What people think you do vs What you actually do

Today was interesting for several reasons. For one, I realized rather abruptly at 9:05am what job I don’t want to do for the rest of my life.

For another, I have a life coach now, which is a Thing these days, I know, but also an incredibly useful thing, as it turns out. And so, I feel this post that I wrote three weeks ago, is rather timely to post now. Because my life coaching session today was all about Developing a Process, and respecting that the Process is as important as the End Result, if not more so. And that the Process should be done right the first time, which takes time, care, and consideration. And that I shouldn’t apologized for the fact that it is a Process, and it is Going to Take Time. Maybe a lot of time.

So, on with the blog post.

You’ve seen those memes right? The ones that have six images and say things like ‘what your friends think you do’, ‘what you parents think you do’, etc.

There’s one for nearly every job out there, I think, judging by the number I’ve seen. There’s a few for PhD students too.

Most of them are pretty spot on, but the reality is that people are always going to be a bit unsure of what you actually do as a PhD student, especially if you are working in an area most people have never heard of, much less know anything about. Take it as a learning opportunity and explain it to them. You need to practice disseminating your research to the masses, after all.

At the end of the day, though, there are certain inalienable truths to being a PhD student. Your parents will always think you have your nose to the grindstone and are working in the library twelve hours a day. Your friends who aren’t students will assume you sleep all day and party all night (or vice versa). The general public will simply revere you as Amazingly Smart and be astounded at how you can actually do such a thing. They will also assume you spend all day in the lab, even if you are a history student. The academic staff will know you spend most of your time procrastinating by reading blogs, looking at comics, and all around drinking far too much coffee, because that’s what they did when they were PhD students. Your supervisor will expect that you’re hard at work doing their research, rather than yours, or writing amazing articles for peer-reviewed journals. And you? You know that what you really do is a combination of all of the above, sometimes all in the same day, and that’s really okay.

But what matters is that, no matter what you ARE doing in your PhD, it’s a process. And it’s in progress. And that’s okay. You don’t have to apologize for, or explain that, to anyone you don’t want to. Or anyone who is going to judge you by their standards. So whatever it is you DO do, keep doing it, and don’t worry so much about what others think you do. It’s all valid.

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