The A to Z of PhD life

You might remember Elspeth’s PhD in 40 seconds and Charly’s How to make a rock in 60 seconds that were posted over the last few weeks. Here, I give you my take on a PhD in a nutshell…

The A to Z of University of Bristol Geology PhD life

A is for alcohol. Some days are excellent, filled with brilliant results and “Eureka” moments. We often end such days with a little alcoholic treat. Some days are less good and require alcohol for slightly different reasons!

B is for biscuits. Nothing improves the day like lifting the lid on the biscuit tin to uncover a pile of your favourite cuppa accompaniment. On the subject of cuppas…

C is for caffeine. The lifeblood of pretty much every PhD student ever.

A slight exaggeration of the department-wide addiction to the brown stuff.

D is for disaster. Slip ups like breaking a vital piece of equipment, or arriving at the airport to head out on fieldwork only to discover your passport is at home. Whoops.

E is for experiments. In theory, an excellent way of simulating and simplifying complex parts of the natural world we can’t readily work in, like the centre of the earth. In practice, it’s not as easy as it sounds and can be quite frustrating.

F is for fieldwork. Not to be confused with holidays. Trips to the Bahamas, Chile, and the Caribbean really are strictly necessary for the lucky few. We work incredibly hard when we’re there, honest!

G is for geology. Sometimes, when Matlab just will not work and yet another experiment fails, it’s nice to remember the bigger picture and the great subject we fell in love with all those years ago.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA. Geology rocks!

H is for hydrofluoric acid, or HF. A fairly terrifying acid that can dissolve glass, but is thus excellent at dissolving rocks. Unsurprisingly, it also dissolves people.

I is for inspiration. Walking the corridors of the School of Earth Sciences here at Bristol and taking note of the name plates on the doors can be pretty awe-inspiring. There are some excellent geologists here, and being part of that is quite fantastic.

J is for joy. Joy is what happens when you pass your viva and can shout “I’m a DOCTOR” from the top of the Wills Memorial Building tower!

K is for potassium (the chemical symbol at least). I’ve included this as a testament to the amazing memory us geology PhD students have for chemical symbols and mineral abbreviations.

Atomic number 19; atomic weight 39.098 (in case you’d forgotten)

L is for laughter. Obviously, a PhD is a quite a long, hard journey. It’s a lot of fun too though and there’re lots of laughs along the way.

M is for music. A fair proportion of us might be classed as having an almost unnatural attachment to our earphones. I think a lot of people establish quite an extensive PhD soundtrack during their time; music for every mood.

N is for new. The general idea of PhD research is to tackle a problem that no one’s looked into before. Terrific and terrifying in approximately equal measures.

O is for opened eyes. As well as your specific research area, doing a PhD exposes you to geology on a much wider scale. Hearing people talk about their work can be a real eye-opener.

P is for pay. Once you’ve adjusted for tax, a fully funded PhD student gets paid roughly the same as someone in an average graduate job. We also still get student discount. Hooray!

Q is for quitting. Sadly, most of us do have days when we just want to give up. Luckily things get better and it’s rare for anyone to abandon a PhD entirely.

R is for reading. An essential part of any PhD is scouring the literature to fully understand the work that’s gone before yours. A lot of reading is par for the course.

Sitting comfortably? Dig in.

S is for supervisors. These are the people that guide you through your PhD, who you can bombard with questions and e-mails until such time that that problem you’ve been stuck on for four weeks is finally solved. You’ll probably then find another problem, and will once again be picking their brains.

T is for time. PhD life gives you quite a few freedoms that a conventional 9 to 5 job doesn’t. If you want to work from midday to 8pm every day because of a strange addiction to Jeremy Kyle or similar, then you can!

U is for uniform. There’s really no “average” Bristol geology PhD student. We’re a very varied bunch from all corners of the earth and walks of life.

V is for variety. There are scores of PhD students in Bristol, working in all areas of geology: everything from dinosaurs to the deep earth.

W is for work. No explanation necessary!

X is for Xenon. Xenon is a colourless, odourless gas found in small quantities in the air. It’s fairly rare, much like words beginning with X…

Y is for yours. A PhD student is their own boss. Your name and no one else’s goes on the front of that beautifully bound thesis.

Z is for zzz. Sleep. We’re still students at heart. We like sleep. A lot.

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About Melanie Auker

I’m an applied mathematician bumbling my way through a geology PhD.

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