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Turning into PhDzilla

After watching online snippets of an American TV show called Bridezillas, I discovered an endangered species at university. And as explorers do I named the species according to something it looks alike: PhDzilla. This specimen is inadvertently endangered because it exhibits a variety of self-destructive modus operandi. An overtly consume of coffee and sugar is just one of them—the most obvious perhaps. Subsequent to this discovery I published a paper as warning example for everyone who works in academia. Please do pay attention to the warning signs described below, this will safe your limb and your life.

A Guide to Avoid.
by P. Zilla, University of Monstrous Meaning

There is one behaviour pattern that is infallible in the classification of PhDzillas: the inability to deal with drifting. The best time of the year to observe this inability is during the academic summer break. Thus, plan your main fieldwork for the three months of summer. Another significant period for fieldwork on PhDzillas, I suggest, is when a particular individual ceased all part-time employment and teaching obligations to focus on research—and only research.

Drifting, an activity that triggers relaxation and positive behaviour patterns in other species, is a live-threatening situation for PhDzillas. Initially the specimen reacts positively towards this kind of change.

Albeit, the explorer has to be wary not to come too close even during this phase. If, in any case, the explorer had misjudged the kind of specimen s/he was facing, they might find themselves in a very troublesome position. Communication with a PhDzilla during such a period will be mind-bogglingly exhausting and the explorer might be left with a puzzled brain and early signs of burn-out. Inexperienced explorers even began to feel suicidal after extended periods of fieldwork.

Phases of the transformation and extinction process Triggered by drifting


A PhDzilla will initially be incredibly communicative. Up to a point where the explorer begins wondering, if s/he should just set up a life size cardboard figure and sneak out of the room—get some food and coffee (go to the cinema, start writing a book, visit granny, knit a pullover).

This first phase of communication will be a rant about how great it is to have time and to be really, and they mean really, able to focus on the research project. Such announcements are usually accompanied by dreamy looks and some sighs. Beware this is the explorers last chance for escape! Take some nice pictures and run!!!


Phase Two will start with: ‘ACTUALLY‘ followed by a pause, followed by: ‘you KNOWsince I have all this time, I realised just, how much work this PhD project is and that I did not do anything during the last year.’
Mind you not doing anything means: writing a couple of hundred pages of research diary and fieldnotes, putting out some publications, do the practical part of the research (experiments, fieldwork etc), several part time jobs, conferences, network meetings, committees, workshops and so on and so forth. The PhDzilla however will graciously deny these activities to be ‘doing something’, because they are not writing on THE actual dissertation paper.

Due to Drifting the specimen is cornered by a vast amount of time. This time enables our PhDzillas to comprehend the complexity of the project and all the unanswered questions. The spare time enables them to find even more questions and the project appears to the PhDzillas as never ending. These realities eventually lead to the last stages of the conversation and the subsequent destruction of the endangered species (and if you are not careful researcher).


I do congratulate all the explorers, who were not substituted by cardboard figures and are still sane, with all limbs (not gnawed off out of desperation, as it apparently happens in other universes) and able to follow the flow of words hammering down onto them. Where was I? Alright I got sidetracked (Well, I am writing this during my fieldwork with an actual life specimen so please appologise my flaws in focus.)

The understanding of the complexity of the research issues at hand will bring the PhDzillas to the edge of their comprehension. They will try to find a way, some way, somehow, at all costs, to bring all aspects, literature, fieldnotes, reflections and theories into one paper – THE paper, called dissertation. They will panic because the vast amount of time turns into nothingness, which subsequently turns the meaning of the dissertation into nothingness. After all what are three-hundred pages in world history? What the heck were the research questions again?!

The PhDzillas will start to add to each research question about 100 to 150 sub-questions, which all have to be discussed of course. And you, my dear explorer, will be the lab-rat. You will get all these questions explained, their importance and position within the research, and of course; why it is just as impossible to leave them out, as it is to actually answer them.

Figure Above: Early Stages of the transformation process


At this point you will earn a look of desperation from your PhDzilla.  The more aggressive    members of the specimen will start *headdesking*, this means hitting their foreheads hard and repeatedly onto their writing desks. While peaceful PhDzillas might just run off with a hastily mumbled: I need chocolate or the cry for coffeeeeeeee!!!!

Dear explorer as the last E of coffee evaporates you can shake your own hand, pet your shoulder and congratulate yourself. You just have managed to identify a true PhDzilla and survived it. You might still be shaky and wary but do not fear, soon you will recover and know which areas of the campus to avoid in future.

Yours sincerely P. Zilla (R.O.A.R.)

With warmest regards to A. and in anticipation for further inspiring conversations. I’ve learned of her that PhDzilla belongs to the family of workaholics. Further clarification of this species might help fellow sufferers, thus we appreciate all knowledge you might want to share.

Categories: Teaching

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Nathalie Sheridan

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