Don’t turn your nose up at my PhD!

“The bloodless sweat, tears, heart break, loss, and near bankruptcy, that accompanies a self funded PhD is beyond your comprehension if this is not your experience.” – This is something that I have been wanting to say out loud to many a “without PhD”, ‘friend’, ‘comrade’, or ‘ally’ – and if I could say this without grating on some egos or heightening peoples personal insecurities, I would.

I’ll start with a flashback. I noticed a sizemic negative shift in peoples attitudes when I first got my PhD. People who had claimed a part in my support network were suddenly threatened and unmistakably jealous, to the point where they could not contain it.

Moving into the present. This is a tensious toxicity which still represents in some of my professional relationships and friendships to this day. I often find myself cornered into conversations where I am expected to downplay the achievement of a PhD, or reassure those without one that having one is ‘no big deal’. Well I’m sorry, but it is! I am not going to downplay nine years of my self funded hard work, which ran in parallel to family and career life. Nor am I going to downplay my ‘contribution to new knowledge’ that was born out of years in ‘the field’, or the agonising efforts to write up nine years worth of field work into (just) 100,000 words. I am not going to pretend that my achievement was ‘no biggie’ in the face of all this to a backdrop of severe dyspraxia, to pretend that producing nearly 400 pages of original work while managing dyspraxia, was no big deal. It was! My PhD is a big deal and I am proud of it because I worked hard for it.

The problem with being an ‘accessible academic’ is that in your ability to simplify the complicated, you attract a tirade of people who think it is as easy as you make it sound. In your purposeful adoption of simple language, you open yourself up to all kinds personalities that begin (sub-consciously?) co-opting you and your work. What starts off as a genuine connection which may be based on mutual respect and an acknowledgement of ones work, soon transitions into envy, competitiveness, and an increasing sentiment off ‘why not me? I’m as good as her. Why her? I want what she’s got’ This then evolves to ‘Is it because she has a PhD?’ …

I only seem to find myself in these contexts and exchanges when I have ‘risked trust’ and tried to help. It is somewhat sad as I’m at a point now, where I am becoming increasingly weary of doing anyone a favour, and questioning my openness, and willingness to trust. This is partly because I am realising that I can not assume that all my interactions are premised in shared values. That my values are in fact unique to me and are born out of my personal journey and beliefs. I can not assume similar in others. This isn’t at all a criticism of others, merely an observation to come out of deep reflexivity. Consequently, for my own self care I am beginning to work towards a future dynamic where I will no longer be opening myself up to possibilities of toxic spaces and interactions such as those described, where I am having to justify myself in a space, or challenge the expectation that I should downplay my achievements, or worse still, be forced into some bizarre game playing in exchange for having offered a genuine, trusting, engagement.

As I work through this I leave my readers with a final thought, I think it is important for anyone reading this to recognise that obtaining a PhD is no small achievement. It comes out of years of hard work and sometimes, trauma. To stratify anyone that has one, because of secret aspirations for a life in the academie, is unfair and unnecessary. It is surely better to weigh up the options on whether doing one would be helpful to ones career/aspirations? – and taking it from there, rather than downgrading someone else’s achievements.