Studying for a PhD does not just change how much we know about a topic or how well we do research. The perception other have of us changes too, sometimes more than we expected. Read Sherry’s post on the image of female PhD students…

“So, you are the third kind of human being!”

What does it mean? Third kind of human being?

I first heard this expression when I was about 18, when social networks just came into my life. I didn’t know what it meant so I googled it. According to a webpage similar to Yahoo answers, there are three kinds of human being in the world: men, women and women who have doctoral degrees or pursuing them. At the time, I even found it a bit entertaining because I had no idea one day, I need to rethink about this.

In summer 2013, I got accepted to a PhD programme. I was really happy and went back to China for one last summer vacation before I start one last degree in my life. Also it had been a while since I went back home so I made many arrangements to see as many friends as I could. I was still quite excited about that I am going to do a research that could be designed entirely by myself so I told everybody I met. However, people’s responses are, quite frankly speaking, shocking.


Granny: “What?! Another degree? When are you coming back? I don’t have much time left, how many years do you plan to stay there?!”

Me with a big smile: “Em…… you know, in couple years….”

Aunty: “Why do you want a PhD degree? Don’t you think it would be nice to find a husband and start a life?”

Me with a big smile: “Em………….” (I was thinking that I am living a real life right now…)


Random old lady from my mum’s friendship circle: “What are you gonna do with a PhD degree? It’s useless for girls to get it! You won’t be able to find a husband!”

Me with a big big big smile: “Thank you.” (Who are you again? Why does my life concern you?  And yeah I know for a fact that you are looking for a girl for your son but please stay away from my mum and my family…)


A friend from high school who I used to be really close to: “WOW, so, you are the third kind of human being! Finally know a living one!”

Me: What?!


Friend (who I was secretly unfriending in heart): “Well you know, I’ve only seen people talk about it or seen PhD students from a distance, but you are the first person I know who actually is going to be one and, you know, you are a girl…”


After an entire summer of awkward conversations about my choice of pursing a doctoral degree, I was so happy to come back to England. Apart from realising there are more people of my age in Masters degree than in my PhD group, nothing really makes me feel too different.

Xiaozhe (Sherry) Cai (@5herrycxz) is a PhD student at Centre for Applied linguistics. She is learning in the wonderful world of intercultural communication and researching mixed-culture groupwork in Higher Education. Love traveling and music. Wish to see the world, haven’t achieved much but working on it! And most importantly, 100% foodie!