The Thesis wants what the Thesis wants…

This guest post is written by Magdeline Lum – Chemist, Metallurgist & Photographer, Master of Science Communication student and blogger. In this post, in honour of Valentine’s Day, Magdeline tells us about her experience of dating a Thesis.

I write this from my experience, and do so hesitantly, but at the same time it needs to be said: when you date a PhD student, you also date their Thesis.

I keep hearing that dating while doing a PhD student is fraught with disaster and that it isn’t worth it. The everyday wisdom is that one partner will have to sacrifice their brilliance to support the other. I started dating my boyfriend while he was working on finishing his thesis for submission. To say that timing was crappy would be an understatement, but almost three years later we are still together and very much in love. It hasn’t been easy.

There have been days, weeks, where I have felt that it was all pointless. At first I did not understand that the Thesis, (yes, with a capital “T” for which reasons will hopefully become clear), would be the third being in the relationship. It had much more pulling power than me and it didn’t wear stupidly high heels, clingy dresses or a wonderful body. It did, however, occupy much of my boyfriend’s mind. So much so that he did once leave in the middle of a party to work on his thesis. Some five hours later, he rang to see where I was at. I had ended up in bed very drunk and in no shape to hold a conversation.

There was no way to compete with the thesis. I have never grown fond of his Thesis. I don’t even understand it and I’ve tried. It took me months, almost a year before having a serious conversation with my boyfriend about his thesis. He had thought that I wasn’t interested in his work, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The number of journal articles that I have attempted to read in his field would top 20. My reading of New Scientist and Nature News dramatically changed; I charged towards anything in nanotechnology first rather than reading pieces from my favourite columnists and reporters.

This conversation was the hardest. I didn’t want to look stupid, but at the same time I’m talking to someone who has been researching intensely in their area for several years. It is impossible to not look stupid. I felt vulnerable and had to accept that being in a relationship isn’t about equal in everything that we do. Looking stupid and asking the dumb questions have never been my thing. I have always been a high achieving student, but this thesis had managed to strip it away.

To make matters worse the Thesis had the propensity to send its tendrils into other areas of the relationship. Dates would have to fit around what the Thesis wanted. Sometimes it was writing. Other times it was reading or worse still, sometimes it just demanded work. There were weeks where I was reduced to coffee dates of no more than 15 minutes. I grew to hate the Thesis. My boyfriend was a slave to it and I hardly saw him. My only hope was him finishing the damn thing.

I know that this sounds like I was the only one who compromised and was a pushover. To be honest, I don’t care what it looks like. It is what it is. A few of my friends teased that I had an invisible boyfriend and dubbed him Casper as he never showed up to anything during his writing. It was especially helpful to have friends who had gone through the PhD machine. They assured me that the Thesis would stop interfering with my relationship. In the meantime, had I met his parents.

For the record, I met my boyfriend’s parents a few months ago. I have to say that moment was a lot less stressful than any of the times involving the Thesis. My boyfriend’s parents fed me chocolate and told me a funny story from his childhood. All the Thesis has ever done is remind me that I will never be able to share a special mental connection with my boyfriend. Ever. That is the hardest part that I have had to deal with. The writing ends. Then it’s submission. Corrections get done and a doctorate is gained. What doesn’t end is the research. It continues.

I have learned that I can’t ignore the research my boyfriend does. It’s always going to be there and that mental connection he has is not something I can compete with. He assures me that he leaves it behind at the lab. It’s nice to hear it, but I accept that this isn’t the truth and I am okay with it. It’s part of him, our relationship. And just to complicate matters further, I am about to introduce my Masters thesis to the mix this year. Wish me luck!

Want to hear more from Magdeline? Follow @scientistmags on Twitter

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18 thoughts on “The Thesis wants what the Thesis wants…

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is true, wish there were many girls around as understanding as you, then most phds will get finished on time I swear

    • Mags says:

      Though unfortunately there are many factors that make meeting the deadline challenging and in some cases impossible that have nothing to do with being in a relationship.

  2. ingermewburn says:

    They have done study on how obesity is ‘socially transmitted” – I wonder if PhD study is too? If your partner does one will you do one too? What about other family and friends? I started because there were so many people around me involved in post grad study. I was the first in my social circle, but now at least one close friend of mine started last year and I have high hopes one family member will too….

  3. soilduck says:

    Fantastic post! 😀

    I am finishing up my PhD atm, but have been very careful (so far) not to let it get too much in the way of my relationships. However, I know there have been many occasions when I can’t talk at the pub with friends because I am stuck on a chapter or when I am sitting on the couch with my partner and have to run off and write something down before I forget… :/

    Luckily, even though he isn’t doing a PhD, my partner has these tendencies too 😀

    • Mags says:

      Thanks. These tendencies can be seen in anyone with a strong passion for a particular area although we do like to think that it is only found amongst PhD candidates. It is a wonderful thing to have someone who understands the passion.

  4. Kat says:

    Well in my family at the moment there are three PhDs underway! So there is always someone who understands. Plus there are another 2 degrees under way. Only Dad is study free but he seems to have decided that part of his retirement is to be a PhD support, cos he’s lovely like that.

  5. Jamal Davies says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It is very important. As PhD scholars we are often at pains trying to explain to our partners that we are not cheating and that we are not “hiding something” when they can’t understand why we do not answer or phones or text back on certain hours (which is always)… The only other “person” in the relationship is the Thesis, Oh, and the professor!

  6. lady says:

    i hear you i hear you :), i have also been dating a thesis writer. The first few weeks before he got serious about the thesis were bliss, then after that definitely have felt it… Am hanging in there for him to finish so we can find some time to connect again, tho as he is starting to finish up his honours thesis, i am just beginning my honours year thesis and he is now hoping to go straight into phd lol!

    • lady says:

      and it seriously has dragged on and on… But soo good to hear this might be a relatively normal way to feel with thesis land happening

  7. Jessica Kimmet says:

    I recognize that this is an old string, but I just started dating somebody who is in a relationship with his Thesis, and I’m struggling to figure out if he’s really that busy or just not that into me. It’s very new, we’re not exclusive yet, but I really like him and am trying to figure out if it’s worth putting the time/effort into waiting for him or if I should walk away.

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