Feeling isolated


Hello all!

I'm in the 2nd year of my PhD and I'm feeling really isolated. I have attended a few lectures/seminars here and there, but have found that I can't relate to any of the PhD students in my department. I haven't found anyone that I feel a connection with, and I think this lack of congeniality has really taken its toll on me. I'm feeling quite disappointed with the whole PhD experience. I guess I imagined that I would find at least one person that I could relate to, but that hasn't happened. Has anyone else gone through this, this feeling that you really are on your own and there's no one there who sparks you? I feel like one day after another is just passing by, and the more time that passes, the more estranged I feel. I end up spending most of my time alone, which doesn't bother me because I enjoy being alone, but I just wish that there was someone around who I felt a bond with. I think it would make the whole experience more bearable.
Thanks for listening!


I think that research is lonely. So many people are parnoid you're going to "steal their ideas" and get more recognition, be a better academic and show them up, etc that they forget we're all in the same boat and probably feeling just as insecure as the next person. Plus everyone always has so much to do!
I am the only person in my department working on my topic, which isn't even related to what my department does. In fact, what I'm working on has no bearing at all on what anyone in my institute actually does, so (like you) I spend an awful lot of time by my lonesome wishing I could have a brainstoming session with someone/anyone! While it means sometimes I feel stuck in a rut, it does give me the freedom to take my topic wherever I wish and not be dictated by a senior.
As to the social side and connecting to someone, I think academics, and that includes us mere PhDs, are innately self absorbed. How about joining the end-of-week pub trip? Academics become "real" people outside of work and you can forge some great friendships.


I felt like that for years during my PhD - I was the odd one out amongst everyone doing PhDs at my college, the only theory person amongst lots of practice-based artists. I didn't have a clue what they were talking about most of the time and felt I had very little in common with them. Instead, I used to spend a lot of time with a group of staff that generally congregated on odd days in the canteen, as they're always really interesting to talk to and are great for discussing ideas with. Apart from that and my supervisors, I just got on with my own work elsewhere. I would have rated the whole 'PhD experience' in broader terms as pretty dire, but on a personal level, the academic side for me makes up for that, as it's been and still is very stimulating (thank goodness). I did find going to conferences and symposia for my subject useful, as I met odd people, including postgrads from other unis, that I could discuss my general subject in depth with, which I couldn't at my own college. It's a very spread-out network though. It's only been in the past year since our whole dept moved to different premises that I've been talking to 'fellow' students again, as we're all stuck in the same building space. It's the hideousness of the whole writing up/submitting part of the PhD process that we've got in common now, so the actual subject isn't too important any more. Are you still interested in your research topic, apart from the isolation?


I think this is a common experience, and it can be very disheartening. I tried looking for groups outside of the univeristy altogether to join, that had some sort of intellectual focus. I like creative writing ( which has nothing to do with my PhD!) so I found a local writer's group to join that meets weekly. I found the change of focus and change of pace, and a new set of faces altogether refreshing. Can you go to cross-departmental events and see if there might be anyone there with whom you share research interests, or even other interests? I am thinking of trying to start up a book club, that meets once a month, where you discuss the book being read. That "gives" you something in common to start with, and through that might find other links or common interests. Does your university have something like that?

I can very much relate to how you feel, until recently, I was wondering if I was in fact pursuing some kind of odd career path as a hermit, that was only packaged up as doing PhD research. Hang in there, you may yet meet someone that you feel congenial with. Just put yourself in the path of opportunity by doing a few new or different things!


Thanks for the support guys! As I haven't found anyone in my department that I gel with, I have been doing more stuff outside of university. I spend alot of time in the city going to museums and exhibitions. It's actually quite nice to be peripheral to all the politics that goes on in the department! I think I imagined the whole PhD experience to be vibrant and exhilirating, but have actually found that people are cocooned in their pods most of the time, myself included! I actually really enjoy my own company, but I don't want to become completely cut off from the world, and I've noticed that happening. When I feel it starting, I force myself to get out there and meet people to remind myself that there is still a world going on! Thanks for the encouragement.


I tend to feel a bit isolated in my department, as my project is on a different topic from most of the other students in the office that I work in. However I sometimes like being cut out of the group, as most of the time they boast to each other about what work they have done and 'brown nose' our supervisor, jockying for attention.

Have you thought about doing something at the local college? I'm not sure if it is too late to enrol, but it is a great thing to do to meet people outside of the university and forget about PhD work for a few hours. You could go to cooking classes, or learn a new language!

It's a shame you aren't in my department and then I could chat to you! Are you male or female? ;-)


It is very common to feel isolated in grad school. What you can do is talk to your adviser and make a plan about your expected graduation date. Some advisers are mean and don't agree on that. But it is very important to do so, in particular in situations where student is too lonely, because it gives you an assurance that you will be done by a particular time if you work hard.


In second year too and a lone-ranger as well. Probably because am an only foreigner in a group of 4, supervisor a lady too. One may argue I, more than anyone else need to socialise, but that's easier said than done. We talk though even occasionally go out as a group but still that connection you talked about lacks. In my first year, I used to feel guilty but not any more now. I feel their company across the labs even in the silence and they too, I suppose, as no one complains. Disclaimer: The other day I found myself alone in an empty faculty - seems I was the only one who didn't know it was a public holiday so while you are at it, a little effort does no harm but don't beat yourself about it. On that day I at least proved one thing - the company acroos lab walls - that was so conspicously absent. Cheer up!


I'm a part-time student based away from campus and have felt phenomenally isolated throughout my PhD. There's another student I'm in email contact with, and meet occasionally. But they suspended their studies for a long time so we haven't even been going through the same thing for years. We have an online bulletin board system but virtually no-one uses it, despite there being dozens of PhD students in my department (mostly part-time). I focus on completing my PhD, keeping in touch with my supervisor, and going through the required hoops to get there. But it's a very isolated experience.


are there social activities in the department? it helps to talk with other fellow students to see how they are dealing with it.. I am in an engineering lab with projects and teams, so academic bonding is not a big issue.


Draw strength from this forum - the anonymity of it allows people to admit that they feel the same as you.


Yep ill hold my hands up to feeling isolated too! ;-)
Try and join a club or society in the evenings that you can meet people at. Easier said than done i know! But at least then you can keep work and play separate. Im living away from Uni at the moment so its hard to find a connection with people you see maybe only once or twice a month.
Keep smiling!


I work mainly from home and feel very isolated. It's the one big downside to this kind of work. The people in my dept are OK but I don't see them often enough to really make friends, although we have lunch sometimes. In general, academia is a lot less soically active than my previous workplaces. It's a dilemma if you are a very soiciable person but the work you like best is very solitary. I agree it is a big help if you can just find one person you can really gel with. You have to try and make up the lack elsewhere.


I can certainly identify with isolation, it can be depressing and unrelenting. I have gotten myself in all sorts to overcome this, visits to galleries, museums, book readings etc. it certainly helps to have at least one buddy doing a PhD, i used to have one... now however lost.


I completely understand where you are coming from. I didn't connect with any grad students while doing my Masters and now I am doing my PhD from home because I live away from my school. It's really hard some days, but I have found a few ways to make it a bit easier. This forum, for one! Other than that, what I have found is that if you don't have people around you that are doing research similar to your own, you really have to be the one to take initiative and broaden your own interests. Whether it is research related or in extra-curricular activities, being open to learning helps. I've joined up with sports teams, gone to seminars that are not even remotely related to my own research and met some cool people that I do connect with. Most grad students share similar experiences in general regardless of what they are studying. Hope this helps a little. Good luck to you!