I am a graduate student at the moment and sharing a house with undergraduate students. What I've noticed is that a lot of undergraduate students who are studying let's say relatively soft subjects seem to have a lot of free time and seem to want to have long conversations with me when I am walking about the house or preparing something to eat.

Unfortunately I am extremely busy with the research project which I am working on so I don't really have time to be having these conversations. Question is: is there some tactful standard way which other people have found useful that I can excuse myself without making it too obvious that I am trying to 'escape' from their conversation or without sounding like a douchebag?

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    Hi Tom! To avoid you getting answers that suggest approached you already tried, or approaches that might not be entirely feasible for you: Could you include some more about how these conversations usually go? Are these people trying to have long conversations about the weather, or do they immediately start talking about serious things? What have you considered doing or already done to try and end these conversations quickly, and what makes you think you'd be a douchebag or too obvious doing those?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 16, 2020 at 14:25
  • To do [whatever you do] tactful please don't mention your thoughts about soft subjects, them being undergraduate and having too much time ;-)
    – puck
    Nov 13, 2020 at 10:11
  • OK I spoke with my brother and works in a professional environment. He has suggested the following which seems to work. You ask them about something they have been working on and put the conversation back on them. They start talking about job applications etc for about 10 seconds, then when they pause to draw breath, you start walking to the exit and say 'Anyway, good luck with that, let me know how it goes'. I've tried this and works quickly without causing any offence or looking like I am self-important.
    – Tom
    Nov 13, 2020 at 13:24
  • Why not just wear headphones ? If you're in the middle of working on something and need to walk through house for whatever reason, pop on some headphones, most people will realise now is not the time to talk to you.
    – Joe
    Nov 13, 2020 at 15:11
  • That just looks a bit rude and obnoxious to me and I don't like wearing headphones in general. I'm a bit old-school in terms of what I think about the limits of courtesy. The other one is I just say 'Sorry, I need to run and do some emails', so I just use either that one or the one above. I think if you live with people you need to exchange pleasantries, and that's fine. The problem is when the person wants to turn that into a big conversation, I was just looking for a polite way to escape if that happens which are useful in the professional environment regardless.
    – Tom
    Nov 13, 2020 at 15:26

2 Answers 2


Nobody likes to be rejected by their friends, but just about everybody wants to help their friends. I've found that by phrasing the need for time as a FAVOR that they can do for you, to be an effective and inoffensive way to get my space/time. Some examples:

Jeff, I really want to continue this conversation about X, but right now, I'm running out of time on this damn research project. Could we please continue this next time I take a break?

This one works because it puts the "annoyance" on the research project, and YOUR desire to complete it, rather than your friends.

Ok guys, I've got to into 'research project mode' now. Any suggestions on how to avoid distractions?

I always like this one, it lets them know you're susceptible to distractions, includes them in your troubles, and sometimes it even lets you know how to best ask that person to stop distracting you should they (or YOU) slip.

Self-depreciation and flattery can also be effective:

I don't know how you guys finish your work so quickly, I'm STILL going on this research project, and nowhere close to done. Damn, I better get back to it right now.


It's completely normal, that your housemates want to talk to you and you shouldn't make yourself a stranger. Someone preparing food sounds like a very legitimate time to start a chat with a person who shares the same house with one.

You should keep that conversation short and friendly. You have no obligation to 'carry the chit-chat on until you reach the pub'. If you spend 5 minutes to socialize once in a while, you can let your housemates know a bit of yourself outside the studies environments and you'll get to know them better too.

Once you have done that first step, any of your housemates will surely accept without a second thought a short reply like:

Hi housemate, what’s up, sorry I’m in the zone right now, concentrating on a subject from my research, let's catch up next time.

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