Advice for Awkward People: On Nosy Relatives

Hey Ruth,
So Thanksgiving Break is coming up (and after that winter break!) which means holidays, holidays, and more holidays. I can’t explain to you how excited I am for even one home cooked meal, and now I’ve got course after course of delicious holiday food coming my way.

I’m so hype to chow down and chill out, but I’m a little anxious about having to see my relatives. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, and I’m super excited to get to see them since it’s been so long, but every time I do they ask me what I’m doing at school and I. Don’t. Know. What. To. Say. It’s easy to assume that everyone here knows what I mean when I say I’m in 112 but no one in my family understands the nuance! “How’s school” is up there on my list of impossible questions with “are you dating anyone” when I’m not and “what are your plans for the future” when I don’t have any.

Too Many Inquiries

Dear TMI,
I am notorious among my friends for having an impossible to explain major. When I first started here I was the absolute worst at explaining what I was doing — thanks a lot, orientation week —
but over the years I’ve picked up a few tricks to explain what you do at CMU to people who have no idea.

Basically, you want an elevator pitch. Sit down for roughly 20 minutes (maybe on the trip home) and figure out the best way to explain what you do in layman’s terms. Eliminate that jargon. It doesn’t have to cover every single niche aspect of your thing — and honestly, probably shouldn’t — but the more complete an explanation is, the sooner you won’t have to talk about it anymore. Add some examples of projects you’ve worked on, even if technically they were for a class, and you should be mostly set.

If you know that someone in your family has a more in-depth understanding of your field than other members, I’d also recommend preparing a variation on your basic spiel for them. Though, if you mostly know what you’re talking about you should be fine in winging it for someone else who knows what you’re talking about.

Still, it’s good practice for that 30-second pitch every single career guidance person ever says you should have. (You should probably have one of those. At least by graduation.)

Basically, pick the thing you’re most excited about and interested in, because you’ll be less annoyed when repeatedly talking about it, and try to resist the urge to answer “how’s school” with “terrible and full of tears.” No one wants to hear that.

As for those other impossible questions? “Nope!” and a change of subject should be an acceptable answer to “are you dating anyone?” If it’s not, pick “Nope! I’m enjoying hanging out with my friends” or “Nope! Everyone on campus is disgusting and obsessed with these stupid stones” depending on how you’re feeling.

The future plans answer changes depending on how close you are to graduation, but pick a point on the sliding scale between “I want to see where my program leads me” to “I want to see who will pay me enough to eat.” Or maybe “I’m thinking of applying to these places that people have heard of and we’ll see when I start getting responses.”

Good luck,

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