In the past few month I’ve read some articles about the life and the suffering of a PhD. Many of these articles came mostly in form of top ten lists and meant to be funny. As it is often the case with these lists, you feel understood by some of these points and they offer you an articulation of your problems you weren’t able to come up with yourself. But there is one thing in these lists that is never mentioned, but is at least very strongly connected to me and my PhD.
The question, which I’ve been asked so many times now, why I am doing a PhD in the first place. I know the standard answers here: It is such an interesting topic that nobody ever looked into! I like doing research! Career! I’ll change the world with this! … These are some of the things one can say and which are quite possible truly meant this way. Yes, I do like research and I like being an academic and I want this career path. But the honest, bloody, ugly truth is that I can’t do anything else!
Among my many friends I have all sorts of people who do different jobs they actually like. People who enjoy their participation in creating something physical, a car, a house, some kind of product, a piece of art, design or adverts, are among these friends. People who like to work with people, in schools, in hospitals, in hotels or in court are my friends. People who are true entrepreneurs, always chasing the next opportunity and creatively turning something unimaginable into a source of income. And although I can empathetically understand the satisfaction they get from their work, I would not gain it from these activities because my limited skill set won’t allow me to perform in such a way that I could actually enjoy it.
I, on the other hand, are only good at thinking, or at least I hope I am. It’s not the case that I’m not creative or unable to work with people. These skills I possess, but they are only directed in one direction, namely to support my ability to do research. I find satisfaction in grabbing a problem, sit down and think about it philosophically. I also enjoy thinking about the way we can think about these problems. This ability to critically think is both a blessing and a curse, as it proves helpful in my job but rather painful in my private life. At the end of the day, the things I find most appealing create a sense of indifference in others, which is also the other way around.
Finally, in the best of all possible worlds I will do my PhD. I will graduate and wear a talar and my family and friends will be proud, pictures will be taken. But the end result, this book, the accumulation of years of sitting, staring and thinking will only be known to a hand full of people on this planet.