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I don't have any tips. But I would like to share my thoughts. I almost didn't move because of this. I loved where I lived during grad school (and before grad school) and had a community. But I choose my job. And as hard as it might be having only your spouse as your friend, let me tell you it is multiple times worse not having a spouse. Dating is a big problem because of moving. I started dating during a post doc and often when I told someone I had to move for work they were out. There is a gender aspect to this, as generally it is still much more common, even in academia if not especially in academia, for a woman to move for her husband rather than the other way around. I don't know if I made the right choice, and I will probably never know, for I can't know the counterfactual.

Marcus Arvan

Thank you for this, Helen. It is so true to my experience. For me, the academic job market meant leaving the only truly great friends I had ever known. It is only now, nearly a decade later—after devoting everything I have to reading, writing, teaching, and job-searching—that I am finally beginning to make true friends again. It has been one of the hardest parts of being an academic. So many times over the intervening years, my wife (who is also an academic) has said to me, “You’re my best friend”. In all too many cases, the very first thought that popped into my head was, “You’re my only friend.” Not entirely true perhaps...but for many years, not too far from it.


Great post on an important topic, and one that has been on my mind a lot lately. I finished my PhD aged 29, spent a couple of years in a non-academic job (which I hated), quit and spent a couple of years doing short term hourly gigs and trying to publish. All that time I lived reasonably near many of my close friends, some of whom I've been friends with since childhood. Then I - very fortunately - landed a post-doc quite far from my old friends, and instantly became friendly with lots of the people I worked with. I was there 18 months, and while that isn't really enough time to forge close friendships, I'm still in touch with a number of those people and, if we'd worked together longer, I suspect we would have ended up as close friends. I left for a permanent position much further away from my old friends, and after a year I don't really have any friends in my current town. I have colleagues I get along well with, and one or two people I've socialised with once or twice, but nothing like my old friends or even my post-doc friendly colleagues. Luckily I live with my partner, so it's not an unbearably lonely existence by any means, but I'd certainly prefer to have some closer friends living nearby.

However, I'm not sure there are any tips that will help. I suspect it's just a question of luck and time (though I do think people are sometimes too shy about saying "hey, let's hang out", myself included).

During the post-doc a number of people were in a similar position, and so were actively looking for people to socialise with. In my current post, most people are settled, have an established friendship circle, and so the arrival of someone new was hardly a reason to arrange all sorts of social events with the aim of forging friendships. If I stay where I am long term, I'm sure I'll make friends, but it really is something the academic life can jeopardise (and so is something people thinking about an academic career should be aware of - in addition to the long apprenticeship, and the low chances of ever getting a permanent job).


Something to keep in mind is that some people make friends easily and other people really struggle with it. You should note which you are. If you are someone who struggles with it, and you're having to move every few years, then probably you're not going to be making any friends for a long time.


Also, I'm not sure if anyone brought this up. Glanced through and didn't see. But academics are highly competitive. The job market is highly competitive. It's difficult to make friends with people who you are in competition with. In a sense, these people are your enemies. So, that's another problem with making friends in academia. Perhaps though you can aim to find non-academic friends.

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