5 Things You Should Never Say To A PhD Research Scholar

Posted on September 26, 2016

By Pal Gaur:

I am at the same place where other research scholars are. When people hear the word ‘PhD’, they assume that the person doing it would be an absolute nerd, loner, bore and/or introvert. Well, I have no idea how and why people think so; but yes, most people I know, do think that way. I used to hear some things about PhD scholars when I was in school and even today, after several years, I hear the same things. People also sometimes widen their eyes  and say, “You don’t seem like a PhD scholar.” That makes me think – am I supposed to behave in a certain way because I am a research scholar?

I remember, a month back, my younger cousin visited me after a long time and he asked if I ever watch movies. I was stunned, not only with the question but also with the facial expression he had while asking this. It was like he would be surprised anyway.

A lot of people seem to think that as a PhD scholar, I belong to a special group of nerds who waste their time in taking a degree that makes them a fake doctor who can’t cure anything.

So here, using this precious opportunity, I will respond to five things that many PhD scholars have to hear.

1. “Kuchh paise waise milte hain kya?/ Itne mein kya hota hai!” (Do you get paid for PhD?/ This much money is not enough.)

How could I get any money? I, after qualifying two exams and an interview to get enrolled in a central university, don’t deserve to get a scholarship. Being in the science field, I know that the basic needs for humans to be physically alive don’t include money. So I am only supposed to consume my brain, all day long in my research and in return, nature has kept me alive by providing my basic needs.

Of course, I get a scholarship and yes, that much money may sound “not enough” but the truth is, it is not a salary. It is a fellowship/scholarship and obviously it is not supposed to be compared to salary. Both are different things. Scholarship/fellowship is given according to qualification and it might not be equal everywhere.

2. “PhD? Chashma lag gaya hoga phir to?” (You must have powered spectacles)

As a PhD scholar I must have weak eyes. In fact, earlier I did not have weak eyes. Then I thought “What will I do now?” Then I worked really hard to get weak eyes. I stared at the candle. I kept my laptop at full brightness. I watched TV continuously for hours. Having weak eyes became one of the essential targets for me to achieve before joining for PhD. Unfortunately, after all these things I failed to have weak eyes, so today, I use zero power spectacles so that no one would suspect me of not being a PhD scholar. Too much pressure us PhD scholars have.

I have perfectly fine eyes. No offence to people who wear glasses. I just mean that a PhD does not cause weak eyes.

3. “You are doing Ph.D (With extra large eyes)? Then you must be very senior/ older to me. It takes a lifetime.”

No matter how young I might be or look, I am assumed to be like 35. I am treated like a senior citizen of the student population. If it really makes you feel younger, then okay. I agree. In fact, I was born with a a PhD convocation head gear and a birth mark that reads ’35’. I have never been through my childhood, teenhood etc. I don’t know what early life stages are.

PhD scholars might be younger or even much older. There’s not always an age restriction in the research field. I know people who have entered PhD in their 50s and I also know those who jumped into research when they were 23. I opted for this field at the age of 26 after two years of my academic and corporate job. Even if I am getting older and my PhD is taking a ‘lifetime’ according to you, it’s my choice and I don’t need your pity.

4. “Civil ki taiyaari karo mainly. PhD to chalti rehti hai side-by-side. Ho hi jayegi.” (Prepare for Civil services mainly. Don`t worry about PhD. It goes on side-by-side. It will be done anyway)

How will a PhD just be done anyway? After almost four years of my PhD, I am, somehow, managing my time to write these responses here and you are talking about PhD and civil preparations side-by-side? Although I am sure that there are some people who can do it and ‘kudos’ to them as it’s commendable but I am not one of those. As a bioinformatician, I am only able to check my computational and biological knowledge, side-by-side.

PhD itself is not easy. It takes effort and hard work. This tone, of taking PhD as a thing that comes easily, irritates me. I put my effort, time, dedication and hard work in my PhD. No one should judge it as if PhD is very easy. No, it’s not.

5. “PhD ho gayi?” (Are you done with your PhD?)

First of all, asking this question every once in a while would not help me finish my PhD. So don’t ask this question every time you see me.

On the one hand, it is assumed that PhD takes a long time but on the other hand, people ask this irritating question every single time they meet me. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t asked this question even when I was meeting the same person after a short time. The duration of a PhD depends on so many factors; like topic, research field, subject, facilities, accessibility, circumstances etc. I know people who have earned their PhD in three years whereas some people got theirs in five years or may be sometimes even longer. I think people should be aware of the rules that mostly, the minimum time to submit a PhD is 18 months in India and if pre-PhD included, it becomes 24 to 30 months. That’s not a lifetime. The thing is, it’s research and it takes a fair amount of time to do a good job. People have different durations for their respective doctorate degrees depending on varying factors.