By Megan King |

As a PhD student in my early thirties, making new friends and nurturing more established friendships have proven to be more difficult than I expected (especially in the midst of a pandemic). Throughout my life, I’ve always managed to form friendships naturally. Through school, sports, and work, I found it easy to engage with people who shared my views and interests, were of a similar age, and tended to be quite accessible. In the third year of my PhD, though, these processes have required greater amounts of effort, and I’ve gone through periods where I’ve felt really isolated and unsure of how to reach out for support. Being one of the older students in my department is difficult enough, but a mounting workload and financial constraints also makes it difficult to justify indulging in a night out. Spoiler alert:  these factors do not typically yield a buzzing social life.

Between writing deadlines, conferences, teaching duties, a part-time job, and all of the other extracurricular duties involved in a PhD on top of wedding planning with my finacé, my free time has become minimal. It seems like each week is a blurred series of attempts to continue writing, read a new book, plan an engaging lesson, spend quality time with my partner, check in with family and friends from home, prepare healthy meals, go to the gym, tidy the flat, keep up with the laundry, and engage in some level of self-care. Whether it’s a product of getting older or of delving deeper into the depths of PhD life, I’ve come to realize that if I’m happy with the people and things I choose to dedicate my time to, I don’t need to pressure myself to form new connections. I’ve found myself being more selfish with my time, and I’ve become okay with it. So, I’d like to pass along some friendship-related advice that I had to listen to a lot of podcasts to discover:

You don’t have to let other people dictate how you spend your time.

For those of us who identify as people pleasers, this one is a doozy. Once you start setting boundaries, though, it does get easier! In my teens and early twenties, I was at a point where I had more free time and fewer financial obligations, so I often found myself tagging along to things that didn’t interest me simply because I didn’t want to say ‘no’ to people or miss out on the new inside jokes. Now, I’m finding it a lot easier to determine what I need from my time and my personal relationships. Maybe you need a night of sweatpants, takeaway, and television your partner or maybe the only thing you can muster the energy for is relaxing in a bubble bath with a glass of wine. Maybe you need to go dancing or catch up with a group of friends during a game of bowling. Maybe you want to bake cookies with your family and watch your favorite childhood film. Whatever you want and need from your time is up to you. Yes, it’s always nice to be there for others and take an interest in the things that are important to the people in your life, but you deserve to decide how you want to spend your time.

Decide which friendships you most want to nurture.

Whether you’ve outgrown a person or whether you’ve come to realize that you were never as close with someone as you once thought, let go of friendships that don’t resonate with you. I’ve always thought that I had to be friends with everybody, but I’ve gradually come to accept how illogical that is. Not everyone is going to like me and not everyone is going to have the same priorities as me. So, why force a friendship? While it’s never easy to actively cut someone out of your life, it can be helpful to set boundaries. So, for me, instead of saying, “No, I won’t have coffee with you,” I go for, “I’m a bit pressed for time, but I can spare an hour for a quick catch up.” Doing so allows me more freedom to make time for the friendships that I value the most. Sometimes that means mailing my friend her favorite British snack, and other times, it’s as simple as sending a “Just letting you know I love you” text. Either way, I’m paying attention to the friendships that matter the most in my life.

It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for support.

This is often a hard pill to swallow, but it doesn’t have to be. Everyone needs support from time to time, and if someone is not reciprocating the support you offer, then please revert to Tip #2. Is asking for support easier than it sounds? Yes. Is asking for support absolutely necessary? Also, yes. It’s important to remember, though, that friendly support doesn’t need to be extravagant, and often, the best help can come from a cuppa and a listening ear. So, if you’re struggling with the ups and downs of PhD life, reach out. It’s amazing how compassionate people can be when you’re open about your needs.


Megan King is a PhD candidate at the University of Kent, studying the process of radicalization in pre-Revolutionary America, and she serves as the Pubs and Publications social media coordinator. You can find further ramblings from her on Twitter.

Image Credit:

Photoroyalty /