Feeling lonely at work


I feel lonely all the time and I know I have horrible insecurities. I find some relationships with fellow postgrad students difficult (not overtly - just me feeling uncomfortable) because I compare myself to them, and I often feel inadequate. I am more introverted and quiet, though I always try to make the effort to talk to others, say hello, be friendly and complimentary. I find it doesn't really get returned, in that people always seem to be closer to each other than they are to me, and they don't really come to me at all - I always have to make the effort with pretty much everyone, otherwise I won't really get talked to. It leaves me feeling very invisible, and hurt sometimes. Many of the other students are very extroverted, and I find it tiring and annoying (it seems attention-seeking, which I hate), and some of them I don't trust. There are more specific examples of being 'overlooked', but I won't go into detail here. I think the extroverted students feed off each other somehow, and I feel like I get left behind and generally left out. My question I guess is, is this something that I just have to get over? Does anyone else feel like this? I don't want to be perceived by others as weird or not having any value to anyone, but I feel maybe this is happening. I don't know what to think, sometimes I'm just in a bad place (like now), and it's worse during those times than others. Anyway, perhaps more than anything right now I just needed to vent... thank you for listening. Tomorrow is a new day, right?

Avatar for Batfink27

Hi Sparkles

You sound so like me! I had all those insecurities so often, and certainly felt that a lot in the first year of my PhD. There just seemed such a clique of PhD students, with some of them so loud and domineering that I often felt overwhelmed. It worried me at first - what was wrong with me, that I felt so awkward around people? Then I realised that it didn't matter - they weren't my friends, I just needed to have a working relationship where it was required.

Now, I don't make extra effort to mix with them, although I am friendly when our paths cross, and I chat to them if I bump into them by the photocopier or whatever. But I feel much happier now I don't have that pressure on myself. I've also realised that the clique isn't as strong as I thought it was. Stepping back has let me see that they aren't a big solid block who all know each other - a few do because they share a house, a few others go to the pub together or play five-a-side football together, but mostly, they're just PhD students who are just as isolated and occasionally lonely as everyone else.

I think the key is to find a social group of your own that's away from the department, to get a break from PhD life but also to take some of the pressure out of the PhD situation. It's easy for people to feel isolated, especially if they've moved to a new place or if previous (e.g. undergraduate) friends have moved on. The best thing for me is to have friends who I meet up with down the pub or wherever, who aren't doing PhDs, and who keep me grounded and give me proper perspective on things. It also means if people in the department are winding me up, I can just laugh it off, because my proper mates are the ones I relax with and whose company I really enjoy.


Hi Sparkles,

Firstly you are not alone. I would suggest that maybe try some club or society at the Uni, or if nothing, join the gym or swimming pool etc. You will find people with similar interests and gradually you will start to make acquaintances since you will have something common to talk about. PhD students tend to be this way somehow. I know I was like that. Also my flatmate (who was also my PhD fellow) was also like that. And then another flatmate that I had, was then again, the same way and we rarely got to chat more than say 5 min, e.g. in the kitchen. It can be very stressful this way but you need to find some common things to do with someone (e.g. gym class/yoga/hiking, music, walks etc.) and there you will find people of like minds and also you don't have to talk about or compare them with yourself (e.g. in their research and all).

Hope this works out for you,



One way of breaking the ice is to go out and get steaming drunk with your fellow PhD students! Worked for me.

Assuming that's not an option, then I would probably agree with the other posts, look for shared interest groups etc, and don't go thinking you are particularly uninteresting or short on social skills, It can easily be the opposite that is true. Remeber these kids were probably the geeky unpopular ones who nobody liked at school, so perhaps they see it as some kind of safety in numbers. PhD students do tend to like having a clique as well.


Hi Sparkles,

I could have written your post a year ago because that was how I felt when I started. It does get better though. I'm finding now that I'm doing teaching I have more reason to catch up with people and discuss how we are getting on because we are all in the same boat.

I think you need to focus on the task at hand, be friendly when you can and don't take it personally when people are already in cliques - you'll notice that it's not as tight as it seems initially as someone else has said. Also, everyone works at different paces, so you will find commonalities with different students at different times. Don't beat yourself up about your own quietness, there's nothing wrong with being quiet!

Good luck (up)


Thank you everyone for your kind replies. I haven't just started though, I'm past mid-way. Other new students seem to have integrated in the clique (been accepted and talked to by the other 'older' students) better than I have, and I've been there longer. I don't know, I think I'm socially awkward and a bit niaive, and I just don't really fit in. I think I'm a bit behind in my development or something. I've always been a bit this way i guess (introverted only child might have something to do with it). I just hate feeling like I don't even really matter or like I never have anything of value to say (even though I try to). I have some friends (not a group, but other friends) outside of uni (I've always liked being able to have a different perspective), and when things get to me, I try to just brush it off or not let it bother me, but it's hard to keep doing that. And now I feel like I've just made myself overly sensitive about the situation and I won't be able to get past it. Anyway. Thank you again.

Avatar for Pjlu

I think sometimes it is just that taking that first step is uncomfortable for everyone bar the most extroverted really super confident sort of person, and once people have found a few friends or acquaintances to fall back on, they stick with them because it is comfortable.

If you are a brave sort of introvert, Ive found, you almost always have to be the one to take the first step-. But like others have said, it doesn't help getting bothered about this or putting too much thought into it. The really good thing about introverted people is that they often make fantastic listeners and once the ice is broken a bit, you might find that people really appreciate your capacity to listen at times and be there for them, so they are not too fussed if you are quieter and don't say as much as those people who are naturally more boisterous and chatty.

It does just take a bit longer though to break the ice. Another thing that I have found is that most quieter people tend to have a few closer friends rather than a huge crowd of mates and this is fine as well. As well as this, you do not exist in order to have value to others-this happens in social interactions and is a byproduct of society, etc but you have the right to exist and be happy and be yourself (providing you are not actually hurting anyone or thing) just because you are...it is that simple. I think the advice about joining some activities and interest groups is really good, because in these sorts of things, the activity or group or situation, gives you something in common with others who are present and this sort of thing is always a really good icebreaker. There is always someone at these events who feels just as shy even if they don't always show it.:-)


Hi Sparkles,

Thanks for sharing. This is something I worry about too. I only start in January and I'm already bothered by it!

I really think emotional/social isolation is something universities don't always realise can be a big problem. That it's the highest degree anyone can obtain also suggests everyone must be brilliant or they'll be judged poorer doesn't help.

Out of curiosity, what field is your PhD in?

I wonder if there's a difference between those in say the sciences (with lab work) and those in the social sciences/humanities (where you're pretty much alone doing your own thing).

Perhaps this is a false impression, but maybe the extroverts in the social sciences/humanities seem that much more because they have the "gift of the gab" and a mastery over language. So they talk a lot more, often coming across as sounding really smart, without any moderating influence (ie. humility). Afterall, it's often their words which reflect their intellect, not lab results or things designed/constructed.


Quote From ultimax:

Perhaps this is a false impression, but maybe the extroverts in the social sciences/humanities seem that much more because they have the "gift of the gab" and a mastery over language. So they talk a lot more, often coming across as sounding really smart, without any moderating influence (ie. humility). Afterall, it's often their words which reflect their intellect, not lab results or things designed/constructed.

I would say it is a false impression. People who lack humility (in all subjects) are often willing to just plow forward with an opinion regardless of support or evidence. In fact, I tend to find those in the sciences much more likely to lack humility because, possibly, they spend a significant amount of time dealing with black/white issues and not issues of irreducible complexity. And we're really not just judged on our words, more clarity of thought.


I would actually think that the best part of the PhD is all the amazing isolation it offers.

I don't even make the effort to talk to others, chit-chat just turns me mental. I am definitely turning old and crumby.