The hill in Kelvin grove park was filled with people who looked ready for a festival performance with blankets, barbecues, and beverages. But other than the occasional busker or portable speaker there wasn’t much in the way of music. Everyone was there to see a different kind of performance. The incredibly rare weather phenomenon: warm sunshine in Scotland. We were all out to take advantage of that one day of Scottish summer.
I had been thinking about getting out of the city for the day to enjoy the weather, but the night before a fellow PhD student started a group text inviting us all to go barbecue in the park. And while a day on Arran sounded good, a day spending time with a group of friends sounded better. I’ve found it difficult to find or develop a group of friends since starting my PhD. It seemed to come so easily during my masters. So, I took the opportunity and enjoyed sitting there in the sun laughing and chatting. It wasn’t anything extraordinary, but it is certainly something I needed.
I say it wasn’t extraordinary, but sadly it seems like community and social interaction has become a rarer and rarer thing. As we talked there in the sun it seemed like a common experience and complaint among all of us. Somehow a PhD makes finding some community and developing friendships even harder than it already seems to be in adult life. Many of us reminisced fondly about previous degrees. Times when everyone would be in the post grad hub typing away, chatting with people after lectures, or going for nights out. I think many of us were hoping to find that sense of academic community again in our PhD and were sadly disappointed when we began to realise how illusive it was.
Even more importantly to our work, many of us missed the insight those chats and writing groups offered. Personally, I process by talking and often if I was struggling with a piece of writing for an essay I would just chat with one of my peers. Normally in the process of talking through it the answer would just come out and I would run back in to type it down before I forgot. That support and comradery is something I’ve really been missing in my PhD and I’ve found I’m not alone.
While I could sit here and ponder about the different causes or to whom I could file my complaint, I think it’s more helpful to try and come up with solutions. As I’ve talked with people an idea has begun to form in my mind of a kind of PhD society at the university. It would be based a bit on the 18th century clubs and societies that arguably helped bring about the Scottish Enlightenment. It would be a meeting with the intention of discussing our research informally. A kind of support group where people could bring what they’re struggling with to their peers for help, ideas, and support. It’s only an idea, but it’s been received well every time I’ve brought it up with someone.
I’ve begun to realise if I’m struggling with an aspect of the PhD experience than likely others are as well, and it’s best to be honest about it and try to find a way forward. Especially, when it comes to isolation and a lack of community the only forward is together. I have found a number of PhD groups that meet regularly, but again these only work if I put the effort in as well by going and consciously trying to form that community. In many ways this post is meant to be an encouragement and reminder to do just that. It’s meant to remind me to be intentional and proactive in creating those opportunities for community and taking advantage of the ones others have already created. All with the hope that just like sunshine in Scotland, it might be rare, but it does happen and when it does, it’s best to make the most of it.
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