PhD Comics

Have you discovered PhD Comics yet? No? Good heavens, what have you been doing with all your time?

[If the answer is working, I don’t want to hear about it. Procrastination is a tried and tested method of surviving the PhD.]

PhD Comics ‘Piled Higher and Deeper’ is about life in academia. It was created by Jorge Cham who has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford. The comics show up nearly everywhere, from the academic journal Nature to the NY Times. Some of the comics have even been made into books. In 2014, the site was getting a million visitors a month.

PhD Comics is mainly directed at the sciences, but (and this is coming from a humanities PhD) they’re just as funny no matter what field you’re in. In fact, if you are humanities, they might make you feel a bit better about your life. Science is hard, man.

Reading these comics every week was part of my sanity-saving arsenal of techniques. It reminded me that a) I was not alone, b) there was something to laugh about, and c) it could always be worse.

If you haven’t checked the site out, or haven’t been on it in a while, please consider this post as doctor’s orders to do so immediately.

You can start at the very beginning in 1997 here. Or fast-forward to my favourite of all time here.



This post is timely, as I have a colleague from Mexico, who I attended school with in England, coming for a visit tomorrow. I’m going to show her Niagara Falls.

One of the most amazing things about attending school in a foreign country is that you aren’t the only foreigner. Others will be there for you to meet. You will instantly acquire a network (if small to start) of people with similar interests (same department) from countries that might very well be from around the world. My own department was diverse and wonderful in that way, and I have friends and colleagues from over a dozen countries.

But if you don’t have that, how do you build a network?

Networking is one of those catch-all phrases you hear everywhere these days. In departments, in business meetings, at conferences. Everyone seems to be talking about networking. It’s not new. It’s been around as long as people have been in business together, and maybe even before that. It’s making acquaintances with people you would not otherwise know, who share interests/passions/work and developing a relationship. Sometimes that relationship is quite basic and simple and perhaps you won’t contact each other for years. And on the other side of the equation are people you’ll end up working closely with.

No matter what field you are in, you’re going to have to network. It can be awful (says the introvert speaking), but it’s a necessary evil if you want to get anywhere in life. Many jobs these days are found through networking. Opportunities for freelancing, research, projects, grants, etc. all come through networks. They are the building grounds of careers and your ability to network will directly affect how far you get (and how fast you get there).

But it’s hard. Trust me, I know this. Networking does not come naturally to me. I am the type of person who stands in a corner at a conference and hopes no one will speak to her. I do not make small talk easily.

But I do it because I must. Because I’ve found projects, research, opportunities and even a PhD because of networking.

So how do you do it? Make colleagues with those in your department (students and staff). Go to conferences in your field and talk to people. Even if you only talk to a few people at a conference, or only do it via Twitter, it’s still networking that might help you one day. Try to meet other students at your university in slightly different research fields, but that connect with yours in some way, some how (and even if their research doesn’t, sometimes it’s helpful to know people outside your field – as I am discovering right now!) Try to take any opportunity to meet people that come your way.

And network online. Everyone is on LinkedIn and Twitter these days. These are staple networking sites. Everyone uses them for that. Follow people. Tweet people. Complete your LinkedIn profile. Join groups. Comment. Converse. Don’t stay in the background or you are left with whoever decides to come over and see why you’re hiding in the background. And that’s not going to be very many people and they might not be the sort that are useful to you.

It’s going to be difficult if you aren’t the extroverted, outgoing, meet-and-be-friendly type. But it’s part of academia and professional business these days. And it’s a skill that does get easier, in time, with practice.

‘Hi, my name is Dr Amy Hetherington, I have a PhD in Museum Studies and I’m a social media and marketing freelancer. What do you do?’


Curation, or the act of curating, is defined as the organisation and maintaining of a collection of artworks or artefacts. Content curation, on the other hand is the process of analysing and sorting Web content and presenting it in a meaningful and organised way around a specific theme.

Having defined those terms, I’ve spent the last week ‘curating’ a twitter account. Which means mostly content curation, obviously, since it’s a Twitter account.

It was interesting and informative. The best part about the @wethehumanities account is that it encompasses all humanities. So the people that follow it can be from any field (and even some outside humanities that do multi-disciplinary work). It makes a unique pool of academics, researchers, and professionals to talk to.

The entire point of the curation week is to share your own research, communicate with others with shared interests, and engage in conversations with people who don’t necessarily share your interests specifically, but are proponents of humanities as a discipline.

We covered everything from social media addiction to off-screen time, digital literacy, museum text panels, digital design and don’t touch policies. And a lot of other things in between.

I wasn’t certain about signing up to curate, but a colleague suggested it. I thought well ‘try something you aren’t sure you can do’ is always a good learning experience. I think it was (mostly) a success and I learned about other people’s viewpoints, and some facts I didn’t know.

I tried a lot of things during my PhD I had never done or that outright made me anxious (ex. public speaking), and every experience was a learning opportunity. I was a student and it seemed to be part of the experience. Now that I’m not a student, I find I more readily say ‘no’ to things. For one, there is no pressure to say yes. But for another, it’s easier to say no. And that means I’m missing out on experiences and opportunities.

So this time, I said yes, and I’m glad I did.

Twittering Tweets

Still Twittering away over @WetheHumanities if you should care to participate/follow.

It’s a great account that attempts to spark multi-disciplinary conversations amongst humanities researchers. Quite  a few of you might fit that bill! Every week the Twitter account has a new ‘curator’ to sparks conversation, discusses their own research, and tries to offer an open view for others from different fields to engage in learning experiences. I’m on call until Sunday night!


I’m over tweeting @WetheHumanities this week, about museums, digital engagement, kids, and several random things I’ll think about tomorrow morning. Come follow along or start a conversation!