Dealing with LS2: Lonely Student Syndrome

Guess who’s back again? (Yes Matt finally gets a break!)

I wanted to begin by apologizing for how I haven’t been contributing to recent blog posts.  I would like to acknowledge how I was very fortunate to have a generous co-author, Matt Lytwyn, who without hesitation was able to help me and keep Re-Spect Science on track. Thank you for having my back Matt. Good help like that is rare to find these days and I apologize to our readers for being gone for so long.

Today was a special day that I would like to share with all of you: I had to prepare an important presentation on my PhD thesis, where I discussed my collected experimental data and proposed my future experiments, that was followed by an intense Q/A session, also known as “let’s grill the student and criticize their data but let them know not to take it personally – because it’s just science” (which is true because at the end of the day, it will hopefully make you a better scientist).

Preparing for this presentation is the reason I took time off away from blogging, to focus all my energy into my research – which all graduate students have to do at some point during their training. With countless hours spent on my laptop analyzing data, late nights reading research papers, and memorizing a 6-page script for my presentation (yes I need a script, I wish I could wing it). Regardless of how nervous I was standing in front of all my peers, I am pleased to say that it went extremely well! I was so relieved that all the hard work paid off. Even my supervisor gave me a fist pump that was followed by a hand gestured explosion #hesacoolscientist

Although I am celebrating now, when I look back, I do admit that this process was a lonely ride. This was a personal and private experience, where I was on a road with moments of isolation, tears and disappointment, feeling like there wasn’t enough time in the world to get it all done. A handful of times I asked myself, “Why am I doing this? Does anyone even care?” No one said getting a PhD would be easy. At times, it does get very difficult and you get frustrated, and you do end up feeling like the evil purple minions! If you are a student reading this post I’m here to tell you, that you are not alone, it’s going to be all right, and that you are going to get through this.

Getting any type of intensive training, whether it is through work or school, is tough. You have to sacrifice a lot of time spent with loved ones (ie. family gatherings, vacations, birthdays, sports games, wine night…basically all the fun things in life!). I myself, was experiencing a sad dose of lonely student syndrome, or more commonly known as LS2 (you must be asking if I just made this up – did I?).

I am here to tell you that yes it does suck, but that’s not all. Inspired by Matt’s most recent post and my recent tweets, here is what I learned over the last few weeks on how to turn a lonely student situation into a positive healthy one!

  1. Know when to ask for help – and it is ok to do so. Family and friends care about you and will do want to help reduce your stress. Sometimes that could mean having someone bring you a home-cooked meal if you’re too busy to cook, or to help run errands, or help you pack when you have 6 days to downsize from a house to an apartment (yes that could have happened to someone I know very well – and that person is very lucky to have great friends)!
  2. Share the workload – it has definitely helped that this website has two authors! Thank goodness for that! Don’t try to be the hero and do it all, because at the end of the day, we are all humans.
  3. Be a little selfish sometimes – yes that means you should go to the cabin and take selfies with deer! This means to take a day off if you need to. It is ok to get in touch with reality again and spend time with family/friends – it is completely acceptable to not study for a day (unless you are a procrastinator and leave everything to the last minute, then ignore this point).
  4. Know your deadlines – especially if you are a procrastinator. Use your calendar/agenda to keep track of all your events. This will also help you better manage your time.
  5. Talk about it – if you are going through a hard time, it helps to let it out. It could be with friends or colleagues, over coffee or dinner. Let someone close to you know so they can be there for you and offer advice. Sometimes venting off some steam can be therapeutic! Who doesn’t feel better after a rant? Then you can turn it into a blog post (see what I did there?)!
  6. Don’t lose your passion – in my case, it is my passion for science! Remember the bright side and why you started this in the first place.

I hope this list helps if you ever find yourself experiencing symptoms of LS2. I know it will happen to me again when I start preparing for my PhD candidacy exam. My study sessions will start off something like:

Laptop, papers. Check

Emails, workshops, Twitter. Check

#hashtag gradlife. Check

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 11.23.59 AM

-Wajihah Mughal



This post is dedicated to my friends and family who have been by my side, supporting me with every step in my journey. And to my love, who does anything to make me smile and laugh till it hurts.