Wanted: One Gong For My PhD office

Wal Reinhardt is a second year doctoral scholar at The Australian National University, Canberra. In this guest post he takes a moment to share his office’s quest for a gong (literally). I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did.

Wanted: One Gong For My PhD office

Well, it’s not my office. I share it with a dozen other PhDs, each somewhere between one and six years into their doctorates. Technically, my desk is not even mine. And when I submit in (hopefully) a years’ time I will remove my files, food, posters and junk. There is one thing that I plan on leaving: an office gong. But my officemates and I have to find one first.

Why? Why would we want a gong for our office?

It comes down to a little thing I’ve learnt from working as a consultant (shhh! Don’t tell anyone. Consulting tends to be an activity looked down upon by the grizzled dons that lurk in named chairs, akin to whitewater rafting Sullivans Creek). Consultants and academics work in different worlds but they share a common fault. Most consultants’ bids are unsuccessful. Most academics’ grant applications are unsuccessful. Both continue to submit bids and applications in the triumph of hope over experience.

Many consulting firms will have a ‘victory bell’, which gets rung when a bid is won or a deal is closed, mounted in a central part of the office to be heard by all. It helps boost the morale, as consultancies live and die by the success of their bids, but it also helps those who worked on the bid let rip after working hard and having won a victory, despite all the previous losses they may have endured. There is a ‘bell etiquette’ and if it’s a big win then there’ll be a belting and food to follow up. A small ringing doesn’t go ignored: it raises the morale, humour and companionship within the group.

A victory bell celebrates the successes of the firm.

In my experience with academics, victory celebrations happen behind an office door or at the pub on Friday afternoon. Many new PhDs are quiet about their victories, some don’t even tell their officemates about their successes when they have them. Maybe it’s a size thing.

On the ‘how big is yours’ scale most PhDs experience only modest successes.

A $1,000 grant to investigate beetle coprophagy, a conference place to present two years’ worth of research in a lousy ten minutes, or a book chapter written and sent off for excoriation. They might seem trivial but these small successes are BIG in their own way for new PhDs. For some struggling PhDs, a $1000 travel grant might be the difference between researching malnutrition in Africa and experiencing it.

In the process of doing a PhD there are a plenitude of potential victories that will come with each candidature. Candidature acceptance, journal paper non-rejection (not even acceptance, just not rejection straight off the bat), successful capture of data/species/supervisors and winning of scholarships and grants might be some of the more common of successes that PhDs enjoy.

The only trouble is that in many labs and offices (ours included) small victories are not celebrated well and the gloom of trials and tribulations tend to dominate the mood. We slave away for years and there’s not a lot of good feedback that reinforces that we’re still succeeding in what we do. We were all pretty successful before we started our PhDs… what happened?

Like a prolonged ENSO dry spell, there appears to be multi-year success vacuum that starts with acceptance and finishes with submission.

I’m not claiming that other university groups don’t celebrate success. There are some labs that bring in cake or biscuits for celebration of publications. Unfortunately I think my baking threshold is a feature in Nature and my officemates threshold for enjoying my baking would be a year in the Pacific with Tom Hanks and a volleyball called Wilson. Our office wants a lower and less taxing threshold to celebrate our successes.

We want an office gong to celebrate the small successes we have along the journey of our PhDs.

My officemates are on board (‘Gong On!’ was the near universal reply to my initial proposal) and I have placed an ad on Gumtree. Like all good policy lessons, we’ve taken the principles of the consultant’s victory bell but adapted the format to suit the recipient location. A soothing office gong will be heard in place of the jangle of the victory bell.

So here’s to the modest successes of doctoral scholars. Our office is looking for a gong to celebrate them. I’m interested in the types of celebrations that other university labs and offices do too. Feel free to post them in comments to this piece and we can share our celebrations as well as our successes.

Gong on Wal! Do you celebrate the small successes? And, more importantly – do you have a gong you can send to Wal’s office? Let us know in the comments 🙂

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15 thoughts on “Wanted: One Gong For My PhD office

  1. Katherine Firth (@AcadSkillsMelb) says:

    I love this idea! I find my office is so polite about our successes that I often don’t mention even the really big ones. Last year, my author’s copy of a book with a chapter I’d written arrived in the post… I showed a couple of people and then put the book on my shelf. There wasn’t even wine. But in my heart, there was a gong and fireworks and a brass band and majorettes.

  2. Sergey Gerbek says:

    Be cearful. I’ve made thomething like this while teching calculus for undergrads – class quickly evolved into two-faction nightmare of bragging winners and stressed loosers. This tool requires a precise control.

  3. Heather Conroy says:

    I agree with Sergey! You could also make it that the victor who gets to ring the bell also has to buy a round of drinks, make a cake, clean the office or some other leveller.

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    • Bob says:

      Ah Eleanor, that is too true. The ANU School of Music has been too successful to be allowed to continue other than as a cipher of its former self. I am sure they have lots of equipment to dispose of as well of skilled musicians to operate said equipment.

  5. Kristina says:

    I just defended my masters last week and I really felt like it was an anti-climatic experience that wasn’t really well celebrated. That being said, most of my congratulations came from people on Facebook and from friends who saw the posting on Facebook. Back up option if the gong doesn’t pan out?

  6. berlinickerin says:

    Great idea! Phd students really tend to under-celebrate which is so totally linked to never feeling quite successful. When it’s probably in large parts simply due to perception.

    On another note: hats off to you for being able to work in an office shared with that many people. Or your office mates have better etiquette than mine. I work at home now. ;D

  7. Emily Atkins says:

    In my office (five PhD students at different stages) we all go out to koko black to celebrate our wins (and birthdays). It’s a treat, we get to leave the office and take a break, and indulge our love of chocolate.

  8. Sian says:

    I totally appreciate the sentiment but personally feel that the lack of celebration stems from a lack of solidarity … I can see how ringing a gong might be read as a huzzah to the group in a consultancy situation, but in the isolation of a phd I worry it would come across as simple one-upmanship… Perhaps what we need is a more cleverly designed common enemy to unite around.

  9. Puji says:

    , “You’d have to wake up too early to do it” “It takes too long” and a myriad of other thgohuts that have kept me blinded to the ease with which anything can be done if I break through the barrier of my saboteur. These were similar thgohuts that you told yourself about writing your book, but then you decided to wake up at 5 am to make sure you’d fit in writing for the day, and you woke up on your own, naturally, without the alarm clock 3 days in a row, and had really good book writing days. The power of our thgohuts and intentions are amazing, and I feel like that power multiplies when we voice our intentions and have the support of a group, like the writing group that we’re apart of, Writer’s Hollow, where you got the 5 am writing advice.When we voice our needs and desires, the universe provides. We either give ourselves what we need after voicing what we need, and/or we gain support and help from others.

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