My 3-minute-thesis competition (for my mum version)
Cover credit: own author
As PGRs, we receive a lot of guidance on how to improve our presentation skills, how to potentiate our research impact and how to adapt our communication style when talking to an interdisciplinary audience. However, no one prepares us for the daunting moment in which we need to explain our work to OUR MUM (or parents/family).
Talking to your relatives about your research
Obviously, every family is unique and while some people come from a family of academics, others, like me, have grown up in a typical ‘working-class’ environment, in which our parents didn’t follow further education. In my case, I have supportive parents that have always accepted my academic decisions. They are also quite interested in my research and they seem open to learn a bit more of my work. But sometimes I have the feeling that they don’t understand what I do everyday as a PGR. Every time I talk with my mum after a while our conversation takes a similar form:
Sometimes I find myself not only trying to explain my work to others but also trying to explain what being a ‘postgraduate researcher’ means. That is even more tricky when you encounter a relative that hasn’t known about you in a while and asks you:
My parents more or less acknowledge that my research degree is comparable to having a full-time job. However, I have more difficulties explaining this to others, especially to people that they only want to hear ‘whereabouts you work’. Academics feel a bit like a fish out of water when we are talking to the inhabitants of ‘real’ world. Not everyone understands why we spend a lot of time at the university without actually attending classes or having a job there.
Being at university seems to entail that you are a student, and by that, many people get the impression of ‘young person that is still in full education to get a job’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that being a student is a bad thing, but the ‘student’ status seems to entail some connotations that don’t match the work of a PGR.
The secret life of postgraduate researchers
So, what do we PGRs actually do? Throughout the blog, we have reflected several times on this question. It is, however, quite difficult to give a definite answer. When answering that question, some people expect you to provide a ‘practical’ answer like “I study law to become a lawyer”. In some cases, we can clearly say “‘I’m doing a PhD so I can become a lecturer at the university”, but this isn’t always the case. I think I’m not the only one who, when thinking about the future after the PhD, just sees a black hole full of anxiety.
In some other cases, when we are asked about what we do, some people expect to hear ‘facts’, like “I’m working in a lab experimenting with cancer cells”. That seems like an adequate answer for someone researching in more scientific fields and non-specialists seem to take that quite well. At the end of the day, it does make sense that someone is doing research for eradicating a disease, isn’t it? But again, some other times we can only provide a dull answer like “This week I’ve gone through an average of 20 papers and 5 books trying to find a single sentence that supports my argument”. In my research, I don’t get tangible results and the fruit of my research can’t be appreciated until it’s almost finished.
So yes, family, friends, mum, I do want to get a ‘real job’ someday. I’m still not sure what this is going to be, but first, I need to finish this thesis. I really need to.
GIF by GIPHY ‘I’m gonna go get one of those job things’
Comics credits: own author
Text in the comics:
-So, how have you been?
-Fine, working on my thesis
-And, what else?
-Well, I’ve been working on this chapter that’s central for my…
-And, what else?
-Well, I’m going to the office everyday and I’m writing…
-And, what else do you do?
-So, what are you doing now?
-I’m doing a PhD in Philosophy
-Are you still studying? Aren’t you working?
-Well, yes, I’m working on my research
-Well, I mean, a real job
-I got a scholarship and I’m fully funded
-So, do you want to spend all your life as a student?
-Well, I’m technically a researcher
-And, what are you gonna do after?