By Scott Reid and Hugh Roberts |

Unlike any other wise PhD student taking steps to counter first-year worries over procrastination by making meaningful progress with their research, we have resorted to joining the great unwashed masses in their craze for the cult TV show, Game of Thrones. Our PhDs may be suffering, but we’re having a great time.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 5 years, this adaption of George R. R. Martin’s novel series witnesses several fantasy kingdoms in the land of Westeros vying for power in all-out civil war, featuring the odd dragon or two, excessive violence, and of course, the walking undead.

And, if you think about it (like, really think about it), Game of Thrones is much like the cut-throat world of academia, which sees postgrads competing for finite job and funding opportunities within a hierarchy of professors through to undergrads – a ‘Game of Tenure’, if you will.

Indulging our bad habits further, we decided to write this blog musing on the parallels (if tenuous and strongly tongue-in-cheek) between our world and Westeros. Besides, since George R. R. Martin has taken poetic license from pretty much all of early modern British history for the series’ plot lines, we have as good a claim as any to be experts in this field.

So, in the interests of extending a metaphor as far as humanly possible, please humour what follows. For those of you with clearly less time on your hands, we apologise for the detailed references (and spoilers!).

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‘I drink and I know things’ -Tyrion Lannister

A Game of Tenure featuring…

Post-Docs/Early-Career Researchers as Danaerys Targaryen/Bran Stark

Newly-minted with a PhD, and with a strong claim to secure their place in the Game of Tenure, the Post-Doc is instead exiled to distant lands, living between any institution that’ll fund their research. Silver lining, however, is that it usually seems to be somewhere warmer than their home institution, which always helps.

Or, less optimistically, the Early-Career Researchers are Bran Stark, with the ability to look into the past and see where it all went wrong for them (…sometime around 3 months into 1st year of the PhD). Much like Bran, ECRs are hanging out somewhere in the department, but no-one really knows where.

Your Supervisor as the Three-Eyed Raven

Powerful, all-knowing and certainly wiser than you. Gives mysterious literature recommendations which you sense are useful, but then quickly departs and makes you go it alone in the end. His absence for an entire series roughly reflects the length of time it takes to get an email response from them.

Peer-Reviewed Articles as the Dragons

The game changer and seemingly impossible to acquire. Having a couple of these, however, probably means you’ve already won.

Graduate Training Workshops as the Iron Islands

Part of the PhD you’ve got to keep track of, but full of people from other disciplines that you don’t really recognise/will never meet again. You are still trying to grasp their relevance to your overall project in any way.

Your self-esteem as Hodor

An essential, if quiet companion during the early days of your PhD. Holds back the flood of stress and self-doubt until the academic forces that-be eventually break you down, killing your sense of self-worth with it. (#spoiler #holdthedoor)

Your motivation as Gendry

You know it’s going be integral to the overall plot in the end, but where the hell did it go? You’ve kind of forgotten it existed.

Overly-detailed questions at seminar presentations as the Sons of the Harpy

You didn’t see them coming, you didn’t prepare for them, you got complacent and now you’re DOOMED.

Undergraduates as Olly

You’ve put time and effort teaching them all you know, only for them to stab you in the back (or front) as postgrads when they come back and take your office space once your funding runs out. Brutal.

Your Annual Review as the White Walkers

You know it’s coming, but you haven’t got a clue what the hell you’re going to do about it.

Twitter as Varys

A little bird’s tweets full of constant rumours of how well other people are doing. So, generally annoying. A useful device nevertheless, which in today’s Game of Tenure, you’ll almost certainly need to succeed.

Productivity as Oberyn Martell

When you’ve had a good day of writing and start to think you know what you’re doing. And then…

This blog post as the Brothel Scenes

An interesting but ultimately unnecessary distraction whilst you probably should have been paying attention to something else more important.

Your non-PhD friends/family as Jon Snow 

They know nothing. Really, they don’t, regardless of how many times you’ve explained your thesis topic to them. Still, like illegitimate royal offspring that won’t quite die, they come back again during tough times to restore your faith in humanity.

PGRs as Tyrion Lannister/the Starks

Like Tyrion, PGRs talk a good game – complimentary seminar wine in hand – but are ultimately clueless on whatever the hell is going on around them.

Their defining characteristic, however, à la House Stark, is being treated as the whipping post by pretty much everybody else in the kingdom. Dwindling resources, rock-bottom self-worth and chances of success? You got it.

Still, everyone loves an underdog and take heart, the good guys (usually) win in the end. Winter may be coming in the Game of Tenure, but summer comes just after that.

Aside from excessive procrasti-viewing of cult TV shows, Scott Reid is a first-year Scottish History PhD between Edinburgh and St Andrews universities. This blog was co-authored by his undergraduate flatmate, Hugh Roberts, also now a first-year PhD in American History at the University of Kent who introduced Scott to GoT and who he holds responsible for the significant amount of time and energy he has wasted on it, and clearly, this blog.

Both are funded by the AHRC (Scott/Hugh) and can also be found on Twitter (Scott/Hugh).

Image 1: “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham
Image 2: Flikr,