Let me start off by saying I’m an introvert. So if you’re an extravert, this post will probably make you shake your head and say “social enough? I’m so social I can’t fit in any actual work!”
Being a grad student, an undergrad, an academic, a researcher, a scientist is not something that can be generally done in a complete vacuum. It requires connecting with other people to discuss and share ideas. Publishing involves reviewing others work and attending conferences. Getting ahead often involves networking and getting your name “out there.”
Like I said, I’m an introvert. I hate being in crowds. I’d much rather meet with people one on one or in small groups. I find hanging around other people draining and that it’s time by myself that helps me “recharge” and get ready for the next event. When my schedule is particularly heavy with meetings, I’m always looking on my calendar trying to find the next unscheduled day where I can finally just relax by myself.
It’s why, for me, going to conferences, even if they’re only for a few days, is completely exhausting. Conferences generally involve interacting with people in large groups from the moment you get up (breakfast) until you go to bed. And trying to escape out early means you’re not participating fully.
But, as much as I need time to myself and find events draining, I do think it’s important to be social. And to make yourself get out every once and a while and interact with others in your field (professors, students and industry). If you know you deal better with small groups or one-on-one then try to plan events that put you in that setting instead of relying on others to plan events that end up not suiting your needs.
For me, that includes arranging occasional lunches with 1-3 other people. Or trying to include other students in activities I already enjoy doing. It means planning what works for me, and when I know that I’m going to be in a more uncomfortable situation (like a conference) preparing ahead of time for it, and scheduling in some downtime immediately after.
Besides, hanging out with grad students is the one time you can vent about everything going on and actually have an audience who agrees and understands where you’re coming from. Just like hanging out with work colleagues means hanging out with people who understand the dynamics at your work.