The Perils of Dating a PhD Student (or: an Honest Academic’s Dating Profile… )
Graduate Student Advice Month
Last year at a conference I was talking to one of my mentors about how it felt to be in the final year of a PhD. She asked me if I was in a relationship with anyone, and I said I wasn’t. Her reply summed it up:
“That’s probably for the best.”
Relationships are incompatible with PhDs, seems to be the conclusion. A recent BuzzFeed article really hit home with lots of my PhD friends – ‘24 Struggles You’ll Only Understand If You’re Dating A PhD Student’ – it covers a lot of the issues PhD students in couples have. Put most simply, being the partner of a PhD student largely means accepting that the Thesis is the biggest part of both of your lives, and is a far bigger player in how your relationship goes than either of you are.
But how does that translate to dating? There are a lot of advice-to-students articles about how to maintain relationships, but how does that translate for the single Grad student? To address this, I thought I would offer my own, painful insight, by making suggestions for what an academic’s honest dating profile might look like.
I’m a PhD student in London, researching women in the boardroom.
What I’m doing with my life…
I’m in the last 6 months of my PhD, so I spend most of my time re-reading sections of my thesis that I have already re-written many times over, and drinking too much coffee, and getting angry with people who get between me and the coffee. Rest of the time spent hopping from one existential crisis to another, oscillating wildly between a range of contradictory emotions and over-thinking.
I’m really good at…
Adding ‘hyper’ and ‘meta’ to words to make them seem more interesting . Living on almost no money. Eating cold leftovers for a week without anyone noticing. Killing plants. Writing abstracts. Rewriting abstracts. Missing deadlines. Deconstructing the patriarchy.
The first things people usually notice about me…
General disarray and scattiness. Possibly the look of madness in the eye while I try to hold a number of theories in my head and analyse my data and finish this marking and reply to my students’ requests and apply for more funding. Sorry, what was the question again?
[Nothing says ‘date me’ like academia exhaustion, amirite?]
Favourite books, movies, shows, music and food…
Books : Critical Discourse Analysis, Conducting Qualitative Research, Analysing Qualitative Data (8th ed.). Anything by Erving Goffman, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler or Pierre Bourdieu. Mainly I am good at buying theory books I wont have time to read, and stacking them around me on my desk to make myself feel like I’m working.
I gave up fiction in about 2008 when I got accepted into my Master’s program. Except Harry Potter, which I find is a good cure for academic insomnia.
Music – Classical, ambient, or generally anything that doesn’t have words to it, so I can listen to it while I work.
Food – I am a whizz at making a week’s worth of library-food on little to no money. The most exciting days are when conferences take place in our building and there’s free sandwiches. [Once, someone brought in a box of Krispy Kremes and there was nearly a riot.]
The six things I could never do without…
1) Mobile office – [laptop, keyboard, mouse, notebook, highlighter pens (2), dictaphone, book on Discourse Analysis, journal article on sense-making] Just in case I get caught out somewhere away from work and have to fill time: tube; train; hospital waiting room; pub the 10 minutes before the date starts.
4) My supervisor’s approval
6) Friends/family/lovers etc.
I spend a lot of time thinking about…
Myself. My work. My insecurities. Long words that other people don’t understand, that give me an inflated sense of self-importance. Wondering if it self-indulgent to do a PhD? Is it self-involved? I think I’m pretty self-involved anyway. Maybe the PhD has made me self-involved? Was I self-involved before I started? I’m not really self-involved, just obsessed with the thesis. But is there a difference between myself and the PhD? Where does it end and I begin?
What I’m going to do when I finish the PhD. I should plan that now, if I don’t have publications I will probably never get a job. And then I really will be alone forever. My thesis is great though, I’m so excited, it’s such a privilege to do research in an area I love. Except I am a complete failure, I am definitely going to be alone forever, and definitely not going to have a career in academia. Maybe I could get out of academia? What IS outside academia?
On a typical Friday night I am…
Trying to disguise the fact that all I can think is:
“You should be writing.
You should be writing.
You should be writing.
You should be writing.
You should be writing.”
…while I try to socialise. Becoming increasingly aware that every minute spent with my friends or a dating partner is paid for in time that should be spent working.
Saying the word ‘problematise’ and realising people are looking at me strangely.
The most private thing I’m willing to admit…
I have no idea how I got this far without everyone realising I’m a fraud.
You should message me if…
You want to go for a drink and talk about my thesis. Although I definitely don’t want to talk about my thesis. Which is awkward, because I can only think about my thesis.
Also, if we’re on a date and I run away half way through it’s probably because I’ve just worked out what theoretical framework to use to make sense of my third empirical chapter, rather than because you aren’t great. Probably.
This is hilarious. So familiar! So true! I shall issue it as a warning to all my friends & family!
Perils of dating a PhD student? Try being married to one! George and I have been together for nine years and he has been a student for eight of them. I honestly feel that at the end of it I should be awarded an honorary PhD for going through it with him!
I had a recent breakup with a PhD student and I didn’t quite understand why. I thought I was maybe the problem…
But after reading your post, I understand how stressful it can be. When I showed him this blog post, he told me it’s pretty much his life right now and it’s on point.
All I want to do now is give him support, even if we are not a couple anymore…
LOL! I second Jo Byrne’s comment
Great analysis!. I have graduated recently and here comes the shock!, 50 years after leaving my old University (Vienna)!
Relocated to this country after marrying a Brit who was the best thing that ever happened to me, absolutely wonderful husband and father and clever too. Having supported me throughout the PhD with wise counsel he did not live long enough to see me finish it. Had quite a bit of trouble with the examiners as I dealt with a contentious subject in history and politics of events that happened in 1945 in Central Europe. There was the unspoken suspicion of bias which in the end I was able to invalidate through being able to prove that my version was indeed correct.
So, yes, getting involved in the work for a PhD does demand stamina but in the end if you have a theory and can prove it against the odds and contribute to
knowledge, there is satisfaction too.
Sadly, though I pursued my research with great interest, the PhD does little for me now and I do miss male company. So, if there is a suitable academic in your circle of friends tell him my story.
Very true. I am going through this. Thirty years after my undergraduate degree. Hope to soon be through!