The top 5 #phdemotions

Last week I read a Thought Catalogue blog post entitled Five emotions invented by the internet and laughed so hard I snorted the coffee right out of my nose and onto my computer screen.

I have certainly experienced “a vague and gnawing pang of anxiety centered around an IM window that has lulled”, but this one was my favourite:

The state of being ‘installed’ at a computer or laptop for an extended period of time without purpose, characterized by a blurry, formless anxiety undercut with something hard like desperation

Who hasn’t felt this way when working to deadline but unable to overcome the urge to check email/twitterfeed/facebook/google scholar or whatever? There’s something wonderful about discovering others share your own nameless fears and anxieties.

I started to wonder: what new emotions does a PhD make possible? I explored this idea by writing some new PhD emotions and testing them on my PhD student twitter followers  like so:

Irrational feelings of love for academics you have never met because their work helps you in unexpected ways #phdemotions

For those of you not into twitter, the hashtag (#) enables users to make a ‘conversation’. Anyone who included the #tag allows their tweets to be read as part of the same ‘thread’. As I hoped, other people followed my lead and started to post their own #phdemotions and a minor meme developed.

Later I nerded out and did a content analysis of sorts to see if I could develop a PhD ‘mood-o-meter’ from all this twitter action (aren’t you lucky my employer pays me to do this sort of stuff?).

According to www.hashtag.org there were 130 tweets containing either #phdemotion or #phdemotions from last Friday to this Tuesday. After massaging similar emotions together I counted a total of 71 distinct emotions.

Now to work out which ones seemed to resonate the most with the audience. If a person really liked the#Phdemotion someone else came up with they could retweet it (add it to their ‘stream’ for others to read) or @mention it (have a conversation with someone else about it). I counted these and added a multiplier if the emotion was both retweeted and mentioned.

Using these scientific (*ahem*) measures for popularity, here are the top 5 emotions made possible by doing a PhD (at least, as determined by PhD students who happened to be on Twitter between the 14th and 18th of January):

1) Elation when you realise you know more than your supervisor about your topic and you feel brave enough to argue about it

This was an amalgam of tweets by @scientistmags, @soilduck @choloe_kitten. It’s not that surprising that this is the most recognised emotion since ‘scholarly independence’ is meant to be the goal of PhD study. I was happy that a positive emotion came out on top

2) Fear of being ‘found out’ as fraud, not really knowing enough/being smart enough to be Phd student (@orientalhotel)

Otherwise known as ‘the imposter syndrome’ (thanks @boredpostdoc) this is apparently common in PhD students. As well as possibly being related to self esteem and perfectionism, this emotion could be the by product of the nature of PhD study itself. As the old cliche goes: “The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know”.

3) Unexpected admiration of your own writing

This feeling happens to me sometimes while editing my own work. Apparently it resonates with others too. As @orientalhotel remarked:  “That was me yesterday reading my own chapter and thinking, ‘yeah good point self’”. Usually it applies to text you wrote a year or so ago when you weren’t as confused.

4) the “I’m a genius! Why hasn’t anybody thought to do that before?” moment before people point out the obscure paper you’ve not read (@boredpostdoc)

This emotion surely captures the essence of the PhD emotion rollercoaster. Closely related to the emotions described by @wolowic who commented: “xperiencing the manic tidal waves of success and complete failure. good & bad stuff happens unbelievably close together!”

5) Misplaced smugness after photocopying/downloading loads of stuff but not actually reading it (@orientalhotel)

Or as I call it ‘Obsessive Article Collecting’ (OAC). This one got a fair bit of discussion, mostly of the ‘me too!’ variety. I definitely suffered from this one during my PhD, which is why I wrote the post “Are you addicted to your PhD” – which also talks about a possible cure.

There were many, many other great #phdemotions it was a pity to stick to the top five. Happy to do a second top five next week if people are interested.  Do you recognise any of these or have a #phdemotion you would like to share? Let us know!

18 thoughts on “The top 5 #phdemotions

  1. There’s a more intense version of 4: the gulf of fear that opens up following that sense of genius when someone points out that it’s not just in obscure reference, but has an entire academic conversation in a reputable journal one thought was unrelated. Why the fear? –> If you missed that, what else has been missed?

    There’s a cure for OAC? Just added the link to my “to read” pile…

    • Oh god yes! I had the feeling when the Dean of the faculty sent me a whole journal of papers on *exactly my topic* 3 days before I was due to submit. I felt like I was having a heart attack! How was I going to incorporate it all!!

      My supervisor kept his cool and advised I put a line in the introduction refering to the journal as ‘evidence for interest in the topic’. What a legend.

      • Here’s the best #phdemotion: relief in knowing your supervisor is supportive and can get you out of whatever tight spot your panic gets you in :)

  2. I’d like to add:

    1) The sense of childish pride you experience when your supervisor gives you praise as you simultaneously hate that you crave it.
    2) The sense of loathing you harness for those who put holds on the books YOU want.
    3) The delusion that buying new stationery or wiping down your desk will improve your work.

    I love that one about admiring your own writing (as you say, from the past). For me, when I get the ‘did I write that?’ feeling it’s like proof that I can achieve something.

    How about PhD secrets?

  3. I sent this post around my research lab here at RMIT on Friday afternoon, and it was an instant hit. I can relate to almost every one of those emotions, except #3 as I haven’t written enough to have it yet. Sigh!

    • I’m glad to hear I am reaching my target RMIT PhD student audience! This post was a hit – it’s had double the hit rate of any other piece and some people have written to tell me they have even pinned it up on their wall! I think because we all read it and see something of ourselves. I certainly did :-)

  4. Pingback: Reblog: How PhD students really feel? | Public sphere++

  5. Pingback: On being an ‘expert’ away from home | Foreign Citizens

  6. Pingback: 5 things to do in your first week « The Thesis Whisperer

  7. Pingback: Wormhole literature | The Thesis Whisperer

  8. Pingback: M is for… Mewburn (Dr Inger) – The Thesis Whisperer #AtoZChallenge | kirstyes

  9. Despair when you discover that all your good ideas are completely unoriginal and have been widely canvassed by others

  10. Pingback: Obsessive Article Collection | Boots & Binoculars

  11. Pingback: Por qué escribir un blog durante el doctorado | MinibitsJose Luis Pajares | emprendedor cultural y diseñador

  12. Pingback: Why write a blog during the PhD | MinibitsJose Luis Pajares | cultural entrepreneur and designer

  13. Pingback: Are you stopping yourself from finishing your PhD? | The Thesis Whisperer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s