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Do you feel lonely as a PhD student?


Adelaide9216

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Hello,

For those of you who will be living on your own as a PhD student, how do you cope with loneliness/anxiety/depression? I'm kinda worried because I am prone to depressive and anxiety symptoms and I have read that about half of PhD students experience depression in the course of their studies... I would like to put some strategies into place prior to moving.

Edited by Adelaide9216
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13 hours ago, Adelaide9216 said:

Hello,

For those of you who will be living on your own as a PhD student, how do you cope with loneliness/anxiety/depression? I'm kinda worried because I am prone to depressive and anxiety symptoms and I have read that about half of PhD students experience depression in the course of their studies... I would like to put some strategies into place prior to moving.

I lived on my own for most of my PhD, so I can relate to your concerns. I was never depressed throughout my PhD, but got very anxious in my last year with the dissertation and a difficult advisor. In fact, many PhD students in my department got very stressed out towards the end, but hardly anyone got depressed. 

I would say maintaining close contact with a support network goes a long way. (1) I called my family back home every day, and my friends from time to time.

(2) I also tried to make new friends in the new city. 

(3) Although I am not clinically anxious or depressed, I saw a psychologist regularly. She went through a PhD herself and knows how to help me through the struggles. My psychologist was in my hometown, so I could see her once a year only. Still, her help was invaluable. 

(4) I did not get to do that back in PhD, but I am doing that now (as a postdoc). My city has an online counselling program, in which I can keep in touch with a counsellor via emails weekly. The counsellor I get is not as great as my psychologist, but at least I have someone to turn to regularly. 

I would suggest that you go to your school counselling centre and find a counsellor whom you feel comfortable with. Have regular sessions with the counsellor, at least for the first few months when you are settling. It would also be good if you could establish contact with a doctor (or a psychiatrist, depending on your needs), so in case things get out of control and you need treatments, you have a medical professional to turn to.

Most importantly, maintain a healthy lifestyle and a regular exercise routine, as you do back home! 

All the best! 

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On 7/19/2018 at 7:06 AM, Adelaide9216 said:

Hello,

For those of you who will be living on your own as a PhD student, how do you cope with loneliness/anxiety/depression? I'm kinda worried because I am prone to depressive and anxiety symptoms and I have read that about half of PhD students experience depression in the course of their studies... I would like to put some strategies into place prior to moving.

There are usually Graduate Student Groups that are really great at venting and sharing experiences of struggles or stupid history puns/jokes. I know my group goes out for drinks every Friday night and while I don't drink, I love to have some snacks and chat. Plus they have some fun events - they have had paint your thesis events. 

Seeing a counsellor is a good choice too but grad student groups are often a great way of making quick friends with similar interests. 

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I think it also helps to have something that you love to do outside of school.  Maybe its a community service gig, going to the gym, wine night, etc.  Just something to have on your calendar that you look forward to and takes your mind off of school completely.

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54 minutes ago, Adelaide9216 said:

Do you think I should get a dog? Do you think it's realistic to be able to take care of a pet for the first time (I've never had a pet) while doing a PhD and living on your own? 

I think that this is a very personal question and that you should always consider your answer carefully.

Are you home enough to care for one? If you plan on going home for Christmas or insert holiday here, you'll either need to hire a pet sitter or crate train. Or be prepared to drive with a dog in your car.  Do you have enough time in your schedule for at least 2 daily walks? (On average, it's recommended that healthy dogs get at least 30 minutes of exercise twice a day. (If you're gone for an extended part of the day, do you have the budget to hire a dog walker? Do you have enough time to research food for your dog? Are you financially ready? Do you have enough money to cover the dog's expenses. Some expenses may include annual vet exams and vaccinations, food, toys, beds, shampoo, cleaning supplies, grooming costs, and unexpected pet emergencies. 

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3 hours ago, Adelaide9216 said:

Do you think I should get a dog? Do you think it's realistic to be able to take care of a pet for the first time (I've never had a pet) while doing a PhD and living on your own? 

A cat is lower maintenance than a dog since you wouldn't have to worry about letting it out or walking it.  You would basically just have to feed it, clean the litter box every couple of days, and play with it a little each day.  You could even leave the cat alone for a weekend if you had to. 

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As a side note: If you decide to adopt a cat or dog, be prepared for a lot of apartment and house rentals to be unavailable as an option and be okay with that. I've seen way too many people adopt a puppy, then get bored 2 years later when the puppy is no longer new and abandon them at the pound when they get bored and want to live somewhere that doesn't accept pets. Roughly, 33-50 percent of housing will not accept pets.

I've traveled with my dog for the past 6 years. We've moved into multiple apartments and houses across multiple states. I've never been interested in a place that wouldn't have both of us regardless of how nice the location or apartment or house was.

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Really thankful for this question and the advice posted in response. I'm three weeks away from moving 2000 miles to a new city where I don't know anyone, and then starting a PhD two weeks after that. I've never gone more than a month without seeing my parents, and my fiance will still be finishing his BS back at my former university. I'm terrified of the loneliness and homesickness.

In regards to the pet situation, I also second getting a cat, if you're interested in getting a pet. For a graduate student lifestyle and schedule they're much easier to take care of. Don't get me wrong, they absolutely need love and affection and playtime, but you don't need to let them out multiple times a day or walk them or have a very strict feeding schedule (most cats won't gorge themselves if you leave a big bowl of food out for a weekend while you're away, for example.) Coming home to my kitty is often the highlight of my day, she is very cuddly and talkative and definitely a source of stress relief. You could even consider getting an older kitty, who won't require as much immediate attention as a kitten, and will probably just sleep all day.

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I've never been worried about being homesick or lonely before but I was never more than a 3 hour car drive back to see my family, but now I'm moving halfway across the country. I'm super excited for the change but also more worried about this move than either of my moves before. I'm definitely going to make a point to build friendships in my new location though and make sure I have things to look forward to outside of school. It's just so nerve-wracking because I'm such a homebody and introvert at times so it does take some effort to put myself out there and try new things. I definitely didn't do that enough during my Master's and will have to change that during my PhD.

I do know that I will always have my partner and kitties to keep me company at home though so that does ease my nerves. So I too second getting a cat! If you are really ready for a pet of course. They were great to have during my masters because if I had to work a late night in the lab I knew they would be okay. I would love to have a dog some day but I know the schedule I will likely have during a doctoral student will likely not be very feasible for me to have a dog. I also love the flexibility for traveling I have with cats. If I'm only gone a couple days or a weekend I can leave them enough food I know they'll be fine but I know it can get really complicated to travel when you have a dog. So for now I will be perfectly happy with my two cats because I know they can handle my grad student schedule.

I will also second @Warelin that getting a pet can automatically eliminate a lot of rentals. When I was doing my apartment search in my new location it eliminated so many and I noticed that it eliminated options that were $100-$300 of dollars cheaper a month so that stung. But I'm willing to pay more because there is no way I would ever give up my kitties. But I'm not gonna lie that at least in the housing market I was looking at, pet-friendly housing tended to be more expensive by quite a bit and on top of that they also charged pet rent. It's just a good thing to keep in mind if you do decide you want to get a pet, though perhaps the difference in pricing between pet friendly and non-pet friendly isn't quite as drastic in other housing markets.

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6 hours ago, FishNerd said:

I will also second @Warelin that getting a pet can automatically eliminate a lot of rentals. When I was doing my apartment search in my new location it eliminated so many and I noticed that it eliminated options that were $100-$300 of dollars cheaper a month so that stung. But I'm willing to pay more because there is no way I would ever give up my kitties. But I'm not gonna lie that at least in the housing market I was looking at, pet-friendly housing tended to be more expensive by quite a bit and on top of that they also charged pet rent. It's just a good thing to keep in mind if you do decide you want to get a pet, though perhaps the difference in pricing between pet friendly and non-pet friendly isn't quite as drastic in other housing markets.

Yep, it was pretty annoying to find an apartment that was reasonably priced with everything I was looking for and then read "no pets" at the bottom. I also could have snagged an apartment that was about $200 cheaper than the one I got.

However, some places might say no pets but actually be okay with it, or at least willing to add a pet  deposit. My current lease said no pets when we moved in, but my boyfriend brought home a kitten one day and I freaked because I thought we'd get evicted. I made him call the landlord to see if it was okay and it turned out the landlord didn't care at all. 

I must also add that cats can be expensive. We have two cats and spend about 60 a month on cat food and another 60 a month on pet insurance, which is much better than having to pay a $2000 vet bill but can still put a sizeable dent in a grad student budget.

Still totally worth it, though!

Edited by bibliophile222
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  • 2 weeks later...

I have a dog now, as a working person. I think a graduate student can definitely have a dog, but they have to plan carefully and the dog's care has to become part of your life. It is helpful if you want a dog to genuinely have a dog - as in, you see "having a dog" as a category of "doing stuff" that you enjoy. I love taking my dog on hikes, walks, to the dog park, etc., and I don't mind taking her out when she needs to go out. If taking the dog out is going to be a burden, then it's probably not the right choice.

I think it also depends on where you're doing your program. In New York, where I did my PhD, having a dog would've made it SO much harder and more expensive to find an apartment, so I decided against it. In State College, where I did my postdoc, having a dog was pretty easy (it was more expensive, but still pretty easy to find apartments that took dogs) and the lifestyle was slower. The town was also only about 20 minutes across, so it was easy for me to run home and let the dog out if I needed to in between escapades (and frankly, there wasn't a whole lot to do there anyway, so doing stuff with my dog was super fun).

Also, dogs are not cheap. There's the vet, toys, grooming (my dog won't let me touch her nails! I do bathe her at home though), food, treats, etc. You also have to be willing to pay to board the dog when you travel, and graduate students travel often (home for vacations but also remember conference travel). That was the main reason I didn't get a dog, because I knew I'd go visit my family during the holidays for a few weeks on end, usually visit them in the summer, and then also go to ~2 conferences a year. Around me (Seattle area) boarding a dog costs around $40/night. I now have friends that I trade doggie care with (their dog is currently curled up at my feet, along with my own) but it may take a while or you may not have that arrangement.

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