PhD: employee or student?

Yes, it’s once more time to fill in the form with data the Government clearly already has but yet seems hell-bent on paying millions of pounds to collect again in yet another format.  But, governmental bureaucracy aside, the census got me thinking; what do I actually do for a living?

I ticked the box for “full-time student”.  I am registered with the university, I have a student card,  I’m definitely still learning and I’m quite happy with the perks and student discounts entitled to me!  But, on the other hand, I do consider myself in full-time employment.  I earn a wage (it may be tax free but then it’s a pretty small wage) and it’s flexi-working but I try to work at least a 9-5.  I’m not the only one that sees it as more than studying; our official title has recently shifted from “PhD student” to “postgraduate researcher” to reflect the fact we have more responsibility than just learning from others. 

It’s probably harder to define in the sciences; my housemate is doing a PhD in law, and I imagine there’s a much clearer cut line there between those practicing law in a law firm and those researching it.  But I know other scientists starting graduate jobs who share with me the same highs and lows of learning new instrumentation.  The difference between them and me?  Although I feel my PhD is one massive deadline I guess I am less constrained by economic and corporate pressures, and if I see a side project develop from my work I have more freedom to pursue it.

I tried searching for a definition of ‘PhD’ on, it didn’t really come up with anything more than these pearls of wisdom:

“The lifestyle of genteel scholarly shabbiness” (one day “scholarly shabby” will grace the fashion pages of Cosmo).  

“A PhD is no longer synonymous with genteel scholarly shabbiness but can be leveraged into great wealth, personal and corporate.” (not sure if this is every going to happen to me).

“Doctor of Philosophy. No, you don’t have to be a Philosophy major to receive this! If you break it down, philosophy simply means; Theory of Knowledge. Therefore receiving a PhD will mean that you are a Doctor of “Theory of Knowledge” in your major. You are an expert and you know all there is to know about what you studied!” (I like to think I might be an expert one day).

In the end, I put down ‘student’ and decided to enjoy the benefits of my double-life. Now, the only thing left to decide…religion: Jedi or ninja?!


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