After almost four years of highs, lows, rewrites, meltdowns and sleepless nights, I finally gained my PhD in Medieval French Literature from the University of Reading (UK) in November 2012. Having had several months to regain my equilibrium, I now struggle to remember precisely how gruelling and soul-destroying the long road to the doctorate can be at times. A bit like child birth—or so I’m told—when you eventually get to see the fruits of your labour, it’s amazing how quickly you forget the agony you recently endured.
This week my friend (and fellow PhD victim) Nicola Abram reappeared on Facebook after a nine-month absence, which I soon discovered was because she too has just graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in English Literature. Before I decided to up sticks and move to Australia with a woolly dream of becoming some kind of editor, Nicola and I had kept each other sane by meeting on a weekly basis to discuss (i.e. moan about) our PhD experience. One day, we came up with some version of the following list, which made us cackle hysterically—and as any PhD student will know, if you don’t laugh about it you will probably end up crying.
This list is dedicated to all the long-suffering doctoral candidates out there, and, of course, to the newly appointed Dr Abram. You know you’re a PhD student when:
At my graduation, November 2012
- You spend more time with your PhD supervisor than you do with your actual family, to the point where you begin to see them as an honorary mum or dad
- There is not a square inch of your office, dining-room table or bedroom that is not covered in loose papers, notebooks, journal articles and academic monographs
- You sit down at your laptop to work before the sun rises and do not finish until long after it has set (and consequently your friends begin to wonder if you’re a vampire)
- You struggle to accept that people don’t automatically understand what you mean when you use terms such as ‘thesis’ and ‘viva’—surely these words are just general knowledge?
- People run away from you as fast as they can in social situations, having just discovered what you do ‘for a living’
- You feel guilty for craving an hour with a trashy gossip magazine, as you feel you should in fact be reading some high-brow literary work by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens or Shakespeare
- Your mum and dad politely enquire what your thesis is about and you see their eyes glaze over after about twenty-five seconds of your synopsis
- You actually enjoy going to Officeworks or similar to buy pens, files, Post-it notes, etc. (stationery porn)
- The undergraduate students you teach assume that you are one of them as you all file into the seminar room on the first day of term—until you march to the head of the class and start taking the register
- Your well-meaning (non-PhD) friends tell you about the house they just bought/wedding they’re planning/massive pay rise or promotion they’ve received at work, and you realise awkwardly that you have no house, no job, no money, and your poor partner ends up spending more time with the cat than with you.
By Natalie Orr