PhD: A roller coaster to hell
It is common at the beginning of a PhD that you are sent to some generic introductory lecture about the PhD process and the university values and views. In this lecture, people love to introduce you to the concept of the PhD roller coaster.
It is kind of “the process that every PhD student goes through”, and basically consists on three phases: 1) Initial amusement, where they compare you to a tourist in a new place; 2) middle crisis, when you loose all hope and sense of meaningfulness in your project; 3) final balance, when you find a middle term between amusement and depression and manage to finalize your stuff.
Sounds pretty simple and doable since they don’t want to scare you already on the first day. You go out thinking that you will do just fine, because sure you are not into this bullshit and will know how to deal with your problems. Haha! Later you realize that expectation and reality are universes far apart from each other..
but hey, this is just a bunch of loops and re-doings that you pass through.. feedback loops, framing and reframing, pleasing everybody. Not too bad, I am sure you can handle it and maybe also have fun.
For explaining the emotional process, however, I don’t like this image of the roller coaster anymore. I think it’s too dynamic and full of adventures. However, what happens inside you is much more plain and vertical, deep vertical downwards. It is something more or less like a bottom pit.
You happily start your new job as a PhD, imagining yourself walking straight through your study plan, in a green field of hope and expectations of a brilliant career — nothing can go wrong!
Then, you suddenly fall! And it’s by far not as fun as a roller coaster.. it’s more like a bottomless pit, on which you get bored in the middle air of your free falling. Until, of course, you hit the bottom — the first circle of hell — and start to scrub your face in floor. At this moment you ask yourself: “whyyyyyy??? why am I in this nonsense, masochist life?”
So you slowly stand-up, with your face cover in mud, and start to dig a tunnel in the bottom pit wall — with a teaspoon. Patiently you start moving towards your way back up, slowly digging the ground with your mini tool. After a while, you are again bored and writing another post for Medium… (oops!) trying to get rid of some rocks in the meanwhile and continuing your dirty work.
Finally you pull out a root and you see a tiny bit of light at the end of the tunnel — you are getting to the end, foreseeing your final deadline. It’s amazing! All the past shit doesn’t matter anymore, you get crazy with your mini spoon, digging for your life!
And then you finish, you go out to the fresh air, reborn … after the hangover of the next days, you might look back to the top of the mountain where you were before, and to the deep hole from where you managed to scape. And now what? You are a happy unemployed! Uhuul! /o/ (hope not)
I don’t know a single person that finished a PhD and didn’t go through the madness. And it’s definitely not by chance that academics develop a bunch of psychological problems, depression, and so on. So, if there is a roller coaster, it is definitely a roller coaster to hell! And your supervisor becomes Satan, poking you with the fork.
But why do we all do this madness? There is only one answer: we are all Mortys!