Unhelpful Things to Say to a Final Year PhD Student

I’ve now been out of the loop of PhD life for about 6 weeks. During that time I’ve been able to re-discover how to live without carrying my laptop everywhere, I’ve read so many books that are totally unrelated to my field of research, and I’ve been learning to ride a bike (spoiler alert – it’s been SO FUN). Over the course of those 6 weeks I’ve also been able to take a step back and begin to process all of the advice and comments that people made throughout the write-up process.

Mainly, I’m writing this because I’ve been thinking of sarcastic replies for the unhelpful comments that people gave me but would never dream of saying those replies out loud. For fellow PhD students I suspect this will provide some light relief, and for those who have thought or said things along these lines, I hope that this makes you think twice…

Comment: “A good thesis is a finished thesis!”
The response in my head: “Firstly, that’s not true. A good thesis is a well-written and well-researched thesis. Yes it needs to be finished but it’s also important to invest time in crafting the words properly so that it’s actually good. Also, please don’t patronise me.”

Comment: “No one’s going to read your thesis anyway so you can relax.”
The response in my head: “What a fecking fantastic thing to say. It’s almost like the last 3 years has been a waste of my time, brilliant! What a relief!”

Comment: “Time is ticking isn’t it?!”
The response in my head: “No shit. Reminding me of this is not helpful.”

Question: “Oh, so you’re not working as well as the PhD?”

Question: “How does your partner feel about you becoming a Dr?”
The response in my head: “I want to say he’s proud and excited for me, but honestly I’d imagine he’s just glad this whole thing is coming to an end so that I shut up talking about it.”

Comment: “Funding is really hard to find isn’t it, you’d probably do better in industry.”
The response in my head: “Tremendous, thank you for your unwavering support.”

Comment: “It’ll be difficult to get funding afterwards, people will expect you to be having babies in the next few years.”
The response in my head: “Wow you are very interested in my womb, it’s worrying to hear that funding bodies could be interested too – I suspect that they have other stuff to be getting on with. Also, no.”

2 thoughts on “Unhelpful Things to Say to a Final Year PhD Student

  1. Anastasia Fountouli, PhD (@natbeestravels)

    My oh my! I can relate to so many of these comments, especially the last one! In a male dominated place, where there were only 3 female postdocs, I could hear this circulating all the time. Sometimes it would be in my face, some other times it would be an indirect comment about another female student/postdoc (‘she won’t be doing this much longer she’s like 35 now? Soon she’ll want to have babies…’) that was a hint for me.
    Also, another very successful one-(from supervisor who didn’t read my thesis): ‘You cannot get a PhD with this thesis, this is a MSc level thesis not a PhD level thesis’. Also, my 3rd supervisor, who I only saw 4-5 times in my life, suggested I open a bakery than do a PhD!


    • heidirgardner

      Holy cow this is horrendous! I am so glad that you have proved them wrong 🙂 Your blog brilliantly demonstrates that women in STEM are not one dimensional; we are people with multiple hobbies and sides to our personalities, and our scientific ability is just one part of us.


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