Jamie Lawrence

The two most frequent PhD questions

There are really just two questions that you’ll be frequently required to answer:

What’s it about?
Enjoy this phase as it only lasts for about 6 months. Once someone has asked the question, and listened to the largely incomprehensible drivel that you’ll reply with, they’re highly unlikely to ever ask again.

How’s it going?
The true purpose of this question is revealed after about 2-2.5 years: what they really want to know is “When will you be finished?”. The subtext is that a PhD is something to finish, not something to do. Unlike the first question, this will be asked repeatedly by the same people, regardless of whatever negative, vague, dismissive, or generally cranky response you give them. I’m thinking of other responses including swearing, violent outbursts, “when I finally give up”, “when I finally admit that the algorithm (and general idea) is seriously flawed and I am not able to unflaw it”, “when I shrink to 4 foot nothing”, “when the earth’s magnetic field flips over”, "when mgb becomes Dr. MGB"*

<div class="footnote">* Actually, this is looking fairly imminent in the grand galactic scale of things, so it’s probably not a good response :-)</div>