Completing a PhD is no small feat. It requires brains, guts and cunning. But it can be lonely at the top.
Large numbers of students struggle with anxiety, depression and stress. Above all, many feel lonely.
I was incredibly lonely during my PhD. I felt as though my problems and stresses were unique and that I was the only student in my cohort to be feeling them. That meant I put on a mask of competence.
So much so that my peers couldn’t tell that, underneath that mask, I was crumbling.
And the longer I wore that mask, the less connected I felt from my peers and the more I felt as though I was living a lie.
Are you the same? Do you have a mask? Are you suffering in silence?
What I found most liberating – and what cured my loneliness – was making myself vulnerable and sharing my challenges, frustrations and pain points with my PhD-peers. I opened up, talked about things we’d never really talked about and shared my inner thoughts, doubts and worries.
And the response amazed me.
Almost every one of my PhD colleagues shared similar stories of self-doubt and anxiety. They shared stories that sounded remarkably similar to mine. This led to strong bonds between us. We started to sympathise with each other more and look out for one another. In short, it fostered a shared identity and a stronger sense of community.
So if you’re suffering behind your mask, speak out and share your struggles. The response may surprise you. If you’re not confident doing it in person with your peers, try social media. Failing that, leave a comment below.