Jan. 31st, 2013

fjm: (Default)
There is a very passionate post here about the downsides of a doing a PhD and I do recommend reading it, and reading the comments, because in these days when Universities are actively encouraging students to sign on for PhDs I do worry about motives all round.

But, and it's a big but, I do think that the poster, in beginning with a piece about his/her brilliance, exposes one of the most serious reasons why people fail/destroy themselves with PhDs.

A brilliant BA or MA does nothing to prepare you for the PhD.

It's simple: at BA level the longest piece of work you write is a 10k word dissertation over maybe three months. At MA level it's maybe 20k over six months.

And from there to 90k over three years? (And you can do the same maths for science projects).

So that, as a rule of thumb, I'd say that anyone getting brilliant firsts for 3k word essays written in a week is likely to be a rather fast thinker who likes to move from project to project. Does that sound like a viable PhD candidate to you? It certainly wasn't my ex-boyfriend who I may (in retrospect) have bulled to complete his thesis and who has barely written a thing since.

In contrast, I can't write a 3k word essay to save my life and look with skepticism at my colleagues who try to bring down word counts on the grounds that "students should learn to be concise". My grades started going up when the word count hit 5k. Then up again at 10k. My natural length, judging by unedited book chapters, is probably around 15k. Now that's a good starting position for a thesis. I'm also a slow thinker who has to draft and redraft, which was useless for those weekly essays, but turned out to be pretty damn good for a PhD thesis.

So when someone starts by saying they were "brilliant", I find myself wondering "at what?"


Also; nothing like everything being effortless as poor preparation for boredom and difficulty. The writer assumes that ill health, difficult background, etc, etc would all make it harder. No. What it meant in my case was that the PhD was just one more thing to deal with in a world I was used to finding difficult.

None of which means I don't think s/he has a point.

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