The Lonely PhD Epidemic: Exposing the symptoms of isolation and exploring the cure through practices of inclusion.

Image credit: Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Are  you a PhD student?  Do you support one, work with one, love one? Do you know someone who has finished a PhD or is thinking about starting one?  This podcast episode is for you! (link above).

They say that the PhD journey can feel very isolating and lonely.  It often feels like you’re battling a contagious illness all alone.  Don’t fear!  You’re not alone, and the cure is found through the process of making the invisible visible.  My conversation with Maeve O’Regan, occupational psychologist and part-time PhD herself, covers everything from symptoms to cure for today’s PhD candidate.  Through her research on the lived experience of surviving the PhD, we unpack:  

The symptoms…

  • Feeling like the Invisible learner
  • Fumbling in the darkness
  • Fighting a Disconnected Culture
  • Suffering with Unconscious Incompetence
  • Keeping your PhD a secret
  • Battling Imposter syndrome

The cure…

  • Practice Personal Agency
  • Visualize Resilience
  • Gather Support
  • Embrace Human Centrered Design
  • Adopt Dynamic Interaction
  • Promote Linking in and Listening
  • Find your network
  • Encouraged by Shared Experiences

We talk about how Covid has leveled the playing field and laid bare the ‘gap’ in supports for PhD candidates that must be addressed and how we can bridge that gap between what she calls ‘zoom and room’.

We discuss the importance of space and place, as a physical connection that provides a sense of belonging for a PhD who’s world is really quite isolated, and if you can’t find an ‘in’ within a physical space as a part-time PhD, you can become very lost – missing that ‘in’ to navigate the Phd journey. We explore the biggest barrier that many part-time PhD’s face –  those important informal connections within the institutions through face to face contact.  Just by the nature of being there, full-time PhDs benefit more highly from informal community and ‘coffee culture’. 

Maeve shares so many nuggets of wisdom and implications for policy, practice and support.  Including the difference between cultures where PhDs are valued, not just in the ‘academic community’ but in the business community and wider society.  Everyone has a responsibility, to support our learners, and promote the ethos of continued learning by creating a feeling of belonging for part-time and full-time PhDs alike.

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