By Fraser Raeburn |

No one has ever completed a PhD by sitting very still in one place. Whether it be a brisk stroll over to the library, or an epic trek into the Himalayas in search of wisdom, we will all, at some point, need to move.

But how?

PhDs do not tend to have a natural aptitude for movement, at least not coordinated movement. Yet it is undeniably part of the skillset we need to develop to succeed. Whether it be between cities, or on the dancefloor, we need to learn to move in order to survive. Here are my top methods of PhD travel:


One foot in front of the other. Repeat.

Pros: Cheap and renewable, with a minimal carbon footprint – your ethics committee will love you. You can often take more direct routes along paths that many vehicles would have to go around. Many people find fresh air bracing and aids the thinking process.

Cons: Socially unacceptable in some countries, notably the United States, where a crowd of (vehicle-ensconced) spectators will quickly form if you try and perambulate for more than a few metres.

Even at a brisk pace, intercity travel takes dozens if not hundreds of hours, more if you take an acceptably scenic route. Not only will you arrive at your destination tired and smelly, you’ll have inhaled enough petrol fumes to start finding Jeremy Clarkson both compelling and strangely attractive.




Mechanical deathtrap, powered by your tears.

Pros: Cycling is basically a cult made up of aggressively fit, strangely-tanned types who know their inner tubes from their chamois. This can be great for an awkward PhD type – cults are a great way to meet people with common interests outside your department, and once you’ve been cycling for a while you’ll find that a swift cycling anecdote can be inserted into any conversation. Or every conversation, in some cases.

We’re not all bike-curious

Cons: Not all cities were born equal when it comes to cycling – narrow streets, hills, aggressive drivers can be ever-present menaces. Also, the clothing looks ridiculous.



Large, hop-on/hop-off motor vehicle.

Pros: Cheap, communal, egalitarian and inefficient, it’s always a surprise that buses weren’t victims of anti-Communist hysteria back in the 1950s, not least because they’re so often painted red. But they’ve survived, and thrived, and these days you can get a bus pretty much anywhere, if you’ve got the time and buttocks of steel.

Cons: You generally get what you pay for. An overnight bus ride the night before you actually need to achieve anything is a recipe for disaster. Fine if you’re backpacking South America, less fine if you need to be able to coherently explain your topic to someone or stay awake while they explain theirs.



Land snake; bound by steel rails to do our bidding.

Pros: Somewhat environmentally friendly while still at least nominally efficient when nothing goes wrong, trains are the best of both worlds for medium-distance travel. Less cramped and jolty than buses, some heroic PhD students even manage to work during the journey.

Cons: Be prepared to book decades ahead of time or start cataloguing which organs you can do without – train travel is inexplicably expensive and inconvenient, at least in the UK. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a small island in possession of a terrible train system, must be in want of fundamental reform, but don’t hold your breath.

Some train companies are more explicit about the situation than others




Pros: Defy the laws of gravity, for just £14.99 one-way! Flying is inherently daring and glamourous, despite Ryanair’s best efforts. For those engaged in intercontinental research, it’s probably going to be necessary at some point, depending on your aptitude for either swimming or sailing.

Cons: Flying makes many people nervous, with good reason – it’s a high (heh) stakes game of chicken between human achievement and human negligence, and history suggests that the latter usually finds a way to win. Boarding a plane is like taking part in a very slow game of Russian Roulette: you’ll probably be fine, but eventually a bunch of similar people riding a very similar contraption are going to wind up two-dimensional on the side of a mountain.



Burn long dead organisms to propel yourself into the future.

Pros: Driving your own car is the ultimate sign of adult independence. Not only can you go anywhere, you’re trusted to do it in a machine that only needs a small lapse in concentration to slaughter a family of five. As a PhD student, this is likely the only outward sign of adult independence that you are capable of/able to afford.

Cons: Who wants to be designated driver at the conference dinner? Having to maintain polite levels of chitchat is hard enough without having to be sober at the same time.

Write sober; discuss your writing drunk

Fraser is at that stage of the PhD where you live in a cloud of strss, ennui and despair, and suspects you might be too if you made it this far through the article. Don’t worry, it’ll probably be over soon. You can check out his research and other ramblings on his website or Twitter.