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Studying on a PhD course is not only an academic challenge, but it can also be rather socially draining. Over the three year course, you will be expected to conduct your research independently and as a consequence of this some students may begin to feel isolated and lonely.
However, the last thing you should do is let this possibility you off pursuing a PhD qualification. There are many ways to combat feelings of isolation that involve only a small amount of effort...
1. Reduce stress levels
There’s no denying that at times your PhD will get lonely, but any negative feelings you may be having about your University lifestyle will only be exacerbated during times of stress. Make sure that you stick to a time-table while writing and researching your thesis so that you don’t find yourself with a lot of unexpected work to do when your deadline is imminent. Set yourself mini daily targets so that you avoid the worry of not getting everything done in time.
Another way of reducing stress is to make sure you exercise regularly. While this may sound like a chore (after all, who really wants to spend their limited free time in the gym), it is quite easy to fit a little bit of activity into your daily routine. How about walking or cycling into University instead of taking the bus, or collecting your takeaway instead of having it delivered? Just twenty minutes exercise a day will release endorphins into the body which are scientifically proven to improve your mood.
2. 24 hours off a week
It is easy to get swamped with all of the work you have to do, so when making a work schedule make sure you book in a full 24 hour day per week where academia becomes a ‘no-go’ area. You can do whatever you like in your spare time – but try to do something vaguely social. Whether it is a DVD night in with the flatmates, dinner with your family or a night out with friends from your course, such activities will not only banish those feelings of loneliness, but will also help you unwind and you can look on your work with fresh eyes the next morning.
3. Regular contact with your supervisor
One of the problems with spending so much time on an individual project of research is that you’ve very few people to share thoughts and ideas with, which can sometimes lead to further feelings of loneliness. In order to combat this, make sure you have regular meetings with your project supervisor. After all, (apart from you) they are probably the most knowledgeable person within the University when it comes to your specialist subject.
Try and schedule a meeting on a weekly basis, if not more regularly, in order to get a fresh perspective on your work.
4. Avoid doing all study in isolation
While there will be times when it is essential to work from home without any distractions, try to vary your study locations. Working in isolation has its advantages, but you should aim to balance this out with a number of library-based study sessions.
While your University library may not be the most social of settings, sometimes it will just help to be surrounded by vaguely familiar faces. There’s is almost something almost schudenfreudian about studying with other isolated PhD students that will ironically make you feel like you are not alone.
Try and keep in touch with your other fellow PhD students, even if you can’t find the time to see the face-to-face on a regular basis. Why not send them the occasional text message or an email asking how they are coping with their workload? Chances are, that they are also finding the isolation tricky and sometimes, it just helps to have a good old moan to some-one who truly understands!
Similarly, it is also important to keep in touch with those old school friends and University contacts you made during your undergraduate and master’s degree, particularly those who are living in the ‘real world’ with jobs and houses or who may be off travelling. This will help you take your mind off things, and – best of all – they will NOT want to talk about your thesis.
They say a change is as good as a rest and sometimes talking to a close friend can act as a reminder that you have a strong support network no matter what happens.
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