It's much like going to the store--as I've just done... You see the morons not wearing a mask and it seems like everyone is not wearing them. However, you look around after you calm down and find that most are. And most people here, even if they are selling something, are just trying to get by...they aren't really MARKETING (even if they're trying to sell their own little books or blogs or newsletters). Think of them as wearing a stupid mask instead of none at all... Look AWAY from the trendy stories, young lass!!! Pick up your sword, go yonder and conquer those vast lands where the real people WRITE!!! There is so much un-trendy territory here. If you have time between labs... Do you have a lab to take care of while you're not in a lab? You mentioned a dog. Not a poodle?
Anyway, there are also plenty of "in-between" writers, people writing pretty much for themselves and to be seen, and a handful of them are rather good (depending upon your taste...and de gustibus non disputandum est as someone who was never President said). Go to places like MuddyUm or TheHaven or The BadInfluence or LitUp or LiterallyLiterary or Scrittura or (if you're ready for a rumble) Scuzzbucket. Go to that "trend" page and TELL MEDIUM WHAT YOU WANT!!! You can do that, you know, and they will actually direct you to some places like that. Lots of it will be junk. Some of it won't be.
Pretty pictures and more at Snapshots and WeedsandWildflowers. Lots of community there!!!
Although not my cuppa, any of the lit pubs that do prompts and contests are usually very community oriented.
I could recommend individuals to you, but that would be going one step too far in terms of degustibus so I'll stop there. But, any time you're interested.
Thanks for reading BTW and hope to hear from you again soon. Good luck on your PhD. Hope its easier than mine were!