What would happen if, all of a sudden, there were no more PhDs? Or, more to the point, if there were no more PhD students studying those PhDs?
The world would end, of course. And not necessarily for the reasons you might think.
Sure, we’d have no new researchers curing diseases, designing better solutions to urban infrastructure or figuring out what everyone thought of sex in the seventeenth century, but PhD students are actually way more important than that.
Let’s look at a few *other* catastrophes that would soon occur if, all of a sudden, people just stopped studying PhDs.
It’s a well-known fact that every academic guest lecture, research seminar, conference or workshop ends with ‘complimentary wine and nibbles’.
It’s another well-known fact that a large proportion of the attendees at these events are PhD students.
And it’s an open secret that those PhD students and complimentary wine and nibbles are mainly there for each other.
But what if there weren’t any PhD students to consume all the free wine and nibbles? Would they stop being provided? Of course not. Academic events are organised by academics. Academics are experts in academic stuff, not logistics (and besides, they’re far too busy getting the powerpoint to work to realise they’ve bought too many crisps).
So, without PhD students around there’d soon be mountains of uneaten snacks and bucket loads of wine piling up in every seminar room on campus.
Imagine it: cheesy nachos blocking doorways, bottles of Lidl shiraz rolling precariously down corridors.
Most of the cleaning staff would resign at the first sight of all the mess. The rest would quit when they were told they’d now be paid entirely in Prosecco and pistachios. Meanwhile, senior faculty would have to replace their morning coffee and toast with warm chianti and wotsits.
It just doesn’t bear thinking about.
We’ve all seen those TV shows where people imagine what would happen if the human race mysteriously vanished.
You know the ones: highways becoming overgrown with jungle creepers in Kent; tigers wandering listlessly across overgrown highways in Kent; domestic cats evolving rapidly into large predators (and thereby explaining how those tigers ended up in Kent).
Well, all of this would happen more or less instantly on campuses if PhD students suddenly vanished. Except maybe the stuff with the tigers.
Everyone knows that there are large parts of university campuses used and populated almost entirely by research students.
The bits of the library the undergraduates wouldn’t be seen dead in (you know, the big bit outside the computer room, with all the books in it). The new multimedia facilities the professors don’t even know exist. That coffee shop on the eighth floor of the tower building that sells an Americano for 49p and has those awesome little biscuit things.
Just imagine these places without PhD students in them.
There’d be librarians desperately trying to coax in undergraduates with free cake. Esteemed faculty would be found flailing at the touchscreen controls on modern
photocopiers digital content reproduction suites before falling to the floor in a sobbing heap. Tim the coffee shop guy would go bankrupt and throw himself out of the 8th floor window.
Won’t somebody please think of Tim.
Not because academics would actually go hungry (there’d be all the leftover wine and nibbles, remember) but because, as everyone knows, academics secretly want to kill each other.
Nowhere is this more evident than academic conferences.
Sure, they feel friendly and collegiate, but that just hides a deep core of suspicion and envy. Sure, you say you’re marking up that programme so you don’t miss any of the ‘really interesting sounding panels’, but you’re actually asterixing the presentations of anyone who looks like they might be working on a similar topic to you. And plotting to put poisoned lemon slices in their water jug.
So what stops the green-eyed-monster of professional scholarship from developing into a full-on case of hulk smash you in the thesis?
PhD students, that’s what. Or who.
Everyone loves PhD students at conferences. Especially new ones.
Their eager questions and occasional hero worship are far more likely to massage the egos of esteemed professors than threaten them. Plus, a PhD thesis, by its very nature, has to be a new contribution to its field, so there’s very little chance that a doctoral student is working on the same topic as you. Unless you’re also a doctoral student… where’s that lemon?
Take PhD students out of the conference equation though and things would get real ugly, real quickly. In fact, it’s pretty much going to be texas chainsaw massacre time whenever a panel session ends with questions from the floor.
And, with no newly minted academics coming through PhD programmes, there’s one sure way to become the world leader in your field: kill everyone else working in it.
It would be a bloodbath. With suspicious looking slices of lemon floating on top.