By Fraser Raeburn |

Whether it be in an actual office, or merely a small table in a local café that you jealously guard against encroachment, we all have our own little PhD homes at which to work, write and procrastinate. With years to imprint ourselves into its very fabric, in many ways our desks are more full representations of who we are than anything else we create during our PhDs.

Which means, of course, that anyone with access to your office space is able to make crude and unfair speculations about you. Here’s what your PhD desk says about you:

The Stationers’ Delight

You may have a computer, but it’s difficult to tell under so many post-it notes. Your pen collection better approximates a rainbow than a gay pride parade during a sunshower. You are single-handedly responsible for keeping stationery stores in business, you also just got strangely happy when ‘stationery’ was spelled correctly. You will end your days in an asylum after snapping when someone asks to borrow a pen one too many times.

phd desk post itIt has nice, soothing yellow walls.

The Survivalist

You put the crazy in ‘crazy prepared’. At your desk you have whatever you need to survive a gruelling pre-deadline session – lemsip, caffeine pills, soothing whalesong recordings, emergency photos of dogs and whatever else an all-nighter might require. You’ve already gotten in trouble from the floor below you for trying to dig a bunker under your desk. Yet however much you try to add method to the madness, you know that come dawn, your once-proud bastion of rainforest oils and safety blankets will have given way to chaos and despair.

The Ghost

No one can prove your existence, but it can be inferred by the way that objects on your desk occasionally move around when no one is watching. Are you invisible? Do you only stalk the halls at the hour of midnight? What strange crime against proper citation methods did you commit to be condemned to such an existence? This is why PhD spaces have been overcrowded ever since universities stopped offering degrees in exorcism.

kreuz_als_fusnotenzeichen_in_henderson_1839The power of cites compels you.

The Stockpiler

While we all indulge in the odd drop of caffeine and a stolen conference sandwich, you take things to extremes. Boxes of tea, jars of coffee, pieces of fruit, packets of biscuits: you have more consumable items secreted away than a kleptomaniac squirrel. Everyone looks on with enraged jealousy each time a plastic wrapper is opened – you think you’re being subtle, but every ear in the room is tuned to your chocolate digestives. You worry whether you have an unhealthy tea habit or whether your colleagues are pilfering teabags, but you’re not sure which would be worse.

The Decorator

Your desk is a gallery of things you find funny and/or interesting pinned to every available surface. Yet behind this optimistic façade lurks a deeper pessimism. Your desk is a tacit admission that you are in this for the long haul: not only are you willing to dedicate time and thought to decorating your desk when others would be working, but you’ve clearly made the calculation that you’ll be around long enough to make it worthwhile. Never fear though, if the PhD doesn’t work out you’ve made the first step towards a career in interior design.

30158272770_d1e9ce5f57_z“Literally all of your ideas so far have involved adding more bookcases”


The Swimmer

Journal articles, drafts, source material, marking… whatever can be stored in an untidy pile of paper, is stored in an untidy pile of paper. Not for you the conveniences of modern technology such as ‘digital copies’ or ‘manila folders’ – only the unbound A4 sheet can satisfy your needs. Your solution whenever something gets out of order is to print a new version and condemn the scattered remnants to the bottom layers for slow fossilisation. You no longer have fingerprints, just crisscrossed layers of scar tissue from paper cuts.

The Builder

Why leave your desk to go to the library when you can bring the library to your desk? You have carefully hoarded every somewhat relevant book the library has on your subject and stacked them on your desk. This makes you the Donald Trump of PhD desk occupants: you have either walled yourself off from those around you, or built a hubristic tower that only highlights your own shortcomings. Your neighbours are increasingly concerned that either you or they will die in a bookslide. You plot passive-aggressive revenge on any who dare recall your library books.

Fraser has in no way emulated Liam Neeson’s approach to problem solving in the past. He’s far too busy wasting time on Twitter and doing researchy things.


(Cover image and Image 4 (C) Fraser Raeburm, Image 1 (CC); Image 2 (CC); Image 3 (CC)