Feeling like my life is going nowhere


Hi everyone,

So, I'm having a few weeks' holiday at the moment, but I'm feeling really down about everything. I have three years left of my PhD (I'm on a 4-year one, but I MUST submit by Sept 2013). Anyway, by then I'll be nearly 31. Assuming I do at least one post-doc, I'll probably be 33-35. I won't have my own house, am highly unlikely to be in any kind of relationship, and feel like I'm heading toward a life of never owning a house, never really feeling settled anywhere, and generally failing in life. All my peers from university have settled jobs, are married or as good as, are on the property ladder, while I feel like I'm so far behind I'll end up stranded. I was late starting my PhD because I uffered some pretty bad depression and related stuff, which set me back about 4 years, over which time I was only fit to do a 9-5 office job paying peanuts.

The only people I really have are my family, but my parents are getting older, and my sister isn't exactly in the best of health, and besides that, I'm about 250 miles from home, so I only see them pretty rarely - every 2-3 months usually. I have very few friends (probably only two or three people I'd actually call friends), but they have their own busy lives, partners, work etc etc, and I'm certainly not able to talk in depth about my problems to anyone. I go to work, get home, eat my dinner, watch TV, and go to bed, pretty much repeating that every day. I spend the weekends alone too, usually a mixture of working and reading the paper in a coffee shop.

I know this all sounds terribly self-indulgent, but I just thought I'd put it down. I am constantly wondering whether there is any point even going on, if the passage of time serves no purpose other than to get me deeper into this mess.


Hi 4Matt! I'm sorry to hear you are feeling this way, and I'm sure there is nothing much I can really say to make this all better, however, speaking out on here and just getting your feelings out in the open is a big step forward. And you know you have people on the PGF who you can count on to listen and talk to!

I would say this though, you never know where life is going to take you so don't give up! I'm a couple of years younger, but started PhD a bit later too. My friends are ALL doctors and dentists - even those who studied different things at uni have gone on to postgrad study, they mostly have own houses, are married/close to, good jobs and now children! I do have a partner but we're so deep in study that property ladders and weddings still seem far away - and i'm sure due to stress and coffee my ovaries are shrivelling to nothing! :$

However, life has changed dramatically for me in last year or so of PhD, I went from thinking like you that I'd never be settled etc, to finding a new direction for my career to take. I don't know what your area is, but by doing a doctorate, you don't have to stay in research, I always thought I would, and maybe you will too (I used to adore it), but I have now moved into a different but related area, with a more stable environment, where I don't have to worry about short contracts etc.

You are still early in the PhD process, and there is time to join societies and get a network of friends etc around you (there are other threads on this topic in here). Don't give up though Matt, everyones story in life is different. I have spent so long being sad, comparing my life to those around me and wishing I had their settled normal life! Doing a PhD isn't normal, but you don't know what your other friends and family are thinking about how lucky you are in your life! For example, I was moaning to my sister about this a few weeks ago, and she threw it straight back at me! I felt silly for even having thought it.

Just remember you got the PGF to support you and encourage your through this time, and be strong! To do a PhD you have proved yourself and your strength and determination, so just use that in all aspects of life. The 3 years will fly by and life will move on for you.

have some AL hugs >>>> (gift)


Hi 4matt, I certainly understand your predicament as I've been through it a bit myself. I graduated this year and, whilst I have a relatively good job, I don't own a house or have a relationship and I turn 30 in 6 months time. I've moved so much that it generally becomes difficult and I think I've just got used to not settling down. I am lucky to have some good friends, but they are all over, I don't really have any here.

However, a PhD can bring its own rewards. It's tempting to thing of a PhD as a student life extended but it really is a fulltime job. I'm not sure what area you're studying but PhD skills are useful and transferable if you don't want to stay in academia.

LIke AL says, are there any socieities at uni that interest you? When I split up with my ex just before the start of my third year, I was feeling quite low, and took up an evening class at a different Uni. It was a real booster - I met new people and made good friends with one of the girls on the course. It was also fixed time away from my own uni and from home where things were still a bit unstable. It's just good to get out and meet people, even if it is hard to do so.

And yes, this is a great resource. Nothing self indulgent about it all - it's better to get it down than let it bottle up and eat away at you (as I've done way too many times).

Sorry if that sounds a bit rambly, I tend to put things down as they come straight into my head! Happy to chat further to you if you want to send a PM.


Hi 4matt,

I've been where you are, having just these same thoughts (though I was older).

But I echo the sentiment that you never know what's going to happen - not long after I started my Phd, I met someone really great, who was also doing a PhD. There are thousands of people in a uni environment - for friends, 'or more', with so many societies, that there's certainly hope.

The phd may open up all sorts job opportunities, with starting pay of £30k +, so the chance of getting your own place is higher than continuing in dead-end 'peanut' paying jobs

If you're feeling v. down, perhaps the uni. councelling service might be of help? I've found them very useful for me when I've felt the same

Perhaps try to interact more with others in your dept. to ease the isolation. Maybe you could set up / join a research group?

Keep using the forum at least - it's a good system of support

Hope you're feeling less fed-up soon :-)


Keeping going 4matt. As DanB suggested, try and develop a few social activities to do /join and sociable things will grow from that. Easier said than done, but gradual change will happen and you will feel happier.

I can sympathise with some of the way you feel. I am single and live a long way family (not that we would be sociable if closer) and spend a lot of time on my own. I am fortunate enough to have some good friends in the same city as me and I may see them twice a month or so for dinner or something. Most of my friends are in couples or settled with jobs with disposable incomes that I just do not have...so I am somewhat used to spending time alone. Which is okay, but since finishing the phd I find myself jsut wanting to crash in front of the tv rather than make the effort to get up and out (autumnal hibernation!). Last week I had coffee with a friend and that was my sociable thing for the week!! I joined the gym over a month ago as something to do and that helps me feel better. So gradual change and onwards and upwards....


You seem lonely, and you're worried you'll stay that way. I might be over-stepping the line and over-simplifying your difficulties but it seems you're missing a partner - someone to add some excitement to your life, to share your problems with, and, most importantly, someone with whom you can see a settled future.

You're a similar age to me - I didn't do my first degree until my mid-twenties. But I don't feel the way you do. Until I attended uni, I was stuck in a rut. I felt left behind and as though I was a failure. But that all stopped when I discovered what I wanted to do with my life and took steps towards getting there. I suppose the difference between you and me now is that I have a husband and a house - I got both during my undergraduate years. It's important to have a life besides academic ambitions - the two aren't exclusive.

You're doing a PhD, which is a great thing. But it's not everything. Of course you want more for your future. The good news is you're not so far behind at all. You're very young. Life can change very quickly!

I suggest a dating site! Now, I know people can sometimes scoff at those who use these sites, but I know two people getting married in the next year to someone they met through an internet dating site. These are really nice, successful, attractive people and I was really surprised when I discovered how they met their partners. One of them (a very attractive, 28-year-old, home-owning, successful woman) explained that she felt she simply couldn't find a suitable partner in her own little circle, so she gave it a try. She found a wonderful man!

It will certainly shake things up a bit. Think about it :-)


No advice, as I'm feeling it too - 30 next year, been doing this part-time for six years, even supposedly in the last few weeks of writing it doesn't feel like it will ever end. While my friends are married, have their own home, proper jobs, families. I don't even know if I want all of those things, yet not having them makes me feel like a child! Anyway, I suppose what gets me through is thinking that if I don't give up, I'll at least have salvaged something out of the last few years, rather than starting all over again at this age without anything to show for it.

Hope things feel better for you soon.


Hi 4Matt,

I did go through a similar phase except that mine was work induced. I did everything very young - went to uni at 17, completed two Masters by 22, started PhD at 23 and am 25 now and trying to submit in March when I'll just have had my 26th birthday. I got so bogged down my 3 paid jobs and a FT PhD in my first yr, I almost did nothing except work. Then suddenly somehow things fell back into normal space.

I agree with Bleebles that you need people in your life, not necessarily though would I say join a dating site and try to find a partner. Good friends, to hang out with, go for a pint with, chat with, share day to day stuff with - thats what you need. WHy dont you start hanging out a bit with uni folk? Join a class? A hobby group? ITs so tough to start these things and then they pay off.

As for finding a partner - I personally cant ever feel comfortable with getting to start knowing a new person with the parameters of 'dating' set i.e. where both know that its for dating purposes that you've met. I'd rather be friends first, and then see where things go. Takes longer, is punctuated by tons of unreciprocated emotions but good friendships but such is human nature :)

If you are comfortable with the partner search go for it! If not, try joining a group or hobby or class of some sort. Stay out for longer. Dont come home and just be on your own. And remember its always difficult to start off with these things, but eventually you get out of what seems like a bottomless rut right now!


It isn't much comfort I know, but I think a lot of people have been just where you are. Its a funny old world you know, everyone thinks that everyone else is having a better time of things, when in fact most of us are all the same. I started out on what I thought was my goal in life, only to find I was in the worst place ever, and where I had chosen to go, because it was supposed to be the best place- well second best actually, the first place wouldn't have me because I am left handed (they wouldn't get away with that one nowadays would they!)in fact was a stopping off point for a load of girls who were just looking for husband fodder. I had two years of feeling just like you, but then I decided enough was enough and found myself another place. It was the best thing I ever did. Now I'm not suggesting that you should give up, not at all, but what I did was I also found some new interests, and some great new friends developed from there, these things do take a bit of time, and you do have to go for it and join things. I am really quite a shy person, but I've learned to overcome it to the extent that I'm now a chair of one of the local community centre as well as loads of other things.  Unis are a good place for meeting others, and in a week or so there will be a new set of people arriving at uni at all stages. Don't worry about the age bit, I am much older than you and it doesn't bother me! As for not getting your own home etc. my daughter did a similar thing to me and started down the wrong path, but she changed tack and has just moved into her first flat - quite spacious for London and on the key worker scheme, so she only 'owns' 30% at the moment, but its a start - she is around your age, so there is the possibility of getting something.

I think most people have just a few real friends, that's just the way it is, so i don't think you are unusual there. As others have said, this site is good, I would say everyone here will always try to help everyone else whatever the problem.
with best wishes and hugs

Avatar for Eska

Hi 4Matt, sorry you're feeling this way. I think Joyce is right in saying that most people feel this way at some point - other peoples lives look much better from the outside, I'm sure. Also, 2-3 true friends is doing really well many people don't have any, but you're right to want more social contact where you are and I can only second the advice people have given you to join interests groups and meet people that way - maybe they won't be 'true' friends who are around forever, but they will enrich your life at this time.

I get quite down sometimes when I take time off and don't go away. I think maybe our brains are programmed to work over-time and then when we stop and don't have a focus we can go into a downward anaytical spiral; I tend to focus my emotional energy on the PhD when working and then when I stop I have like a catch up period of dealing with a backlogue of crappy emotions and worries.

On the house front, I actually think people like you and me (I rent too - admitedly I'm lucky because I have a very cheap and very nice Housing Association place) are in a really good position. House prices are going to fall dramatically over the next few years, and be at their lowest for decades just as we are ready to buy. I'd rather that than have bought one two years ago and go into negative equity, which some people probably will.


I'm in exactly the same boat that you describe, 31 and just about to submit, but i think you're being pretty negative about the situation. When you finish you'll still be (relatively) young and hopefully the economy will have improved, so it should be easier to get a house etc. I have friends/family who are in the position of having to work a job that they hate, just to pay off their mortgage and/or support their kids and believe me it's no fun. It's a kind of 'grass is always greener' situation; I envy their settled lifestyle, whereas they envy my freedom. Most of the people that I know who have done a PhD in the sciences tend to settle down and have families later in life anyway though, so I wouldn't worry about getting stuck behind. You also don't have to do a postdoc. You could use the PhD to go into a much more stable career, if academia and short-term contracts is not your thing.

As far as the social thing goes, I completely understand where you're coming from. When I first started the PhD I left behind my previous job in a really sociable environment. My new lab was friendly enough, but no-one ever socialised after work and outside of the PhD I became pretty bored and fed up. Some new students started soon afterwards though and things changed for the better. That's one of the best things about being in an academic environment, there's always people coming and going so hopefully you'll end up meeting some decent people soon.

Basically what I'm trying to say is try not to get too down-hearted. Like others have said, try joining clubs or try and get other members of the department to go for coffee breaks or to the pub. Also, don't worry too much that you're not as settled as some of your peers. Not everyone wants to or can be married with kids and a mortgage by the time they're 30.


Right Matt, your fears are real. I'll tell you some anecdotal cases -
Casestudy 1 a friend finished his PhD aged 40 - very depressed after achieving his dream. Apparently I made him feel worse because I was a working/studying/mum with 2 kids and a house. He was single and been in student digs all his adult life. He lost some social /dating skills.
Case study 2 a friend started PhD aged 23 and ran out of money before completion. He decided to find a teaching post in a college which he got on the back of his PhD. But he never told them he intended to chuck his PhD in which he did. He is now a happy lecturer , happily married too.
Casestudy 3 Friend decided his career was going nowhere due to his lack of Doctorate. So he went and did a Part time doctorate.  Meanwhile his marriage fell apart but he did complete his PhD and got some but not much recognition for that. 5 years later he finally got the Head of Dept job he coveted. And he was 45.

Now what I learnt from all three is not to wait till you finish. Be single minded in finishing  your PhD but also look for something to do now - like teaching at college as this gives you valuable experience and you may even want to do that instead or as well as.

And you are 31, lacking in social and dating life: GO GET ONE. Join some clubs ( as a student you get discounts!!) or even charities so you can meet people. Even a dead end job will allow you to pay for a property. It isn't cheap but be very savvy about finance and life. Good Luck.  Let me know how you get on :-)


Hi 4matt

Sorry to hear how you feel. I wanted to say that the one thing I noticed about your post is that you didn't state a goal of your own. You commented about where you see others and where you do not want to be but you didn't comment on where you would like to be. However the more I read it over, I suppose you have inferred what you would like. I think you would like a partner, property or some kind of stability which signifies adulthood. I think you should pick a goal and work towards it, other things have a habit of falling in place along the way.

It sounds like you have lost focus of why you are doing your PhD. Remember what made you undertake it in the first place and maybe ask yourself is the reason still there (however suppressed under the weight of your thoughts). I hope it is and that you find it and it empowers you. If your reason is no longer valid maybe you should not continue. I am in no way playing devils advocate and do not think it is my place to advise you either way. However it is my sincere hope that you realise that you have an option and that it is your decision to make. Instead of offering condolences and asking you to march on. I would like to remind you that you have a choice and that you should

I am writing proposals this evening and on my scheduled round of procrastinating I read your post and felt like I should respond. I do not mean to be cliché but nothing is new (not what a PhD student should say), but I personally find my resolve strengthened by quotes.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes when we ask ourselves if we measure up, we forget that we might be made for bigger/different things.
"I won't have my own house, am highly unlikely to be in any kind of relationship, and feel like I'm heading toward a life of never owning a house, never really feeling settled anywhere, and generally failing in life." A house, a car, some children do not a success make. They make a home owner, a car owner and a father ( I hope you laughed, or at least smirked at that. I thought it was funny). Be successful on your own terms. Be positive, changing your perspective can really change your mood. Write down all the things you are sincerely grateful for and maybe even post them and we can talk about them as well.

Avatar for Eska

======= Date Modified 12 Sep 2010 23:09:17 =======
Yeah, something else I thought, which wisemonkey mentioned is that home ownership - or, more accurately, home renting from a mortgage company and life-long debt - is such an over inflated, over-rated thing in the UK. My Australian and German friends can't believe how much of our sense of worth we in the UK tie up in that. My German friend's parent both rent, they are in their early 60s, they both taught all their lives, and are perfectly happy with their situations. Things need to change in the UK on that score, I think - we need to make renting a more viable option, like it is in the rest of Europe and in Australia. I really like renting my flat, and will probably only leave it and buy for a bigger place so I can foster kids or to re-locate if I can't get a swap. Plus I'd prefer to rent from a good landlord when I'm old rather than have the burden of maintaining a house.

Avatar for Pjlu

Hi Matt,

from the perspective of many of us you are very young still. 30-31 is nothing. I finished my undergrad degree and PG teaching diploma at age 34! Was divorced with three children in state housing and nothing-just some scraps of furniture and a really selfish exhusband who was completely unsupportive. I did have friends but met a married academic at uni, who was supposedly crazy about me, left his wife but still couldn't commit. Sort of told everyone so my name was mud at my uni with some people (fair call to some though-including his wife). Lost his job, got another- wanted me to move my kids and myself to the two cities he subsequently lived in. Couldn't bring himself to have much to do with my children so I had to develop two lives-sort of like the other woman-only I was the other woman to a divorced, fearful and selfish man.

I gained and left three teaching posts to move us around to be with him-lived in two awful houses so I was near enough to visit him for booty calls (OMG as I write this I am LOL-what an idiot was I). Finally starting seeing sense a few years ago and was given the hint that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship- worked hard at my job, invested in my children, bought my house at age 43 with hardly any deposit but my work records and income were good (mortgage is okay-I won't own though until I retire!) and then went back to part-time post grad studies where I started thinking for myself again and beginning to realise where things had led me. When I left him last year in November, I had no friends- my two lives did not allow for any real friendships to grow- and we had moved (to make him happy!!!) so when I developed them, I had to leave them and had no energy or time to keep them long distance.

Okay- this is not to make you feel worse-this is to give you hope. 10 months after leaving him, I am still finishing the wretched masters but it is almost due to submit. I have lots of friendly work colleagues who have their own lives but we really chat and support each other at work and socialise a very small amount outside. I have one or two people that I am hoping to develop a closer friendship with, which means that I do a lot of the groundwork but they are reciprocating and it makes me feel good to talk with them. A lovely counsellor who has helped my through this this year and has given me great feedback about my life and my choices, a great gym with some nice trainers, and someone at work who is ten years younger who seems genuinely to be interested in me-in terms of attraction and seems to be friendly and really compatible. I can't believe it. While I was in my negative cycle late last year and early this...I really thought that it was over and there was something wrong with me and I deserved all that I had. (Which I thought was nothing-how wrong....)

What I have realised is that it is never to late to do anything. Even the most popular and outgoing people have issues and losses and doubts. My main team partner is one of these. She is my age, attractive, has three grown children like me and is the type would have been the school captain in her school and most popular girl when she was at school and she has masses of friends. But we talk a lot at work as we share an office, have grown quite close because we've had to as partners and realise that both of us have issues and we have both had to deal with difficulties in our lives. Her life hasn't been perfect and isn't perfect now.I don't envy her ability to make friends and network effortlessly-it is one of her real strengths. Sometimes I learn from her but I am happy knowing that I am a different type of person-and honestly she learns from me as well. For many people, two or three genuine friends are the norm. The others are social friendships and colleagues-this is quite normal.

Maybe make a list of all the things that you have learned and can do between completing your last degree and where you are now. Y