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.sense and responsibility


by Christina


“Hi, so what do you do?”


Pretty straightforward question. Hm, what do I do?

“Hello, I am a PhD student, at the Physics Department.”

At this point, many people who are no scientists, give me the default “oh you poor soul, why” – look. A few scientists do, too.

“PhD? In Physics?”

“It’s actually quite fun.”

Usually this doesn’t help my case with the other party.

At this point - not just on one occasion - I have felt the urge to snap my fingers in their face and go

“Hey, I am not insane –“

and (while flailing my arms around) shout

“It’s a real job, I swear!11!!”

(Note to self: I should really do that sometime.)

But you know…

…instead, in a standard conversation, I start describing my research field, how I am trying to answer my research question…

…while inevitably watching a deepening frown on the other party’s face.


If only they knew how right they are.

My research either is bordering or inside the “completely irrelevant” category, depending on what kind of day we’re having.

“Hmh.” – said everyone.

Don’t get me wrong – for the record, I think the methodology is nerdy, the instruments are cool and the community is both. I got lucky and I mean it when I say: “It’s actually quite fun”. But – these things don’t change the fact that my research question is super niche and has been created by a small community for a small community.

Whatever information I discover and will publish as PhD student will probably be there for the hell of it.

Stating anything else – is delusional – if I may say so myself.


Before I go on, I feel like there are two things I need to clarify:

What makes this research possible – bottom line – is reverse engineering a research question to a rare methodology – for better or for worse.

What keeps me going despite this rather bleak view of things is – bottom line – my opinion getting what a PhD degree is about. To teach the person that does it anything but what their random research topic is about.

“It’s a real job, I swear!11!!”

(Note to self: never say that, ever, because it isn’t.)

“But wouldn’t you agree it’s irresponsible pouring public funds into a project that makes no significant contribution to humanity?”

No wonder people frown. If only they knew how right they are.

Can’t blame anyone, since

– as of today, anyway –

“I’m doing my PhD for the hell of it.”

“Come on, you don’t make any sense, there must be a reason you do what you do.”


“Hi, so what do you do?”


Time to change my answer.

“Hello, I am training to be a good scientist.”


“What I do” is not a job, it’s a collective investment.

“Hello, I am a scientist. We are many, we work together and together we can do great stuff.”


I owe you one. Big time.

Yours truly.


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