By Séveric Yersin |
Does everybody roll their eyes when you talk about your research? It’s time to be honest and face the truth: PhD candidates aren’t the most beloved, the most interesting, the most fun people there are. Their research topic is more often than not obscure to a degree that even peers have trouble understanding it and/or its relevance, while non-academic people wonder why someone would freely decide to spend three to ten years on such a dusty path. Most PhD candidates would never dare to take a quiz about how boring they are – and you?
Note your answer to each question and discover how annoying you, as a PhD candidate, are.
What kind of outfit do you wear to go to the office, library or seminar rooms?
a) A turtle-neck sweater, no matter the time of the year.
b) A blouse or a shirt, mostly without print; and a unicolor jumper in winter.
c) A T-shirt with some pop-culture reference printed on it.
What kind of pen do you use?
a) A fountain pen with a piston ink-filling system that you’ve bought in a small stationary shop, and you use exclusively black ink.
b) A well-sharpened pencil. You have twenty of them in a neat box in your drawer.
c) A ballpoint pen you found in a drawer at home.
How does your (dreamed) living room look like?
a) Books, books, books everywhere. Most of them well-organized, all but a staple of recently-bought-but-not-yet-read-books. The whole Foucault-collection in French sits in the middle of your bookshelf.
b) A fine balance between books, a big but not too expensive TV set, a small collection of comic books, a coffee table with a museum catalogue on it, a couch and an armchair and some pictures with no particular cultural relevance.
c) A big TV screen, two game consoles with a big collection of games but no action shooter or car race games. There are some books about Russian ballet in the 17th Century, an analysis of the 1927 crash and gender theory. There’s a Bluetooth speaker somewhere.
How do you occupy yourself on the commute?
a) Reading the newspaper, in broad sheet format. You skip the finance and business pages but never miss the culture section.
b) Reading the newspaper on a tablet that you bought for this purpose only.
c) Listening to podcasts on lifestyle and health advice.
When talking about your research, you begin with:
a) Mentioning that you’ve gotten the Grant-of-the-Year for your project, along with the prestigious University you’ve enrolled in.
b) A long sigh, a pause, and a somewhat annoyed and confused explanation of your topic.
c) You don’t talk about your research if you don’t have to, so you make a joke and change topic.
Your friends are:
a) Exclusively other PhD-candidates or already have completed a PhD.
b) Mostly PhD-candidates.
c) Exclusively non-academic.
When in vacation, you:
a) Try to remember if what you’ve read to prepare your trip matches the description in the brochure of the local museum. Was this church really built in 1325, or hasn’t new research shown that some parts were already built in 1189?
b) Discretely look for some fun facts about the place you are visiting on the Internet. You usually end up with facts that aren’t really that fun.
c) Relax at the beach and wonder if you should visit the amphitheater everybody talks about.
If you have mostly answered …
a) Everybody knows that you’re pursuing a PhD, and everybody has to know. You don’t know what else you would do if you weren’t doing research. You think that one of the major problems of our age is that academics aren’t acknowledged enough for their contribution to the world. Secretly, you wish you had a simpler life.
b) Everybody knows, but you don’t know why. You’re passionate about your research topic and you try not to talk about it too much, but you can’t help it. Sometimes, you feel very lucky to earn money – if too little – doing what you like. Sometimes, you wonder if you should have chosen another discipline.
c) Most people are surprised when they learn that you’re writing a PhD-thesis. You really don’t know how you ended up doing this, but here you are. You can’t stand your pretentious colleagues and their endless and meaningless talks. When your funding runs out, you’ll open a craft shop on an island in the pacific and never worry about critical discourse analysis anymore.
Séveric Yersin is a PhD candidate at the University of Basel and at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. His research focuses on the History of Public Health in Switzerland between the 19th and 20th Century, in particular on the institutionalisation of the fight against epidemics. He refuses to tell with which category he identifies the most.