The Seven Stages of the PhD

(I don’t know who wrote this, nor where I got it. It would be nice to track down the originator(s), but Google is no help. But I think it’s worth sharing, just not with either those thinking about – or just starting – a doctoral program. This is literally, though not necessarily linearly, true. I used to mark where I was on any given day, kind of like a barometer.)

1. Fearful Excitement: Common reaction upon arrival and in initial courses. Excitement at learning opportunities and meeting new people, mixed with trepidation at the mountain of reading and a feeling that you don’t know what everyone else is talking about.

  • Lasts: Eight to sixteen months, depending on program
  • Phrase Most Heard: “Let’s go have a beer after class!”

2. The Impostor Syndrome: Normal feeling when approaching comprehensive exams. Great dread that the faculty will finally discover you don’t know anything. Total frustration at incomprehensibility of most scholarly writing.

  • Lasts: One frantic two-month study session
  • Phrase Most Thought: “Geez, I don’t have a clue about this stuff”

3. Intellectual Excitement: Euphoria at passing comps and beginning to tackle dissertation proposal.

  • Lasts: Two weeks
  • Phrase: “I’ll have a proposal by the end of the summer.”

4. I Should Have Gone to…: Undergraduate classmates graduate from law and business school and purchase BMWs. Dissertation proposal collapses in complete muddle. Spouse, friends and parents continually ask if done yet. You watch at least ten hours of TV a day.

  • Lasts: Six months to four years
  • Phrase: Repeating anything from “Community”

5. Professional Groove: First conference session goes smoothly. Chapters are returned without anyone noticing the huge holes in them. Business cards printed. Begin calling department head by first name.

  • Lasts: Six cocktail receptions
  • Phrase: “That’s similar to my own work, which looks at…”

6. The Abyss: Funding ends. All job applications rejected. Second-to-last chapter remains complete mess despite five drafts. You avoid the department. Total loss of faith in all ideological and moral value systems.

  • Lasts: Endurance of human spirit
  • Phrase: “I used to believe that.”

7. Defense and Aftermath: Defend body of work that you hate and despise. Buy first car. Panic on evenings and weekends when you realize you don’t have any work you could be doing.

  • Lasts: Lifetime
  • Phrase: “Gosh, we had fun in grad school.”

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