Finding Friends At University

Finding friends at university can be more difficult as a Post-graduate researcher than as an undergraduate. While undergraduates are more likely to naturally find themselves in cohorts of like minded people in classrooms, as a PGR student you may well spend much of your time working alone. For instance, it may be that you are in an office alone or are the only PGR student in your area or that you are sharing work-space with people from a different discipline, with whom you have little in common or you may be working mostly from home or at a distance. 

This does not mean that it is impossible for you to find friends – only that you will have to devote some time and energy to seeking them out and maintaining these relationships. Of course, it may feel to you that you do not have time to spend on this, given your workload etc. This may particularly be the case if you have children or have a paying job outside of university.

However, being socially connected at university has been shown to improve your performance and your wellbeing [1][2]). This is not surprising. We know that being isolated can reduce your cognitive functioning, your mood and your immune system [3]; [4]; [5]. If you spend too much time working alone and begin to feel lonely and isolated, this can have a negative impact on your ability to concentrate, problem solve and stay motivated [6]. On the other hand, feeling socially connected and that you belong, can improve your overall sense of wellbeing and enhance your creativity and energy [7].

Devoting time to building relationships and connections to your institution can, therefore, result in you getting more work done over time. This doesn’t mean they have to be your best friends or absorb all of your time – especially if you have a strong social network elsewhere – but knowing you have friends within the university can still be helpful to your sense of belonging and wellbeing.

To maximise your resource it can help to develop an action plan. This might seem odd – the idea of developing something formulaic to find friendships, which should be organic may jar with you. However, leaving this entirely to fate makes it less likely that you will meet people and make friends.

When producing your action plan bear in mind that the more places you put yourself the more opportunity you will have to make friends. You should also be prepared for instances where you attend an event or meeting and find no one you like or just don’t feel that you want to be with. It can be easy to be discouraged by these experiences and assume all future attempts to meet people will end in the same way. Instead, try to recognise that this is an inevitable part of a process. Like all experiments – some will work and some won’t.

Identify a range of possible meeting points – these might be Research training events, Student Union societies, volunteering opportunities, public talks or debates etc. Look on your university’s website and on notice boards for information about events. Think about all of your interests and see if you can identify places where people with similar interests might gather and target these. You might also want to use online forums to meet other likeminded people and then bring these friendships into the real world.

Finally, if after all of this you still feel isolated, contact Student Services at your university or your Student Union advice centre for further help and guidance.



Wright, T. A., Cropanzano, R., & Bonett, D. G. (2007). The moderating role of employee positive well being on the relation between job satisfaction and job performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12(2), 93–104.


Morgan, M. (2013). The Student Experience Practitioner Model. In M. Morgan (Ed.),
Improving the student experience: A practical guide for universities and colleges, (pp.
69–88). Routledge: London and New York.


Cacioppo, J. T., Ernst, J. M., Burleson, M. H., McClintock, M. K., Malarkey, W. B., Hawkley, L. C., … Berntson, G. G. (2000). Lonely traits and concomitant physiological processes: the MacArthur social neuroscience studies. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 35(2–3), 143–154.


Cacioppo, J. T., & Hawkley, L. C. (2009). Perceived Social Isolation and Cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(10), 447.


Wu, W., Yamaura, T., Murakami, K., Murata, J., Matsumoto, K., Watanabe, H., & Saiki, I. (2000). Social isolation stress enhanced liver metastasis of murine colon 26-L5 carcinoma cells by suppressing immune responses in mice. Life Sciences, 66(19), 1827–1838.


Andersson, L., & Dersson, L. A. (1998). Loneliness research and interventions: A review of the literature. Aging & Mental Health, 2(4).


Helliwell, J. F., & Putnam, R. D. (2004). The social context of well-being. The Royal Society , 359, 1435–1446.