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Book Review: the PhD Comics Strip Collection series

Everyone who’s doing a PhD knows the emotional turmoil you go through. Who among us hasn’t felt the following?:

a)     Anxiety?

b)     Depression?

c)     An inability to relax?

d)     Frustration at your equipment/experiments/supervisor/idiot student you’re mentoring who used up all the expensive antibody?

e)     All of the above…

f)      …and more?

Well I certainly felt all of those at one stage or another, and what made it worse at the time was a (I now realise, ridiculous) feeling that I was the only one riding the PhD Emotions Rollercoaster. I think grad students sometimes have a tendency to isolate themselves emotionally – you come out of your BSc proudly gripping your graduation certificate and feeling confident, and then you’re thrown into the deep end. With people in the lab usually being busy with their own projects, it can sometimes feel like you’re left floundering, and the weight of the world and everyone’s expectations is on top of you.

I felt exactly this way. And then I found out about Jorge Cham’s PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper) Comics. Once I’d discovered them, I couldn’t stop reading them. I clicked through page after page, and with every comic I’d smile and think to myself “I know that feeling!”.  I started sharing them with my friends on Facebook, and I found that they would get an extraordinary number of likes – obviously my friends were thinking the same thing.

And then finally amongst all my happy clicking and sharing, it dawned on me – other people feel the way I do. I’m not the only one struggling against the current and feeling overwhelmed. All the little things that bother me (I guess you could call them “quirks”!) about PhD life bother other people too. And in some small way that helped me. I was no longer a lonely island of despair in a sea of hopelessness – I started to look around and realise that there were others out there feeling equally lost.

And if most grad students feel that way, and people still get their PhDs, then I needn’t panic so much about everything that goes wrong, surely? Perhaps one day I’ll look back on all the panic attacks and the tears and laugh, but in the deepest, darkest days of my time in the lab PhD comics helped me cling onto my sanity. Thank you, Jorge!

If you want to keep up-to-date with PhD Comics, you can join the mailing list or subscribe to the RSS feed and get notifications about new comics as they’re published. But the wonder that is PhD comics doesn’t stop there. Cham’s characters have been brought to life in a PhD Comics movie which was released earlier this year. While the movie isn’t free to watch, it’s only $9 (about £6) to stream/download, and it has been receiving excellent reviews.

So take my advice: if you’re feeling a little lost and overwhelmed, take a trip over to PhD Comics. It may just take the edge off of your day!

The PhD comics strips have also been collected into five different volumes:

Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Student Comic Strip Collection

Life is tough and then you graduate: The second Piled Higher and Deeper Comic Strip Collection

Scooped! The Third Piled Higher and Deeper Comic Strip Collection

Academic Stimulus Package (Piled Higher & Deeper)

Adventures in Thesisland: The Fifth Piled Higher and Deeper Comic Strip Collection

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