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How to deal with loneliness/meeting new people in grad school?


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I'm a couple of months into my first year, and my cohort is very small. I've kind of settled in with a small group of friends, but I do not feel super connected with them and also find myself spending most of my free time alone. Does anyone have any advice for how to deal with this or how to meet new people (particularly outside of my program)? Sorry if there's already a thread on this somewhere; I couldn't find it. It seems that isolation is a pretty pervasive issue for PhD students, according to a few articles that I've read, so I think other people could benefit from a discussion about this too.

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There's some advice on this recent post you might find helpful. In general, Meetup groups, events organized by the university-wide graduate student organization, young adults networking events, attending community events you're interested in (talks, shows, concerts, open mic nights, etc.), and/or church/religious organizations if that's your thing.

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I had some problems coming into my Master's program. The cohort and the department are all pretty disconnected, which for me is a problem. I really thrive on social interaction and need to feel like I belong. So the first thing I did was join the graduate student government. Even if you don't get elected there are tons of committees you can serve on and ways to help out. Through that I have made a good deal of connections. I also made a point of learning where the resources are and how to get them. That way I can help people out when I talk to them. Both of these efforts paid off pretty big as now I have more social support. I would rather they be people in my program, but they are mostly part of our umbrella organization (that is I am in a program that is part of a department that is part of the college of education that is part of the university)... so most of my group are grad students in the college of education.


There are other organizations you can get involved with that aren't part of student government. Usually there are graduate student resource groups and informal sports teams... even workout groups, etc... The student resource center usually has workshops also where you can focus on skills like writing, preparing a dissertation/thesis, writing posters, etc these can target skills, but they are also a good place to meet other grad students who care about the same things as you do. Another thing that I know is really successful is to form a writing group.




There are a lot of good reasons to start or join a writing group!


If you are dealing with some emotional challenges in addition hit up the school's counseling/mental health resource. Often you can get a one-on-one meeting, but there are also usually groups and workshops targeted at graduate student issues (dealing with anxiety, isolation, stress, working exercise and diet into your schedule, etc)... as above, they can help with skills, but in the group settings you can make some friends.

Good luck! Hope some of these suggestions help.

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  • 1 month later...

I think feelings of isolation are common (and okay!) from time to time. I mean, I'm fairly social and friendly, and I still feel isolated sometimes. The way I deal with it is to vent in my journal, read a favorite book, or watch favorite movies/TV shows. What I'm trying to say is, it's very up and down. Sometimes, I just feel like NOT seeing other people. And then when I do feel like seeing other people again, I'll ask someone to go out for a drink or dinner, or I'll arrange an outing or throw a big potluck dinner at my place. There's a saying that you can be in a crowded room and still feel isolated. And I think that's very normal for the beginning of your first year as you settle into your program and new location.

I find that it usually takes me about 3 years in a new place to meet lots of new people and then weed out the bad ones and keep the good ones. It's my relationships with the good ones that help me feel connected and less isolated--the people I know I can depend on, the friends who will listen to my rants and frustrations without judgment.

Edited by wildviolet
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I'd like to also suggest meetup groups as @rising_star had mentioned.  Especially if you'd like to meet people outside of grad school life.  It was hard for me to meet new people and trying to do that through the internet can be a bit awkward.  It took a few meet ups to get used to the feeling (not to mention force myself to attend) but I met a great group of friends.  I think I tried four or five groups before finding a good group of friends (we've all since move out of meetups, and just hangout), so it took time but worked out in the end.  I think it also was a beneficial exercise in general to apply to networking. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Free time in grad school?!?!? Seriously though, I've found success by joining orgs and trying to do things in the community here and there, but that's obviously limited by how much time you have. A lot of people I know are doing the "grin & bear it" approach and just hoping things will change on the other side. 

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