Posted in Ph D posts

Living arrangements

This title is sure to freak out my housemate (hey man!)!

Another hobby of mine- cross stitching. You can buy easy kits to give yourself some sense of accomplishment (for when those experiments just don’t work out).

Whether it be living at home, renting, or living in the lab (hah hah… god I hope not), we all need a place to live while we do our studies. The inspiration to write this piece popped up as I was walking home today from Uni.

***

For those that have read (and/or re-read) previous posts of mine, you may be aware that I grew up in a regional town. Prior to moving down to the city for Honours, I’d never lived in a major city before. I commuted all throughout my undergraduate studies, which… I think, door to door, it was two hours one way- which sounds quite ridiculous now.

So, when I first moved down to the city, it was quite a daunting thing for me. I didn’t have any close friends to move in with, and all my friends and family were back in the aforementioned regional town… the adjustment period was brutal. Suddenly I felt really sorry for those that do this straight out of high school.

Surprising as it may be (for those that know me), I am an introvert. I can talk and talk (my supervisor introduced me as a cross between Oprah and our departmental OHS manager for my Ph. D Oration), but it’s still just a facade. Once I come home, I love to sit and say nothing, because I’m exhausted from the talking. I’ll still be messaging people, but it engages a different part of me. There’s no face to face interaction, and I take liberty in not having to respond immediately to each message.

I keep telling myself that I don’t need to overdo the talking so much, but I’m still working on fine tuning it. Pretty sure it’s just a nervous tick I’ve developed and cultivated when I thought that pretending to be an extrovert as a child and teen would be better for me (don’t do that). I desperately wanted people to find me interesting and likeable, so I went too over the top.

ANYWAY- this means that while most people may think I’d be happy in a share house, it’s the total opposite. I can’t stand having people around me at home. My own mother, when she visits, needs to give me a time out period. Otherwise I’ll end up snapping at her. Admittedly she’s like a happy puppy so it’s reeeally hard to tell her to give me space (she’s just so excited).

***

When I first moved to the city, I lived in an apartment with a housemate whom I’d never met prior. There were issues with the apartment and overall neighbourhood (DV issues two doors down- not cool), but I also really struggled with the whole, ‘living with other people’ thing. I’d rented with other people for four years prior, but the personalities clicked enough that it was okay- and also, the place was huge. If I needed space, I found it. But an apartment couldn’t grant me that. Things were exacerbated by the fact that my housemate and I were completely different people with very different lifestyles, so when that whole arrangement ended poorly, I made a decision to move apartments and live on my own. Thankfully I had the financial support required to live that lifestyle.

Living on my own had its pros and cons. I didn’t need to clean as much (not that I’m a slob, but it’s the freedom that you don’t have to clean that’s appealing)… people could visit without prior arrangements with other housemates… and I didn’t need to share the bathroom with anyone… but then I got noisy downstairs neighbours, and I wanted to move on again.

Thankfully(?), I’d been venting to a fellow lab mate of mine who was also having noisy neighbour issues. We’re not alike (pretty sure they’re secretly evil- proper crazy, throws secret parties when I’m not in the house… they do read these posts, so I look forward to the inevitable, ‘HEY!’), BUT- what I did notice was that our post-work routines were similar. We’d both head home, cook or eat a meal, make a cuppa, and then chill. Both introverts, both left parties early, and had similar (if not somewhat identical) lifestyles. It was a bit of a gamble, but we both agreed that we could try living together. It would solve our noisy neighbour issues (our resources combined would mean we could rent a unit or a house, not an apartment), but also allow us to pursue hobbies which required more space.

While the search was long and desperate (with some unfortunate rejections), by pure luck we found a place which seemed to suit us very well. 3 bedrooms (one spare for either of our mums to stay in when they’d visit), two bathrooms (no clash of morning routines), quiet neighbourhood, ample gardening space, close to public transport, and easy to get to from the Western side of the state (where our respective families were). I think there’s a Google Docs document with all the desired features- yup, it’s still there. The general gist was a quiet spot where we could have a life, even when our studies dragged us down a bit. Oh- a big kitchen was a must. Procrasti-cooking/baking is always essential.

The idea for this post popped up because I get asked why we live 15km out of the CBD- so far from the lab. But, the simplest answer is that we were after a specific lifestyle. I’m not a city person (yeah, it’s convenient, but… people), and while my poor housemate now has a running gag about their ability to water plants, we both do appreciate a noice garden. There’s a bike/walking trail nearby, lots of urban parks around… and when we choose to have a weekend, we can actually go out and do things.

And that’s the thing- at the core of it, we both realised that this house made us happier. I can only speak for myself (mostly), but this neighbourhood is quiet, and I love that I have all my plants here with me again (I had to leave them behind when I first moved to the city). I can cook, bake, build LEGO, miniature houses, couch potato, etc… because while doing a Ph. D can be fun and exciting, it can be extremely challenging- particularly mentally.

People do talk a lot about the mental aspect of it, but it’s important to recognise what you can and can’t deal with. Some people are totally fine with a studio apartment a few minutes from the lab. I needed space, both in terms of the property size and geographical location. If I’m too close to the lab, I will work too long, and burn out. If I feel confined in the apartment, I get depressed. Thankfully I now look forward to going home or being able to work from home (especially as I transition into the writing phase of my Ph. D), because while I can still get work done, I can also enjoy my happy nook I now live in. It means I get a chance to unwind, and rock up to work feeling well-rested (some days that’s still not enough, but every little bit helps).

Whatever small or big changes you can make to make sure you look after yourself, the better. Especially when you’re in a stressful environment. Sometimes you can’t change everything (there are bound to be barriers), but every little bit helps. I think it’s really important to allow for some introspection to recognise what makes you upset, stress, and come up with productive ways to alleviate that.

Turns out a major thing for me was finding a house with an awesome friend (cue, ‘awwww’).

And having my Ginkgo tree back. It’s majestic.

Author:

A wet-lab based Bacteriology Ph. D student residing in Australia.

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