Never Alone in Graduate School

Feeling lonely and being alone are two different things in life and the lines can be blurred especially in graduate school. As graduate students we are surrounded by people with various backgrounds and skill levels from expert to beginner. On our journey we come across invaluable lab technicians, seasoned post-docs, crucial admin, fellow students, excitable undergrads, inspirational faculty and the tireless food and maintenance crews that help the university thrive. From choosing an adviser to “What I am going to do today?”, the range of graduate school decisions we must make for ourselves can be daunting without a continuous stream of affirmations gotten from within, “I am enough”, or an occasional “great job” from a colleague.

No matter the stage of our graduate life, it is important to separate loneliness from being alone and to put each in perspective. For example, I can easily feel lonely while I’m surrounded by labmates due to language barriers and/or thoughts such as “I am not on that project”, “Ugh, no one understands me,” or “Do I belong here?” On the other hand, I can be in lab at 10PM on a Saturday when no one else is around, not even the janitors, and not feel lonely. The longer I am in graduate school, the more I realize that I am not the only one who acts or thinks in this manner.

Graduate school is a training expedition of which we were chosen to be a part. We do belong. Spending time by ourselves or having “alone time” to delve into our projects is necessary and maybe uncomfortable. This uncomfortability can be devastating to our progress and heightened by numerous factors. It is through being social, as pointed out by a previous post, that we overcome hardships.

It is our choice whether we seek support or remain reclusive during our struggles and accomplishments. Sharing our feelings with the ones we trust allows emotional freedom, the formation of stronger relations throughout life and the possible entrance of a significant other. There are several social outlets on campus that can help impart a sense of belonging such as becoming a member of the Graduate Student Association (GSA), the outdoors club, or enrolling in a fitness class at the gym. Additionally, we can seek one-on-one help with a Rutgers counselor or read a book written by a Rutgers professor on how to obtain a graduate degree. Most importantly, helping others by listening, providing constructive feedback, and offering several high fives and a few “You’re the best!” to those around you is an excellent way to practice selflessness and build relations. These activities have helped me to stay inspired and rational.

It is imperative that we are involved in the graduate community to help build the self-esteem needed to withstand the solitude sometimes needed for thought and discovery. We are responsible for our graduate outcome and the actions we take. We should not do this alone. Let us take this moment to “start over,” as suggested by a previous blog, and get involved so we can become motivated, productive graduate students regardless of the hardships that pass our way together.

I can live for two months on a good compliment.” – Mark Twain

Author: Kenneth McGuinness

is a Ph.D student in the Department of Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics. He works with Dr. Vikas Nanda at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Biomedicine, where they study protein design and modeling. Specifically, they are interested designing small proteins that self-assemble into predictable geometries. Kenneth is currently the webmaster for the Center for Integrative Proteomics Research and the President of the BioMaps GSO. In addition to research and academics, he has a passion for running, music, golf, and playing hockey.

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