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The hamster wheel — During the course of their studies, many students get most of their social needs covered at university. But what do you do after you finish your degree? Mikkel Schmidt talks about how he had to both find new interests and friends, and hold on to the old ones.
Mikkel Schmidt sits on the sofa in his apartment in a suburb of Copenhagen — and knits. It lets him relax, and sets free his creativity. And it keeps his hands occupied. It is a hobby he started two years ago.
He graduated in 2021 with a master’s in physics from the University of Copenhagen, and has since then spent a lot of time setting up a good life for himself. Because after graduating, he suddenly faced some unexpected challenges: He needed to fill out all his free time in a meaningful way.
It started well. Mikkel Schmidt had got a good job as a data scientist at Andel, a large Danish energy company, only two months after graduation.
He had enjoyed his summer vacation after graduation. But only a month on the job and the emptiness and loneliness started creeping up on him, and it came as a big surprise to him.
»One day I discovered how much time had actually passed since I had seen my friends, done something social, or connected to all the fun things that had been a big and natural part of my life at university for many years,« says Mikkel Schmidt.
He realised that he had to do something himself if he was to continue to make gains socially like when he was a physics student. But this was not so straightforward, he reckoned.
»It was actually a difficult situation that seemed completely overwhelming to me at the time. Suddenly, daily life just continued on around me: I came home after work, immediately conked out on the couch, went to bed, and then did the same thing the next day. It was not sustainable,« he said.
It is now two years since Mikkel Schmidt was struck down by the daily loneliness of post-graduation. But he has now found some good ways to keep in touch with friends. He is also part of new social circles and has found some more things to fill out his day with.
He doesn’t spend a lot of time knitting, but he loves his new hobby. He was inspired by some friends who knit themselves. He worked on the first sweater for a couple of years, but the next one only took him three months. Now he’s looking for a new knitting project.
In October 2022, after a little more than a year on the job at Andel, he started playing water polo in Pan Idræt, a queer sports club.
»It was physically extremely tough, but at the same time really cool, because the team is very social. We like to see each other often outside training – and also organize, for example, Christmas parties together,« says Mikkel Schmidt.
He has also set up a Marvel film club with some of his friends from university.
»We’ve almost seen the entire series, but we’re still missing a few, as we sometimes cook together – and forget to watch the movies,« says Mikkel Schmidt.
Mikkel Schmidt took his own initiative in terms of his social life. But he has been fortunate with some things.
At his workplace, he joined a graduate programme along with 11 other new employees who started with him. The programme was to give new graduates a smoother transition to working life and meant that new employees got to know each other.
»We quickly became friends, and we have started seeing each other outside a work context, which is good. It is probably in connection with my work or student life that I have met most new people,« says Mikkel Schmidt.
He still misses meeting more good people from university, however. They have shared a lot of fun times over the course of many years.
At university, he was a member of the academic council, was involved in student revues, organized parties and was a tutor on the intro programme. He recalls how you, as a student, would often gather in large groups spontaneously for all sorts of events or parties – you just had to show up to have a good party.
But this rarely happens anymore, as everyone has got a busy daily life:
»It’s just difficult to meet up, so many people spontaneously, now when almost everyone has a fully booked calendar. Fewer people have the time to do it, and most of the time you have to make an appointment with one friend at a time,« says Mikkel Schmidt.
Mikkel Schmidt has been on an existential journey ever since he left the bubble of his student days.
»And then suddenly one day you’re finished and you think: Good Lord! How am I going to use all the skills I’ve been given, and what’s next in my life? Should I have a house or a boat?« he says.
It takes time and dedication to maintain your social contacts, he now knows. You are no longer automatically part of an inclusive study environment.
»At the University of Copenhagen, for example, I was one of four student representatives who could speak directly to management about student politics. But now suddenly I have no influence. Suddenly I am just one employee among others in a company. Fortunately, two years later, I am in a place where I both like my life, my time off, and my work,« says Mikkel Schmidt.