By Laura Harrison |

I have spent the last few days soaking up the sun in Lakefield, Canada, and a disturbing event has transpired – I am feeling somewhat optimistic about my PhD. It feels necessary to document this most rare of events, so I’ve decided to write this post as a reminder for my future-self, when I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun in Edinburgh and I’m wondering if I will ever submit my PhD. Doing a PhD is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but there are some silver linings to the process…

Your own boss

  • Being a PhD student is essentially being an entry-level academic, and I struggle to think of any other similar position where we would have this much autonomy. As long as I occasionally show I’ve been writing something, attend some conferences, and submit at some point between 3 and 4 years, I really don’t think my supervisors care what my schedule looks like. Hence why I am able to spend all of July in the sunshine (while thesis editing).

Avoiding adulthood

  • We’ve talked a fair amount on this blog about the liminal nature of the PhD. Though this does cause some identity anxiety, I think I’ve dodged a fair number of the questions about marriage and babies and house-buying because no one really thinks of me as an adult, despite the fact I am swiftly approaching 30. Or maybe people just see that I can only afford to get my hair cut once a year, so a wedding it probably out of the question.


Looks just like a departmental wine reception

Free alcohol

  • I don’t care how gross the departmental wine is – if it is free, I will happily pretend it is Dom. I also appreciate the phenomenon I’ve encountered at a number of conferences lately where established academics buy all my drinks and tell me to pay it forward once I have a job – which is really a lovely system. And you can bet that as soon as I have an actual paycheque I will be tossing bills around like you wouldn’t believe.


  • This one is full of cheese, but ultimately we get to read/write about something we are genuinely interested in every day. The level of investment we put into our work has its downsides, but the level of satisfaction is also heightened. Even when I hate it, I still like my subject, and I know I would miss it if I did not get to research/write every day.


This is an appropriate location for a Scottish history conference right?


  • If you are smart, you figured out that you should research a sunny/warm place so you get to go on awesome research trips. I’m clearly not in this group, and thus my most exotic research trip so far has been Aberdeen. If you have also made past mistakes, you can make up for it by finding sunny conference locations.



  • Getting a PhD really lets you stick it to the teacher in school who didn’t understand your intelligence. I hope my Phys Ed teacher is suitably impressed with my doctorate in Scottish History, and regrets mocking my beep test results.


  • You end up knowing lots of weird and strange words, as well as all possible synonyms for ‘therefore’. This means you kill it in Scrabble and Bananagrams. That is, of course, unless you are playing against other PhDs, in which case it can be a bit of a blood bath.


  • You get to be the expert on some niche subject that it is likely no one else is interested in beyond a passing ‘hmmm’. But it’s yours! It is pretty cool that no one else could talk about *insert niche topic here* as well as you can.


  • Eventually, when creepy men in the pub ask ‘Is it Ms or Mrs?’, you get to say ‘Actually, it’s Doctor.’


Laura Harrison is entering the fourth year of her PhD, and therefore thinks a bit of PhD optimism is something to hold onto for as long as possible. You can find her on Twitter.


Image 1: Laura Harrison
Image 2: Flickr
Image 3: Wikimedia commons