I get this question a lot, “so what exactly do you do?” Inevitably when I tell people I am a PhD student, they respond with tons of questions. Most people don’t really understand what it means to be a PhD student. They know that someone with a PhD is called “doctor,” but they rarely understand the process behind the title.
So what do I do? Well contrary to assumptions, PhD students are more than students. Yes, we have not finished our degrees (hence the classification as student, although some prefer candidate), but we also teach, research, and write. The average history doctorate takes 6 to 8 years (Yes, that long! I am just over half-way through if you are curious.). This is because we are expected to produce, and ultimately publish, a book at the end of the process. And in order to write a book, we spend years researching in archives (that’s why I spend my summers in Florence, Italy).
In the process of researching we become an expert in our particular subject (mostly because it is so obscure that no one else has ever studied it!), and as an expert you are expected to present your findings at professional conferences and publish articles in academic journals. This is the point most people don’t understand, we are professionals and being a PhD student is a job.
I think many people assume when they hear I am a student that I go to classes a couple times a week and study a lot, but they also presume I don’t have a real job (we get paid a salary just like everyone else). People have actually said that to me before! I have an office and go to work daily (Well almost daily, sometimes I stay home and read in my pajamas all day… no judgement!). My schedule is more flexible than your average 9 to 5, but I have plenty to keep me busy–grading papers, meeting with students, teaching, writing, researching, reading (lots of reading!), and trying to have a life. It can be incredibly overwhelming, but I love it!
Sometimes I joke and tell people I am a professional student, or make up a job to avoid all of the questions! But being in school for so long has made me an expert student and I am planning on sharing some of the skills I have learned over the years… stay tuned!