Friday, 29 November 2013


Like most people, my idea of what I wanted be when I grew up underwent frequent review processes with input coming from anyone who was older than me. So my earliest memories confirm that I always wanted to be a doctor. Why? well everyone older than me said I was intelligent and it was the most intelligent profession I knew of as a child. Then I grew a love for animals, started watching wildlife documentaries on the National geographic channel and wanted to be just like David Attenborough. This lasted a few years until I got attacked by the neighbours dog and decided maybe I didn't love animals so much. In the years following, I convinced myself that doctors were overrated but I still wanted the title (what can I say, I have been a DoctorWho fan for a very long time). Thankfully science was still attractive and the possibility of winning a Nobel prize was even more so attractive. 
Sure a lot of Peace prizes
Having now completed a PhD there are a few things I have discovered which I feel would have been courteous of others to inform me. It really isn't too much to ask, at the very least it would have saved me the shock of discovering them first hand

4. PhD holders are all knowing...

Everyone with a PhD is a genius or atleast expected to be. The whole world knows that because everyone movie starring a Dr., potrays said Dr. as a genius. Think of House, Jurassic Park and that guy from Independence day whose name I can't remember. A genius not just in their field but in every other field of studies imaginable, think of Fringe and I will say no more.

A few years ago when I would tell people I met that I was doing a PhD in neuroscience. This will usually be followed by a barrage or questions to 'pick my brain' on topics ranging from insomnia to neurological disorders and from organic chemistry to evolution. Given half the chance, I would have explained that I specifically studied deficits in the auditory system, specifically tinnitus and even more specifically just one structure within the whole system.  

Societal perception.....a PhD must know it all
Somehow people never got it when I tried explaining by telling them the title of my thesis. On hindsight I don't know why I thought that will clear things up. It really did become easier to read up and remain updated on the newest discoveries across all the sciences. By so doing helping to propagate the false stereotype which subsequent students will also be expected to live up to. Hey don't complain, I am just passing on the buck

3. It's a degree in problem solving...

It is all a shame really because whereas society at large judges PhD holders on their knowledge, the academic world passes judgement based on research publications. In the midst of all this, the real shame is that, both are far from the truth of the reality and the degree does not credit any of the above. 

So then, "What does the degree credit?" I hear you ask, well the hint is in the name. A Doctor in Philosophy is only awarded to someone who has displayed an ability to think (that's all philosophy is right?). The best way to prove this thinking ability is to undergo a 3 year minimum period of extensive problem solving, troubleshooting and thinking outside the box. Science in particular is like trying to solve one huge jig-saw puzzle with missing pieces, the whole time having no idea what the final picture looks like. Oh I should also mention you are only allowed to work on a small section and trust others to faithfully complete their small sections which must ultimately be coherent with your section and the grand picture. 

Confused? That's fine, only God knows how we have made it this far.
Its perfectly normal to develop an involuntary love for puzzles and brain teasers during your studies. 

2. Everyone is a critic...

You would think that such a world where teamwork is essential would be driven by a sense of camaraderie, brotherly love and support. On the contrary, its driven by criticism. This is best illustrated by a personal story shared by a physicist at a recent careers expo. He explained how for over 15 years every talk or presentation was met with judgemental-like questions. "Did you try this?", "How about that?", "What if....?", "Have you considered...?" "This doesn't look like it adds up!". The same work, presented at public engagement activities was however received with shouts of praise and accolades. 

It helps to have a shoulder to lean/cry on
What more can I say. If you are going to do a PhD or even work in academia, persistence and motivation is key because the criticism and setbacks will come in bucketfuls

1. Nobody cares about the title...

For me this was the worst shock. If you have read anything on this blog or heard me speak about my motivations you would have noticed a few DoctorWho references and my desire to claim the title of Dr. for myself. Two weeks into my course it dawned in me that nobody cares for the title. So what if you can now tick 'Dr' rather than 'Mr' when filling out forms?. So what if you can stand up tall if ever that famous question is asked, "Is there a doctor in the room?"..... then calmly proceed to explain how you are actually not a medical doctor. In the world of academia everyone is on first name basis. 

The only people who seem to care for the title are sales reps trying to arrange an appointment. As a matter of fact they bless everyone with the title, students and graduates alike.
Maybe that is the reason some are so good at their job