In reply to my latest post about being alone, some people did ask me if I was doing fine. For everyone’s peace of mind (or not), I am. I just wanted to reflect on something that has been bothering me for a while and that is the feeling of being alone in your PhD. Add up the fact that during my first year I had virtually no contact with other PhDs in my subject area, and any contact occurred then always implied me making coffee for them. I did meet a lot of PhDs this way, and even made some friends (some people really appreciate some supportive chat whilst waiting for their caramel lattes), but that had some limitations. Also add in the fact that I was a self-funded full timer and my wife was still living in Australia, so you can gather the picture. As I said the other day, there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.
In any case, after the sufferings of year 1, year 2 appeared to be a much better set up for me. One of the best things about my current job (social-wise) is that I work in the same building as most of my colleagues. At 1pm, everyone drops their pens and head down to the common room for some lunch and the consequent lunch talk. We’re roughly the same same 5-10 people all the time, and it is an unspoken pact really. We are all hungry. We are all working. It’s time to get together for some mental detoxing, some bitching, and some soup.
We don’t have an on-going appointment, but given that some people have their offices along the corridor and they most likely want to work, we close the door behind us. This also prevents undergraduates from lurking around and overhearing some of our rants. This behaviour, however, has led some academics to believe that we are actually having a proper meeting, that ours is the close-knit society of the postgrad lunches, and sometimes they actually ask for our permission to enter the room. Some sit with us, but remain quiet, perhaps intimidated thinking we are in a meeting. But we are not. We are just a bunch of young researchers having lunch. It’s just food, it’s not political.
I can only praise the therapeutic effect of these lunches. Because not everything in life is academia and books and reading and writing and more writing. Or work. There are no guidelines to the conversation, so it can range from in-class anecdotes, to knitting (many skilled knitters in the group, which makes me awe at times since I can barely understand 30% of the words that are being said – whoops), to flatsharing woes and accidentally some research. I think it is great we manage to get a proper break – some times it feels like all you think or do is research, and many people have lunch at their desks “because they cannot possibly stop”. I’m glad we defy that theory.
I also feel that the social side to this is very much needed. I suffered a lot from being actually lonely in my first year, and because of my work duties, I could barely participate in the life of the school as such. People only remembered that I was doing a PhD when they came for coffee. And for a while you think “meh, it’s all good”, but you end up feeling like you do not really belong to the school because effectively you are not collaborating in any way to it, and not really being part of it. So for me, lunch actually is the time when I feel more like a colleague, like a “fellow researcher” and I think everyone gets a sense of what being in the team is like.
There is no cheese involved in this post, by the way. Only Brie on occasion.
*SMLC PG YT stands for School of Modern Languages and Cultures Postgraduate Young Team. “Young Team” is a Glaswegian phrase to describe a gang that gets up to no good, and the Strathclyde Police used to publish a list of the most dangerous “Young Teams” back in the day. We are researchers so clearly we also get up to no good. Thankfully we are not in anyone’s watch-list. For now.