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ASU graduate explores friendship breakups

Photo of Brianna Avalos

Brianna Avalos

May 01, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

What happens when you’re not best friends forever? Why does losing friends hurt so bad? Those are the questions that Brianna Avalos wanted answers to.

While pursuing her PhD at Arizona State University, she focused her dissertation research on the way humans initiate, manage and terminate friendships, and discovered multiple reasons why friendship breakups are so stressful.

In part, friendship dynamics have to do with why two people became friends in the first place. But it also depends on how flexible or fragile a certain friendship may be. 

“Think of friends that you don’t see for a while and once you’re together, it’s like no time has passed. That's because it's flexible,” she said. “But if you stop investing at all in that friendship, it will soon deteriorate.”

Before attending ASU, Avalos graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in communication. This spring, Avalos will earn her PhD from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Avalos has a passion for teaching others about interpersonal communication. This past semester, she taught at Mesa Community College as well as four classes on happiness at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. After graduating, Avalos hopes to continue teaching students interested in interpersonal communication.

As a community college baby, I know the importance of support and understanding in those early years of undergraduate education,” she said. “I’m excited to continue my journey there from the other side of the classroom.”

Question: What do you hope to accomplish in 10 years?

Answer: In the next 10 years, I hope to have an administrative position at a community college. I want to be the department chair but still teach interpersonal courses. I also hope to accomplish writing a book directed towards emerging adults and how we manage our relationships in life. I believe that interpersonal communication skills are not just set for the classroom and should be shared on platforms available to all. 

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: I was so surprised to learn that we could study relationships in school. This was my big “aha” moment because I felt a calling to study something so personal in our lives, yet we all experience it differently.

Q: What's something that you've learned during your time at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

A: While at ASU I was surprised with how much freedom I was given by my instructors to focus on what I have a passion for. Their endless support and constant encouragement really pushed me to look at what I’m really passionate about. I’ve heard in graduate school that you’re often pushed into a certain direction of research, but here at ASU, I was able to explore in ways that I thought were enlightening.

Q: Did you encounter any challenges? If so, how have you overcome them?

A: A major challenge was the pandemic. It was difficult to envision my time at ASU while not physically being at ASU. But through these uncertain times, I realized that we all felt this way. So, by finding support from my instructors, I was able to have an open dialogue with my students at ASU and try to figure out how we can overcome this time together. This was a moment where I truly felt supported by my department, and it was even more empowering to share that support with my students.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A: I believe that education is the best investment that we can make for ourselves. I know that school can feel redundant, difficult and stressful but these challenges make us stronger. We are able to push ourselves, and truly witness our potential. Believe in yourself and find like-minded individuals that share the same goals about themselves.

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