Ah, yes, the Frequently Asked Questions section of a website. I have resisted doing one of these because I feel the majority of them are akin to an encore at a rock concert: an expected and contrived part of the show. The band knows they’re going to have to play their fake last song, say thanks and good night, and walk off the stage only to reappear moments later to play two or three more songs in order to fulfill some bizarre cultural expectation of the concert-going experience. I suspect many FAQ sections are like that — nobody actually asks these questions but it is expected that they be there. So, rather than a list of questions I actually get frequently asked (like ‘What’d you do today?’, ‘How about that local government/development/gossip?’) I offer you a number of questions that I imagine I would get frequently asked if anybody were really that interested. I’d just like to say that you’ve been a great audience.
Who the hell are you?
I already have a page that explains all of that. Thank you for asking.
Why are you doing a PhD?
Because I saw a knowledge gap in the field I was interested in. I felt this was the best way to fill that gap. Oh, and I also want to be called Dr. without having to stick my face in people’s parts.
Do you even like doing a PhD? You seem pretty critical of it.
I do and I don’t. I started this blog as a way of demystifying the process. So far it’s been 10% demystification and 89% critique of academia (1% miscellaneous). The deeper I get into the tentacles of academia the more broken I find it to be, and that’s a fucked up way to live. This will not be news to veterans of the profession, but it’s something rather frightening to newbies. I’m glad I will have a document of my feelings at various stages. I think it’ll be worth it when I’m done.
Should I do a PhD?
Sure, if you want to. Or maybe not. I don’t know. It’s not for everyone. I guess you should ask yourself why you’d want to do it and if you’re willing to have not a lot of money while you’re doing it. Regardless of what TEDtalks might have you believe, passion alone isn’t enough.
Do you read for pleasure?
Kind of. I guess this kind of continues on from the previous question. I can’t turn off my critic’s voice no matter what I read (well, that’s actually not true. I’ve never deconstructed a takeout menu), so this sometimes detracts from the escapist pursuit in pleasure reading. One thing I’ve found solace in is podcasts. I absolutely love 99% Invisible, My Brother My Brother and Me, and WTF. I can flick one of these on the old Zune and just listen. No judgement. Well, some judgement.
What do you think of the new season of Orange is the New Black?
I think it is the show I hate the most but can’t stop watching. I’m only about halfway through season 2, but I can say the following: Piper proves herself to be a child time and again and her character’s development has been annoyingly non-existent. She is one of the least likeable protagonists I’ve ever seen. At this point, all of the characters are overwrought, especially Crazy Eyes. I feel as though the director just went ahead and let the actors do whatever they want but fails to control the overall narrative in the way, say, Mike Leigh does (I recommend Happy-Go-Lucky and Naked). In short, I think it’s kind of crap and I hate myself for watching it.
Um, how about this heat?
It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Amirite?
I’d like to give you every job. Got a CV?
How’s your research/project/dissertation going?
See, now this is actually a frequently asked question and it is also the question you must never ask a PhD student. The reason you must never ask it is because the project is never going well and there are a bunch of reasons — some beyond the student’s control, some not — that it is not going well. Or, maybe it is going well and you’ve just planted a little seed of doubt in that person’s mind that maybe it isn’t. That is how fragile an equilibrium we’re dealing with here; even when things are going well they’re a small talk question away from falling apart again. Here’s a visual that might help.