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Social Capital: Six Degrees of Separation

By: Nicole Willens, Class of 2018

Why should you go to graduate school? Some people would say it is to gain knowledge. Others would claim it is to advance faster in your career. Dr. Nosh Contractor, our guest lecturer for How Interaction Works, claims it is to earn social capital.

There are many different types of capital we use on a daily basis. Financial capital tends to come to mind first as money is used in most exchanges. Knowledge capital is also important as it can dictate your profession. However, social capital may be the most significant as it affects how you can use your financial and knowledge capital. Without any social capital, you may have money and knowledge, but nobody to share it with. Your social capital is determined by the size and structure of your social network. The more people you know and the larger their connections, the more social capital you have.

Human beings are a very interconnected species. In fact, in a world full of seven billion people, we are each only separated on average by six other relationships, or six degrees of separation. This stems from research Stanley Milgram conducted in the 1960s, where he found that it took on average six people to send a letter meant for a specified person to the correct destination, with each link only being able to send it to someone else in their personal network. This small world experiment highlights just how far your social network can take you.

When you think about expanding your own social network, several methods may come to mind. There are interest clubs, where you can meet others that play the same sports as you or have the same hobbies. Professional organizations often host networking events, where you can encounter other associates in your field. Some connections can also be based on proximity, forming at neighborhood block parties or local community centers. There is even the possibility of meeting new people out in public by chance. Yet, none quite compare to growing your network through participation in a graduate program. Graduate school is a unique way to build your social network, as you are constantly interacting with people of diverse backgrounds, but similar interests. This allows you not only to learn immensely from one another, but also to connect often in the future as you each find new, exciting career opportunities. Through the Master of Science in Health Communication program, students are able to converge and connect through class work, student involvement groups and social events.

Although I am still at the beginning of my MSHC journey, I have already built relationships that are invaluable. Whether it is learning about a new industry or hearing a different perspective, my peers in the program have continually enriched my experience. As I continue to look forward and figure out my path in healthcare, I know these individuals and their social networks will help me find my way.