My dear husband always tells me I’m too “by the books.” If there is a piece of paper with “Rules and Regulations” written on it, I’ll follow them to the letter. Let’s just say I don’t have a problem with authority. However, this doesn’t always serve me well, as I’ll illustrate.

Case 1: My supervisor, Post graduate students manager, and Research Manager, keep telling me I should apply for a NHMRC scholarship. I read the rules and it says¬† you can’t do it part-time, and don’t proceed any further. Two weeks before the application is due, my Research Manager tells me I should ask if I can do it part-time and the answer is “Yes you can – we often have this situation” (ie when students have carer responsibilities at home). Hence the one whole week spent putting the application together, at breakneck speed.

Case 2: An Ethics application to put up posters advertising the Acupause study at a hospital. The application involves three checklists, two giant forms which threaten to eclipse my thesis in word length, and about ten various other forms including one that I fronted up with to my Research Manager’s office begging for help with. She called our Ethics committee member who said “Hmm sounds like a bit of overkill for a poster!” One phone call later, and I am told “Just send us the poster!” To which I reacted with a curious mixture of relief and an overwhelming sense of being the daftest person in the world.

Watch out world, here comes a new improved rebellious me, who plans to ask everyone in an annoying voice “but are you sure I really need to do that?”

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Good question. I think my reasons for doing a PhD were: (a) I was told that I wouldn’t progress in my intended career as a researcher unless I obtained one; (b) I was working on something that would be an ideal PhD project; (c) it would give me opportunities to develop skills such as writing, leadership, networking, coordinating maddening clinical trials…

At the start of my studentship I got a bit philosophical and read a little bit on the history of the PhD. My information comes from Wikipedia and the University of Melbourne PhD handbook. According to Wikipedia, the term doctor probably originally referred to apostles or Christian authorities who taught the bible, a doctorate being thought of as a “licence to teach”. The Doctor of Philosophy was created by a Philosophy department in a German University and was adopted in the USA in the 19th century.

There’s a detailed definition of what a PhD is defined as in our official PhD handbook but the overall idea is that “The degree of Doctor of Philosophy signifies that the holder has undertaken a substantial piece of original research which has been conducted and reported by the holder under proper academic supervision and in a research environment for a prescribed period”. In other words, this poor sod actually stuck it through the entire process of designing and implementing a research project, and lived to tell the tale (in 80-100,000 words excluding references and tables). And, I like this, “It is a careful, rigorous and sustained piece of work demonstrating that a research “apprenticeship” is complete and the holder is admitted to the community of scholars in the discipline.”

I have visions of a “community of scholars” wearing puffy hats and cravats and drinking claret and hobnobbing in the evenings.

Unfortunately the advice of others to do it as “you just have to write a thesis at the end” was not quite the best reason to pursue a PhD. I am doing it perhaps BECAUSE I have to write a thesis, and hopefully not at the end either. I have always wanted to be a writer and by the end of it all if I am not a writer I don’t know when I’ll ever be one.

Hopefully it won't take me this long to finish my PhD
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