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Daily Archives: October 30, 2015

Spooooooky Home Truths About the PhD

It’s Halloween tomorrow, and I for one am polishing my talons and getting ready to release the hounds on the local children. In honour of the spookiest of celebrations, Dr Ichabod “Cyclops” Bluebeard* has taken some time to reflect on the ghoulish lessons he took from his PhD.  

*Probably not his real name.

alient house


1. You realise your supervisor is actually an alien for whom the normal expressions of human nature and sociability are interesting empirical claims, but little more.

(This at least means you know much better how to handle them and what to expect! )

2. You discover that writing a bid for funding is actually a slightly more academic form of trick or treating.

(Everything in life is basically a form of trick or treating. Go watch the movie Trick’r’Treat to deepen this life lesson.)

3. One chapter of your thesis is like that run-down house in your street. The paint is peeling and the lawns overgrown. It’s unclear where the owner is and whether it’s inhabited, but the curtains seem to shift occasionally. When you have to walk past it you increase your speed, but you know one day you’ll venture inside. Or at least knock on the door and run away.

(You’ll go inside one day and solve the mystery of the house. In preparation, go watch the movie Monster House.)

Haunted house

4. Your flatmates discover that they are dealing with a potential Jeckyll and Hyde situation immediately before, after (and sometimes during) deadlines, progress reviews, important data gathering periods, statistical analysis, and anytime a new paper or book comes out on your topic.

(If you know this going in, you can deal with it so that your flatmates don’t have to. Read the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to see what to avoid.)

5. You meet your research doppleganger at a conference, and engage them in discussion, keeping a smile fixed on your face while desperately trying to find anything that makes your research different from theirs.

(There will be differences. But there is also value in people making the same findings! And Dopplegangers are cool.)

6. Two years into your PhD on the neuroendocrine stress response you realise that the best stimulator of the hypothalamic-pitutary-adrenal axis is your thesis and disappear into a recursive spiral.

(Incorporate “writing a thesis” as a treatment in your experiments. Or apply your research to the stress that often accompanies research. Stress may have positive effects too, if responded to correctly.)

Holloween number 1

7. Completion of your PhD is like killing Pamela or Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Chucky, or the Bride in Black: every time you think it’s down and out, you need to do it again, in a different way.

(There are multiple “endings” to the PhD (submission, viva, amendments, publication…). Each of these is valuable progress, even if more work. It should also mean multiple opportunities for celebration!)

8. You watch the entire Final Destination, Saw, Child’s Play and Hellraiser franchises just to take a calming break from that chapter you’re revising.

(For some people doing scary things like watching horror movies can be therapeutic! You can find out more about this in the latest episode of the Hidden Brain podcast “The Science of Fear”.)

9. You think you know the thoughts of long-dead academics and scholars better than you know your own, and consider a side-line writing fanfiction with Aristotle, Hypatia, Marx, and Wollstonecraft in what you pitch as a “Friends-style sitcom”.

(You will have at least one reader of your fanfiction (me).)

Halloween 2

10. You feel like a stalker when you meet your academic idol having read all their work, seen & heard their lectures and interviews online, and reveal your encyclopaedic knowledge by correcting them with a quote from one of their minor papers within five minutes of meeting them.

(Chances are they will be impressed, not embarrassed. And sometimes academics may not be the best interpreters of their own work, so it’s a good opportunity for them to learn from you!)

Dr Ichabod “Cyclops” Bluebeard, Department of the Long Dead, University of OOOOOOOOOtago