struggling at Cambridge


Hi all,

I'm just finishing up the first (masters) year of a four year program at Cambridge (MRes+PhD). However, I've been really struggling with settling into Cambridge way of life and found myself to be quite isolated and unhappy for most of the year, despite my best efforts to like the place (and people). I am considering to graduate with the masters and take a year out, in order to apply for PhD in some of the London unis for 2017 entry. I really fear, though, that I will be giving up something that could potentially pay off well in the future, be that in academia or in industry. Basically what this ultimately comes down to is prestige + amazing PhD VS general happiness.

I know this is a highly personal dilemma but I'd appreciate any words of advise, or if you could share your own relevant experiences



Hi Dazzle,

What is it specifically about Cambridge that you don't like? Are all your friends in London?


I'm a PhD student at Anglia Ruskin (also in Cambridge). What problems are you having specifically? Although I haven't been here very long I really like the city


Before you make the decision to leave - a big life decision - is it worth seeing a counsellor or therapist to explore your motivation and your options? It could be that the things you are finding it hard to cope with are aspects of university life, or PhD life, that would come up in similar ways anywhere else that you did a PhD, including London. For example, if the issue is the feeling that the place is hyper-competitive and puts a lot of pressure on you, Cambridge may put exceptional pressure on for a taught programme but a PhD may be similar anywhere (certainly in London). So it may be that the best thing you could do for yourself is to learn how to ignore or shrug off pressure of that kind and find out ways to be happy in an intense academic environment. Or if it's something Cambridge-specific, like the culture of the place or your college, or the college system, or the city, it's worth figuring out with a counsellor if these are things you can live with or non-negotiables. I definitely think that, in a choice between prestige and happiness, you should choose happiness! But I wonder if it's true that happiness for you has to mean a big change like this - change of course, change of place - and I would do a bit more thinking about what you need to make you happy before taking any steps.

Avatar for DrCorinne

I totally agree with Gwen86. I would also add that wherever you are doing your PG studies, it is hugely important how you relate to colleagues and especially your supervisor. The network that you build there and then can affect the potential outcome of your studies and your chances to establish an academic career. Your supervisor will be the person that will provide you with references and should support you in finding opportunities etc. So, ultimately it is really down to you to decide whether this is a challenge that you want to take on, and if your fears are really dictated by what you perceive to be a hostile environment or if you have difficulties in building relationships.


This sounds like a tough decision. Imagine if you left... would you regret it after? Or imagine if you stayed and were a bit unhappy (or very unhappy)... do you think you would regret that at the end?

It may not help but it is a strategy I use to help me make decisions.