Why a PhD is tough

PhD - carrying the load on your shoulders

When I find something difficult, it’s my natural response to wonder if it’s just me, or is the task really that challenging.

Take running . I know from experience, no matter how fit you are, running is not easy. It’s hard work. Even for the best, it’s an effort. Add to it do it the challenge of doing it regularly, in addition to doing other things in life, one realizes it takes quite an effort.

So, when I find my PhD tough, I wonder if I’m just dumb or if this thing is really difficult. So, I talk to people. Friends and colleagues.

And yesterday, while I was having dinner with VN (a senior fellow grad), VN remarked how he was finding his PhD tough too. That’s when I realized. No matter how smart you are, or how hardworking you are, a PhD will bring you down to your knees.

In some sense, it’s quite similar to doing pull-ups.

Today I woke up early and headed to the gym with MR for a workout session. Towards the end, we were doing three reps of 15 pull-ups each. It seemed to me that since I was heavier than her (175  vs. 130 lbs), she should technically be able to do the pull-ups easier than me.

But obviously that’s not true.

A PhD in some sense, is quite similar. We all pull our own weight here.

All successful grad students are alike; each unsuccessful grad student is unsuccessful in his/her own way.**


** Adapting Tolstoy’s quote to grad students:“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

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3 Responses to “Why a PhD is tough”

  1. Kenny January 6, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    you obviously missed this one: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/25/why-women-cant-do-pull-ups/
    (I am not endorsing their view; I feel the science is a bit suspect in it; I personally haven’t tried to pull up in ages,but just passing this on for academic interest)

    • Saad Bhamla January 7, 2013 at 11:02 am #

      Thanks for the article. If the article is right, then my analogy falls flat 🙁

      • YS January 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

        nope: you do pull-ups and she does something else. a PhD is tough no matter what your field is.