It’s been a while since I’ve had a good rant about normal people, so I guess I was due in for one.
Through a series of related events, I’ve had to interact with a great many normies of late. You know the type; people who hold down society-approved jobs, who are good at those jobs, and who probably don’t interact much with people who don’t hold down such positions. This is generally fine, except for when you find yourself in a situation where these people feel compelled to make small talk (i.e. at a doctor’s office while tests are being run, at your hairdresser while your hair is drying, etc.) Inevitably, the first question anyone asks is “what do you do?” and they expect a clean-cut answer with no frills.
Things are rarely clean-cut in my world and almost never have no frills. I swear if one more person asks me as a follow-up question to my inevitable answer of “I’m getting my PhD” “Well, what are you going to do with that?” I’m going to go berserk Homer Simpson style and (literally) bounce off the walls.
Today, a new one got added to the small talk blacklist. After telling a very nice and well-meaning lady that I’m a PhD student she replied, “Oh, well, at least you don’t have to work.”
Uhm… EXCUSE ME?
Actually, I tend to work 60-80 hour weeks with no break. I work through weekends and days that normal people are allotted “off”. I take work with me wherever I go in case I have ten minutes in a coffee shop because god forbid I not be reading during that time. I’m pretty much on call constantly as students tend to e-mail me at whatever hour they’re at their machines (I try to make a rule that I don’t reply after 6PM and only reply on weekends in case of emergency just to maintain my own sanity, but that doesn’t mean the work isn’t sitting in my inbox). I serve as chair to a committee for my professional organization; this is a volunteer position for which I’m getting paid in networking opportunities, a line on my CV, and happy thoughts about how I will positively impact the future of my field. Since my committee is also made up of volunteers, we all work when we have the time to. We’re on
three separate time zones, we’re all busy graduate students, and it’s not unheard of to be drafting things together at unreasonable hours of the day/night. Though I make my own hours, I work until I’m done. Since I’m a perfectionist, this can be late nights and early mornings (though generally more like 2AM “early mornings” than 6AM “early mornings”).
Yea, sure, at least I don’t have to work.
The problem is you can’t really say this to the well-meaning nice people who are only trying to get through their own day. They don’t understand what it is that they’ve said (which is why they said it in the first place). Really, it’s a societal problem; there’s a huge lack of understanding about what graduate school (particularly at the PhD level) actually entails. Those near and dear to me know, one way or another, that I’m busy even if they don’t necessarily understand what that is or what it means. I no longer (or very rarely) get the piss taken out of me for missing social gatherings because I have to work. I no longer (or very rarely) have to explain that despite the fact that I’m sitting at my machine in my sweats, pajamas, or some amalgamation of both, I’m actually working. I no longer (or very rarely) feel the need to defend my life choices to those whom I speak with.
Which is why it hits me every time something like this happens. It’s excruciatingly frustrating to feel like the person taking appointments for your hairdresser thinks that you’re “not working”. I mean really, what does her job entail besides surfing facebook and playing angry birds?
So spread the awareness folks. Tell everyone you know. Sit them down and break it to them gently: if they should ever in their travels encounter a PhD student in the wild, appropriate questions to ask are “what does your work entail?”, “Any ideas for what your dissertation will be about?”, “What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever written on a student paper?”. Asking “what are you going to do with that?” or decrying that they are essentially a giant leech on society because their job isn’t the same as your job is about as appropriate as me telling a Medical Doctor that her degree has taught her nothing and she may as well be a denizen of Plato’s cave, grunting at shadows because she hasn’t ever seen the bright light of truth and therefore isn’t a true philosopher.
Because I swear, if one more person (well-meaning or not) makes this insinuation again, someone’s getting punched.
…I may add a paypal donation button to the side of the page soon. It will go directly to the bail fund for when I’m inevitably brought up on assault charges for defending the academy’s good name. It won’t be my fault that my opponent doesn’t understand the act of gauntlet throwing and I cannot be held responsible for my actions.