By Fraser Raeburn |

Over the course of one week in early August, two of my best friends got engaged to their respective partners. This was good news. I laughed, I cried, I covered up my tears in a manly fashion and celebrated. I was (and am) incredibly happy for them. To Tat and Antony, if you’re reading this, congratulations again, and I promise to be nice(ish) in any speeches that I may or may not get to give.

They probably won’t read this though, as neither is a PhD student. Nor are 99% of the friends I made growing up, at school or at university. I happened to be at home on my yearly pilgrimage back Down Under when I received the engagement news and was already in the midst of a whirlwind of catching up with old friends, hearing what they were getting up during my exile to the cold dark north. I was updated about careers being progressed, flats being bought, pets acquired and even the odd baby being made and/or popped out. Then came the engagements.

baby-17327_640I made a small version of myself since we last met. What have you achieved?

The point I am haphazardly trying to make is that I can’t relate to most of this stuff very well. While most of my friends have made giant (or in some cases, timid) steps towards adulthood, sometimes doing a PhD feels like you’ve pressed pause on all that. Of course, this isn’t true for everyone: I know PhD students who have bought property, gotten married and raised children during their studies. For me at least though, I feel like all these questions and milestones have been put off for the duration. I don’t expect my lifestyle, my income or anything else to change much between now and finishing. I am pursuing a career, I suppose, but it looks very different to any of the ‘real’ careers that my friends at home are doing. My basic goals, and those of my non-PhD friends, no longer seem to be aligned. I’m not saying that what we do – and what we achieve – isn’t real or worthwhile, but it’s beginning to look very different to the things that ‘normal’ people do.

Team of business people working together on a laptopIf it’s normal to use a pen to interact with a computer, I don’t want to be normal.

By choosing to stay a ‘student’, remaining in the university bubble and doing a PhD, are we implicitly acknowledging that we are halting our progress towards adulthood? The answer to this – and to whether it’s a good thing or not – surely varies from person to person. I think it’s a conversation we should be having though, especially as a new batch of PhD students prepares to start in the next couple of weeks. In the end, we need to be aware of what we want, whether doing a PhD is a barrier to achieving it and, most importantly, how we can overcome these barriers if we need to.

From my perspective, I suppose this is all fine. I enjoy what I do, and the lifestyle that surrounds it. I think most of my friends are accepting of my choices, and are interested in what it is I do and why I do it. For my part, in return I get to hear what it’s like to work 80-hour weeks as a corporate lawyer, or how bad house prices are getting, or how extortionate engagement rings are. I don’t exactly envy them. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m simply postponing the inevitable, and will need to catch up at being an adult at some point.

Fraser is a Contributions Editor at Pubs and Publications and thinks that you should all make his life easier by writing guests posts for us. You can also check out his academia.edu page.