Thesiswhisperer asked on twitter recently for comebacks when people question the point of doing a PhD (and subsequently blogged about it). My mind was a little fuzzy and could only think of lengthy and thus un-tweetable responses until finally I replied:
"Until space travel is viable, a PhD is how we explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no one has gone before"
When you're doing a PhD it doesn't hurt to tap into geek culture once in a while.
However one thing I am very thankful for is that people don't often question the validity of my research. I used to get nervous that performance-focussed jazz musicians would find it completely pointless, but every student I've spoken to is aware of the difficulty they face in writing. Even more broadly, students of other faculties and disciplines also understand the challenge of writing, that writing is important at university and so can respect my decision to research it. How they respond to my findings may be another thing; I had trouble once when a non-linguist audience was very content-focussed and felt I was missing aspects which I felt were unimportant for me as musicians are well able to recognise vocabulary differences between jazz and classical music without me pointing them out.
The question I find more difficult, partly because I'm still not confident of the answer myself, is what I will do after the PhD, and therefore what is the point in ME doing a PhD. Not having ever planned to do a research degree before I found myself accepted to one can lead to a few insecurities. Sometimes the question is "what does it get you", suggesting an almost materialistic view of education - only valued if you "get" some qualification or license to label yourself a profession, ignoring the skills and perspectives you gain. My dad is fond of saying that no education is ever wasted, though admittedly once in a while someone really puts that to the test. Once I found myself arguing more strongly than usual after being dismissed by an older, much distant relative (who I'd never met before) as an eternal student, as if it was merely an enthusiastic yet irrelevant interest to be good-humouredly indulged and which, to my disbelieving indignation, required a rich husband to support. Clearly I have to be earning lots of money before I'm considered independent. And even then...
Anyway, that was a forgotten, yet clearly bottled-up, detour.
There are many possibilities of what I theoretically could do after my PhD. I'm hoping and praying (while usually trying to avoid thinking about it) that an appropriate opportunity pops up at a suitable time and doesn't leave me penniless for too long after my scholarship runs out. I am resassured that my friend recently got a job which will hopefully give her the opportunity to apply her research. I wonder sometimes if my topic is too niche and doubt my abilities to be able to move beyond my little corner, but then smart people say nice things about me and I let myself relax a little.
But next time someone socially asks me what I'm going to do after my PhD I might respond with "join Starfleet", because it seems if nothing else, I must be qualified to "explore new worlds, seek out new life forms and new civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before"!
And in the meantime I'm going to make badges with "ASK ME IN JUNE". I'll make a whole range of them with every month to choose from then sell them to PhD, Masters students and pregnant women.