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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 22 May '16

Postgraduate superpowers - 4 Reasons PhD students are Better than Superheroes

Ok, so Batman would probably have been pretty handy in an engineering lab, Thor could teach the history department a thing or two about Norse mythology and Professor X must have gotten a doctorate from somewhere.

But could any of these guys actually hack it as research students? Could they stare down a literature review at 2AM with only a cat and a lukewarm coffee for company? Of course not.

PhD students, on the other hand, would make great superheroes. Why? Because they already have superpowers, of course. Here are four of the most amazing:

#1 PhD students can bend time (around deadlines)

Everyone knows the way a classic superhero narrative works.

Doctor Deathpants finally unveils his evil plan to melt the polar ice-caps using an over-heating mobile phone charger and, before anyone’s even had a chance to work out which university awarded a higher degree to a maniac, it’s almost too late to save the day.

At this point, real superheroes inevitably go through a moment of crisis as the world looks on in dismay.

Not PhD students though. It’s a proven truth that the mean effectiveness of a PhD student actually increases in inverse proportion to their distance from a crucial deadline.

Only five minutes left to save the known universe? That’s nothing compared to writing a conference paper, finishing your latest chapter draft and grading six undergraduate essays with time left to catch the early bird special at the local pizza parlour.

Floating clocks

#2 PhD students run on mystical energy sources

Nobody ever sees Superman stop for a burger, spots Catwoman lurking around the back of a fish and chip shop or catches Mr Fantastic using his elastic arms to foil the nefarious schemes of a broken vending machine.

That’s because, as years of films, TV shows and comics have taught us, the most fundamental superpower of all is not having to eat, drink or sleep. Instead, superheroes get their energy from other sources, like the sun’s magnetic rays, magic amazon rituals or Batman’s massive bank account.

But PhD students don’t need any of these things, which is probably just as well, come to think of it: postgraduate researchers aren’t renowned for their association with pseudo-science, supernatural hokum or corporate empires.

Instead, PhD students possess the power to convert far more mundane materials into a near infinite source of research power. Who needs gamma radiation, ancient magic or a trust fund when you’ve got a pot noodle, half a bag of crisps and a lot of coffee?

Coffee beans

#3 PhD students are masters of disguise

A good secret identity is crucial to any superhero’s success. You just don’t get in the door unless you’re able to render yourself unrecognisable with a pair of spectacles, a slightly gruff voice or an unorthodox approach to wearing pants.

PhD students laugh at such amateurish approaches to subterfuge. For them, disguise is a part of everyday life. In fact, the world is full of PhD student superheroes, living in secret amongst us.

That barista who served you your coffee this morning? He’s two steps away from developing a new method of growing organic super-coffee in Essex.

The young woman who listened to you complain about your slow internet connection speed for fifteen minutes yesterday? She’s actually part of an elite lab, working hard to ensure that you’ll soon be able to get ultra-fast mobile broadband ten feet underground, using only a spoon and two safety pins.

The teaching assistant who wowed you with the clarity of their exegesis on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason? Until last night, they hadn’t even read it (see superpower number 1).

Cat hiding under rug

#4 PhD students are already part of super-teams

When the going really gets tough, everything seems lost and no one has any idea what the plot for a fourth film should be, all the best superheroes can call in super-friends with a selection of complimentary abilities that will help defeat the bad guys, save the day and quadruple box-office receipts.

PhD students can do this too of course (except maybe the bit with the box-office receipts). All they have to do is invoke the power of… Interdisciplinarity!

Gasp as Engineering Woman designs the ultimate all-terrain super-vehicle, based on plans for a long-forgotten steam-powered unicycle, unearthed by History Man and translated by Captain Linguistics.

Marvel (without copyright infringement) as Economics-Boy explains the financial failings of Doctor Deathpants’s underground volcano lair, distracting him long enough for Chemistry Girl to deactivate his doomsday device using a teaspoon of water and a pinch of sodium metabisulfite.

... So, next time the world is threatened with destruction by an arch-villain with a silly name and dodgy qualifications… who are you going to call?

The postgraduate research office, that’s who.

Hands together

Noone says PhD students can't relax occasionally. If they do, you shouldn't listen to them. Why not take a look at some of the other humour pieces on our blog? Or sign up to our weekly newsletter for slightly more serious postgraduate study advice.

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