professors/teachers and we are students. At the end of the day, the faculty still has the lead and determines what goes down. There's nothing wrong with students and professors getting to know each other a little better but that barrier must be crystal clear.


One of the issues I have encountered is that PhD students and even professors sometimes like to use their positions as a weapon to prey on younger students, especially the females. For this reason, it is better safe than sorry for anyone older than 30 to keep away from the younger students.


There might be a problem here. Now this is somewhat related to what happens in corporate . If the student is a brown -noser then that is ok. He might be doing this(socializing ,which often leads to doing personal favors for adviser) to further his career. But if he is a backstabber ,he might get away with that crap , because he is close to that adviser and adviser completely trusts him.

I have personally seen cases where the grad student would go to an adviser's home ,babysit her kids , do her some personal chores and then speak crap about other students .And since the adviser thought this student was sincere, she would believe in whatever he said sans verification.

It is always better to have a friendly relationship with peers but with an Adviser you should be a friendly acquaintance ,but not a friend . A manager (in this case an adviser or mostly lab supervisor) should always keep his distance from his student.

  • 6
    The problem you describe is not the advisor and the student being too friendly. The problem is the advisor and student both being childish. Don't walk. Run.
    – JeffE
    Aug 16, 2013 at 2:34
  • 4
    It may (and does) happen and one rotten apple often spoils the bushel, but what you described looks more like "favoritism" than "socializing" and can be done without establishing any close personal relationships as well. Anyway, I see no real reason to downvote this post, so I cast my vote back up.
    – fedja
    Aug 16, 2013 at 11:24
  • @fedja No man , most of professors are not good at people management .Most of them are engineers who work in research in corporate in small teams before becoming prof's . So when they become close to one student by what i call "excess" socializing ,they dont want to discipline that guy sometimes , even though his mistake maybe obvious and clear to see. In fact i think most of the Profs must be made to go thru management classes ,so that they can be better at how to deal with students.
    – james234
    Aug 16, 2013 at 13:48
  • 5
    Do you really think a distant, purely professional relationship would prevent back-stabbing? Really? (Also, almost none of the engineering profs I know "worked in research in corporate in small teams before becoming profs", and the few that did generally have excellent people skills.)
    – JeffE
    Aug 16, 2013 at 15:01
  • 4
    ''most of professors are not good at people management". You may have a point here. I only wish to know a noun to plug into "Most of ..... are good at people management" to make it a true statement. As to "most of them are engineers...", that is plain false unless you talk about very particular departments at very particular schools, etc.
    – fedja
    Aug 16, 2013 at 20:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .