Finding Your Support
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
I remember when I first moved to Scotland. It was nerve-racking and exciting. I would walk around for hours trying to figure out where everything was or the fastest way to get to the shops. I stayed in a small room that was part of a larger five-bedroom student flat. At the time, I was a Master’s student, living with students much younger than me. We all got along despite the age difference, but I knew after the first few months that I was older than I realised. I definitely was not 18 anymore! I am naturally an introvert and keep to myself, but Scotland was going to be different than the United States. I was going to try and come out of my shell more. I pushed myself to be social and talk to people I didn’t know. It was hard at first. It honestly is still hard to do this at times, but it is necessary to make friends.
My first year was challenging. I met people that were not as friendly as I had initially thought and I lost touch with many of the friends that I made my first year. After my Master’s degree ended, I felt like I was starting over again for the second time. I was not sure if I should start my career or start a PhD. I did not have many friends at this time and it was the loneliest I have felt in Scotland. But I was not ready to leave, so I pursued a PhD. I knew I needed to make some changes in my life. I started to join clubs at my university that I was too apprehensive to join the previous year and found activities around Glasgow I was interested in. I wanted to make friends in my community and not just at my university. Now, I try to do activities that make me feel good, and I make sure to check in with how I am feeling more frequently. I realised I was not doing that and was making myself miserable. I am still making new friends and engaging with my community, but I am so much happier than I was last year.
So you may be asking yourself, what does any of these have to do with a PhD. Your PhD journey can be a long and slightly painful one at times. There will be moments when you may want to quit, or you do not feel good enough to be doing the research, can we say hello imposters syndrome! Having a support system in place during your PhD is essential because they can be your cheerleaders rallying around you. As a PhD student, you will have your supervisors and other academics within your field who can provide support. However, I get my support in other ways. Since I live over 3,000 miles from my family, my friends have become my stand-in family that support me when I'm at my lowest point. They encourage me when I feel overwhelmed and pull me away for a quick pint when I need a break.
If you are looking to expand your friend group, I would recommend getting involved with university activities or volunteer within your community. I have joined clubs that already engage in activities I like to do so when I meet someone within the group, we already have something in common. Social apps such as Meetup.com or if you are a woman, Bumble BFF are another great way to start chatting with people. There are also online PhD groups that are great for meeting like-minded individuals. I joined a PhD women's group this year and joined these women at a writing retreat. It does not really matter if you find support from family, friends, or supervisors; all that matters is that you don't feel alone on your PhD journey.