2 March 2018: Editorial
Loneliness and isolation are now often referred to as an ‘epidemic’ in the media and in academia. Earlier this year, the UK appointed its first ‘Minister for Loneliness’, in an attempt to address what PM Theresa May described as the “sad reality of modern life”. In my own thesis research (focusing on people’s self-reported wellbeing), loneliness and isolation are among the strongest predictors of poor wellbeing in New Zealand.
Everyone has a different experience at university, but most of us have probably felt isolated at some point in our studies. It may seem silly to feel alone in a university surrounded by 20,000 odd other people, but you can just as easily feel isolated in a crowded room as in an empty field. It can be incredibly lonely especially to be a postgraduate student, since we can be cooped up alone in a room for hours in a row, seven days a week. For international students loneliness can be even more of an issue, moving to a new country without any social connections already in place.
Yes, as postgraduate students we are all here to up-skill, or to learn something new, or to do research for some unknown, mysterious reason. But we should also remember that we actually need to have a life while this is going on. One of the most valuable pieces of advice that my Head of School gave in our postgraduate orientation was “take some time to stop and smell the roses”. In other words: don’t forget to have a good time! Ultimately, postgraduate isn’t about competing with your cohort, it’s about collaborating and supporting each other as we all go through what is ultimately a pretty tough period of life.
Take some time to check in on your fellow postgraduates for a chat, or to go out and meet new people (on campus or otherwise). You may just help someone else out who is really struggling to make new friends, and I can guarantee that you will feel better for it yourself as well. Being social in Wellington can be expensive, so bear in mind that cost may be prohibitive for others. Try to think of fun, cheap things to do on campus with others in your community that allow you to take a break for a while and enjoy some social interaction. Some lifelong friendships can begin in postgraduate study if you look in the right place!
One thing that I look forward to (cause I’m a nerd) is meeting up with a few other offices nearby and doing the Stuff quiz at 3:00 every day. It’s simple, doesn’t take too long, and is a bit of fun. Normally we are pretty rubbish at it, but we got 15/15 once (impressive, I know). Getting other academic staff involved can help to forge a sense of community as well: a few people in our school have got together to organise fortnightly social gatherings for the postgraduates and academics (with no pressure to attend), which have been popular and successful.
Rising concerns about loneliness and mental wellbeing were one of the reasons that I joined the PGSA Executive. To me, fostering a sense of community and helping others to feel less isolated are among the most important work that we could possibly do as a club. The PGSA and regular events like First Fridays/Tuesday Chats help students to put themselves out there and support each other. So come along, and encourage others to do so! We always enjoy hearing about what you are up to, whether it is for your thesis or other things in life. Feel free to get in touch with any suggestions for other social events we could host as well, or to ask about hosting your own independent of the PGSA.
Best of luck for the rest of the year, and I hope to see you at some of our events!
By Pascarn Dickenson.