Review – Russell: “Dr Dr, I feel like… doing a PhD”

You’ve started talking to kitchen appliances, have a year’s worth stock of sweets in your desk, and doubt everyone and everything, yourself foremost? Congratulations, you might be doing a PhD…

As nerdy as it sounds, PhD manuals have become one of my favourite genres. I am not sure if I am seeking validation of my own practice, solace in the tough times or just some practical advice, but I have read quite a few of books written to demystify the process of obtaining a PhD. (Also, reading these technically qualifies as PhD work, so I am always excited when I discover a new book.)

Lucy Russell’s Dr Dr, I feel like… doing a PhD had me at its title, and bright yellow covers sealed the deal. The author promised “[t]his is book about what it’s like to submit yourself to the process of doing a doctorate. It is about how it feels to be a research student: the elation, the guilt the isolation, the self-doubt, the loneliness”, and after I have seen the toaster sentence in the Introduction, I knew I would finish it in the same day. (I too think out loud, and when running late in the mornings, ask the toaster to hurry up. Sometimes when I am not running late too. This is, unfortunately, not PhD-induced.)

“So when did you start talking to the toaster?”

There are relatively few references to the toaster, actually there is only one in the entire book. Nonetheless, I immensely enjoyed reading it. Yes, it has some great advice about making the decision to start a PhD, choosing an ideal topic, university, finding supervisor and funding. There also very helpful suggestions about writing and rewriting your research proposal, establish and maintain work routine, researching and writing your PhD, and lastly, completing your viva, This is not why I liked this book, though; you can find information like that, and more up-to-date, in many other books or through a few Internet search. What I liked about this book is that it revealed the messy part too – everyday struggle with motivation, doubt, anxiety and frustration. (Oh, and constant snacking.)

Image credits: Mauro Entrialgo/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“A PhD takes life of its own, once you get started.”

Before Linguistics set its paws on me, I was also a Literature student who devoured fiction, class-related and unrelated. Sadly, few protagonists were ever PhD students. Russell’s book is a step towards filling this hole. Practical advice on “serious academic matters” is fused with personal, diary-like accounts of her own and her colleagues’ PhD experience. Reading these made me laugh and sigh, recognising bursts of optimism between moments of despair in my own PhD journey. Weekly wordcount bouncing from 7,000 to 0, yes, that certainly rings a bell.

Admittedly, I guffawed at Charles’ leisure time predicament:

I remember one Saturday deciding to take a day off to do something I enjoyed, only to find myself unable remember what I enjoyed doing!

(But then closed the book and made a post-it listing a few things I enjoyed doing, just in case. And then also took a photo of it, as I am known to lose post-its. Better safe than sorry.)

“Stock up on the jelly babies, and go for it.”

Is this book a must-read? No, of course not; you are a PhD student with a lengthy reading list as it it. However, I would heartily recommend it to anyone curious about PhD studies, think of starting one or already en route (Warwick-based researchers can find the book here).

It does not dwell on the negatives of the process, but paints a realistic picture of PhD experience. From dealing with imposter syndrome to communicating with family and friend, this book offers humour and support in finding ways to make the most of it.

So, stock up on the snacks of your choice, and lets go!  🙂

Have you read this book? Or have any other recommendations?

Ana Kedveš  (@anakedves)


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