Maybe it’s the realization that Winter is coming and the snow won’t leave us until April. Maybe it’s the idea of being about to spend the Christmas holidays far from the family. Maybe it’s just the tiredness of being almost at the end of the Fall term, coupled with the scary awareness that my comprehensive exam will take place in the Winter one. Graduate studies are accompanied by a variety of feelings that hit you from time to time, making you feel alternatively super-excited, stressed, deeply glad, worried, in love with your subject and the world… or, sometimes, lonely and a bit lost.
I think that at this point a distinction is needed: not all kinds of graduate studies imply the same amount and kind of loneliness. Indeed, there are degrees based on coursework and degrees based on research. And if your degree is research-based, you may or may not have to spend your time in specific places: some work in a lab or in the field, while some others, having all their research in a laptop and a bunch of books, can work anywhere, and come to the university only when they have a class, a meeting, or a book to borrow. I belong to this last category, and if, on the one hand, I really appreciate this flexibility, on the other hand, I often find myself looking forward to my classes and meetings, not just because of their academic component, but because of their human one. In other words, I feel a bit lonely.
Of course, loneliness is not an unsolvable problem: we have some spare time in which we can socialize, especially if we manage to find a group we fit in. But still, when I google graduate student loneliness I get pages and pages of meaningful results, as well as suggestions such as grad school isolation, PhD lonely journey and so on… hence, there probably is something intrinsically isolating in the life as a graduate student.
I had a look at some of these pages, and realized how lucky I am: I do my research physically alone, but my research group is extremely friendly and supportive, sometimes in person, sometimes remotely via email, WhatsApp, Skype, and even Snapchat. I am very thankful for this. And indeed, I’m not complaining: I eventually acknowledge that a certain amount of loneliness is just part of the package, a package I love, I package I deeply wanted, a package I wouldn’t exchange for anything else in this moment of my life. It’s a shortcoming that can be dealt with, and a con counterbalanced by many bigger pros.
On the net, there are plenty of articles and stories on grad school loneliness, and if you feel your loneliness is a serious problem and need help, check here: in grad school loneliness, we are not alone! 😉