Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rules for interacting with a thesis writer

Since I posted DON'T ASK about MY THESIS signs all over the place, particularly Facebook, and subsequently added You Can Ask Me About My Health or the Weather, again all over Facebook, I love that people have been pointedly asking me how I am or mentioning the weather rather than ask me about my thesis. It's particularly amusing because the slump which really drove the first poster passed soon after it, so I don't mind too much if people ask. So I thought it was worth offering some more pointed information. Here are some rules I have just made up; the brief version is to stick to number one, but if you feel prepared, you can continue on to the others.


1. Don't ask about the thesis between:
six months before it's "due" until twelve months after it was due. An alternative question is to ask "How are you going?" or "How's it going?"; if they want to mention the thesis, they will, but they will be grateful not to be specifically asked for the hundredth time

2. Don't ask about the thesis if:
You're uncomfortable with displays of emotion, particularly weeping, stress and the kermit-the-frog-like waving of hands.

3. Don't ask about the thesis if:
You don't have time for a lengthy conversation. If you're passing in the hallway, or just ran into each other in the street, don't ask. It forces us to say "good" and then feel guilty.

4. If you have asked about the thesis:
And received a lengthy expression of stress, doubt and despair, please listen to our concerns and don't offer sweepingly generalised assurances of "she'll be right" based solely on your good opinion of us. It's possibly true but is easy to dismiss that you don't really know how little we have achieved or how much we have to do.

5. Ask about the thesis if:
You are doing or have done a thesis. The sympathetic listener is much preferred. However as one of the community, you are more likely to receive the long version, so return to rule number 3.

If you do not ask me about my thesis, if you don't judge me for it taking longer than it seems like it should, if you give me space to talk about or not talk about my thesis as I wish, in return I promise to broadcast to you and the world when I do submit.

And, as always, PhD Comics has come up with a better way to represent it:

How a PhD is like the Big Bang Theory

I uploaded this slideshow the other day:
How a PhD is like The Big Bang Theory
View more presentations from Jodie Martin

I originally created it last year at some point, around the same time as I made the "How a PhD is like Alice in Wonderland" slideshow. But I uploaded it the other day as I was talking to a friend who's also working on her thesis. She's just hit the point where she's confident enough to write "This thesis discusses" rather than "this thesis aims to discuss" and "this chapter will demonstrate" rather than "this chapter will aim to demonstrate". So I showed her this slideshow because I've been noticing in my writing too - I sometimes have to consciously cut out the hedging and write confidently. But still as I go back over what I wrote yesterday, I find needless circumlocutions, self-doubting statements and excessive mitigation. So while this is by no means a deep or particularly creative slideshow, it is a useful reminder for me that just because publications read as if they're written by Sheldon, didn't mean the first draft didn't sound like Leonard. Hope you enjoy. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Work hard

When I graduate I want this poster:

It was available in red. Blue would be ideal. By Anthony Burrill.

I've been thinking a lot lately about discipline and happiness, about work ethic and procrastination, about what drives us and what drags us down. It's definitely true for the PhD. So I think if you can live up to this poster then you will have lived your life well. So that's what I want on my wall.

And then I should probably pair it with this one:

From Etsy

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Word Fairy and the Word Goblin

I've made some important conceptual development on my thesis so I'm rewarding myself by writing a light-hearted blog post. The fact that I need to start with that explanation is indicative of the lingering sense of guilt and defensiveness I feel.

The Word Fairy is a mythical creature who drops bright and shiny and erudite-looking words (such as 'erudite') into your head as you're writing. These are often little-used words, whose meaning you're not exactly sure of. It's always best to check the Word Fairy's suggestions in a dictionary as sometimes they will be completely wrong, but you'll still want to use them because they seem such a good word. Often it takes many readings for the shininess of the word to wear off and as you're reading it you'll get a self-congratulatory buzz for using such a big, important-looking word and thus being a big, important-sounding person.

The Word Goblin is the nemesis of the Word Fairy. Rather than deliver sparkling gems of words, it takes them somewhere between the tip of your tongue and your typing fingers, leaving only the ghostly impression that there is a word for that. Sometimes, sadly, there isn't and the Word Goblin is the much maligned victim of a lexical gap.

*Original idea by Debbie Prior