PhD Metaphors
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Metaphors for The Dissertation Process







  1. Three months before your due date, your doctor doesn't say,        

              "I  want you to go back and re-do the first trimester's work."

  2. Unlike advisors, you can switch doctors without having to start over.

  3. Conceiving a baby is WAY more fun than conceiving a topic.

  4. You know exactly how long a pregnancy takes.

  5. Friends and relatives don't question the worth of a baby.

  6. You don't need to explain repeatedly to friends and family what it takes to make a baby...

           and why you're not through yet.

  7. No one will make you go to grad school before having a baby.

  8. Everyone will say your baby is cute and you'll believe them.

  9. Babies don't require proper footnoting or adherence to a style manual.

10. You can freely borrow other people's stuff if you're having a baby and not be accused of plagiarism.

11. No one will complain if your baby is too similar to another one.









Riding The Subway in Toronto

During my PhD experience I used the metaphor of riding the subway in Toronto to help me visualize what was happening. I was told that a metaphor would help me get through the process. It helped because the dissertation process is a lot like a journey on the Toronto subway.
You've got to really run to catch it! And even then, at full speed, you can still miss an important connection.

There are a lot of stops and starts. Things go smoothly for a time. Then you sit and wait. Then you start again. Then you stop, start, stop, start... stand, wait, stand, wait...

Sometimes you are above ground. Sometimes you are deep underground (stuck on one of the nine underground floors for the stacks of journals in the Science and Medical Library). More often you are underground.

There are people all around you but you don't seem to have anyone to talk to. Faces are glazed over much like those with whom you share a new thought about your dissertation.
Sometimes the communications you receive from those in charge are much like the garbled voices you hear over the loudspeaker on the subway. (Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah wah..)  
Sometimes the lights go out, or you come to a dead stop in a tunnel. This is no place for phobics.

Sometimes you are pressed on all sides and jostled with no apparent reason.

Sometimes things just don't smell right.  
Sometimes, with all the twists and turns to get to the train, you get disoriented and end up on the wrong platform and in a car going the wrong way.

Rarely do you see the person "driving" your train.  
Finally, you get to your destination and there is a huge sigh of relief. But this is premature; you realize there are still two flights of stairs to climb since the escalator is broken. The oral defence and the revisions required are a lot like these stairs.

And then the fares go up.

The bus you hoped to connect with just left (for Sabbatical Street) so you are going to have to wait a while longer.  
What the metaphor helped me to do was to see that these are all temporary problems. And the metaphor gave me hooks to hang the problems upon.

It really was a lot like the subway journey.