Are PhD students Lonely?

University of Kent academic staff reflect on their experience as PhD students.

Guest blog by the Togetherall team.

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If you struggle with school isolation, research shows you are far from alone. In fact, up to 40% of academics cite isolation as a key factor affecting their mental health. The problem is not unique to the United States – it is found all over the world. A British survey showed that 46% of researchers feel lonely at work. Social isolation is particularly common among young scientists – 64% of doctoral students reported experiencing academic isolation. The irony of academic isolation is that networking is seen as a very important part of building a successful research career. Your work will get you recognized, but getting your research in front of the right people is often the key to distinguishing yourself. In addition, it may be more difficult for remote researchers to find collaborations and get involved in career-enhancing projects.

Researchers often do not know where to meet friends. Science is an increasingly competitive field, which can make it harder to expand your social circle at work. If you are suffering from school isolation, consider the following tips.

The more you pursue your hobbies, especially social hobbies like sports, the more likely you are to meet other people.

And the more you do this, the more you will bond with them and begin to bond and befriend. However, this will not happen immediately. You have to show up week after week. It takes time, but eventually, if you show up often enough, you’ll start building the links you need. And since you meet people outside the academic/doctoral circle, your connections welcome the stressful daily life of a graduate student.

If you can, work in cafes or co-working spaces once a week. Not only will this be a welcome break from your PhD feeling, away from your home or office (or your usual workplace), but you’ll also start meeting new people and feeling part of a community. This is especially true if you choose local independent cafes and return week after week.

What if I want to work longer on my project?

Like any part of society, graduate students represent a range of people with different priorities. There will be graduate students who work full time and are not interested in socializing. That’s fine, but it should be an option rather than a requirement.

While I understand that some projects may require long hours, putting yourself through long shifts should not be the norm. If a graduate student doesn’t have time outside of research, I’d personally say they’re doing something wrong. Last but not least, they miss out on other aspects of life as a graduate student!

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