Nicknames and Debates: Friendship and the Grad School Experience
Tammy Theis, history's Communications and Events Coordinator, candidly chats with recent MA grads
Khash Hemmati and Sukhjit Chohan, who recently graduated with master’s degrees in history, don’t appear to have much in common, given their vastly different backgrounds, values and study subject, yet they are the best of friends thanks to their years together in the history MA program.
Sukhjit and Khash both expound on the difficulties they encountered on their history MA journey, including the high expectations for written work, the difficulties of narrowing their thesis focus, and the necessity to spend long hours in archives, sorting through, literally, garbage bags of primary source documents.
“We had each other for support, though, and the support of Ruth (Anderson, the history grad program assistant), who was like our guardian angel,” says Sukhjit. “At first, it felt very isolating, having to sit at a desk for eight hours a day. But that changed.”
Both speak warmly about how “tight” their MA cohort became, and about the support they received from students in cohorts before, and after theirs. They talk about previous student cohorts and how willing the students were to help those joining the program.
“We’d have conversations with other grad students that were frequently quite heated,” Sukhjit says, “but this never got in the way of everyone becoming best friends. In fact, these conversations pushed us out of our comfort zone, and helped us grow, not just academically, but as people.”
Hours-long conversations with professors and other grad students about everything from sports to the current political climate built relationships and fostered personal growth on a level neither could have imagined.
“I would sit with Dr. Vinkovetsky and talk for hours," Sukhjit says. "In fact all the professors were happy to sit with you for hours and engage with you intellectually, about anything, really. The personal growth that happened because of these talks we had on the sidelines was huge.”
“Everyone’s door is always open,” Khash interjects. “People are so warm in this department and everyone’s door, faculty and staff, really is always open. They’re always willing to help and support us. You just wouldn’t get this in a bigger school.”
Sukhjit mentions how prepared this made him for the PhD work he’s undertaking at McGill, and Khash says he’s well-prepared for law school.
I asked the two what their journeys were like in the years preceding grad school and interestingly, they told similar stories of interest in other areas, and later finding history.
Khash started in the sciences studying biology and chemistry and Sukhjit studied business.
“It was Paul Sedra’s History 151 that showed me I could study what I loved, what I read in my spare time, and make it my focus,” Khash says. “Also, the way he interacted with students was the opposite of what I’d experienced in the sciences. We talked about current issues that mattered in the greater scheme of things. I didn’t have those conversations with science professors.”
Says Sukhjit “Having politically-charged, critical conversations wasn’t what people in business did, not to belittle anyone, of course. Historians have a different way of looking at and approaching world politics and world issues.”
I ask if we can return to the topic of friendships.
“You’ll always be my Goose,” Khash says to Sukhjit.
“Why ‘Goose’?” I ask.
“He’s my wingman, like Goose from the movie Top Gun,” Khash explains. “I know he’s got my back.”