“The special kind of extra-stupid that only people with PhDs are capable of”*
On one of my recent bedtime ‘Twitter trawls’ I came across this blinder of a quote which perfectly sums up my life doing a PhD (I cannot vouch for those with PhDs already but from what I’ve seen it’s quite similar). I sent it to a group of academic friends and we spent a happy day exchanging emails of all the extra-stupid things we’ve done. My favourites included someone saying “I’m going to buy some toilet and then go to the chocolate” and someone saying they once “got on their bike with slippers on and only realised when they couldn’t clip in”, along with “trying to eating a banana with your nose” (but I think that person may have bigger issues!).
So, why do us PhDers get a category of extra-stupid all to ourselves? Let me try to explain…
Imagine a computer. We’ve all been on a computer when it’s trying to process too many things at once, especially when it has some super big things going on simultaneously. What happens? Everything outside of these processes grinds to an almost halt, or totally freezes. That’s what is happening to us and our poor brains.
Deep Thought, the super computer in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, spent 7.5 MILLION years processing the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, and eventually spewed out the ludicrous answer of 42.
Us PhDers have only 3-4 years to process an answer to what feels like a totally unknown question and come up with something a little more comprehensive than 42 (like, um, a book?)! Trying to compute more than three years (as this special kind of extra-stupid does become particularly chronic at the three year mark) of conversations, data, reading, and thoughts, at the same time, all day, every day, means that our apparently unnecessary functions such as speech, common sense, general knowledge, and ability to conduct every day activities, shut down (hence trying to ride a bike in slippers or put the washing up in the cupboard and the rubbish in the fridge).
There are various warning signs that someone has started falling into the stage of being extra-stupid. These include: delirious hysteria followed by moments of literally banging head on table, incomprehensible blabbering and the use of long words in the wrong way that makes the person seem clever whilst making no sense at all, and walking around in a zombied state paying absolutely no attention to the outside world including bins, lamp posts, and other people/traffic. Basic functions have shut down (but not some basic functions, thank fully) and the brain is concentrating all of its energy on performing the one big task at hand – making sense of EVERYTHING so that we can finally get something (anything) written.
I’ll write another, perhaps more serious, blog on how we cope with this special kind of extra-stupid soon but in the meantime, if you know someone in this state (and if you’re reading this you probably know me and so you know at least one right now) then bear with them and be gentle. If you’re not careful you’ll upset that delicate balance of survival and we’ll crash.
Either that, or press CTRL, ALT, DELETE and get us on the vodka shots.
*I cannot attribute this quote as the Twitter name is somewhat unPG and given the public nature of this blog, I’d best leave it be (but I will tell them I’ve used it)!