Monday, 12 March 2018

"You Must Be Very Intelligent"

I recently read a very interesting book called "You Must Be Very Intelligent: The PhD Delusion" written by former Edinburgh chemistry PhD student Karin Bodewitz (@KarinBodewitz). As someone also going through my PhD in chemistry, I could identify with a lot of her personal struggles in academia (although thankfully my supervisor isn't prone to frequent bursts of anger!)
The academic pandemic of imposter syndrome is frequently mentioned throughout the story, and I'm sure everyone can/will identify with this struggle at some point in their career. However, I want to talk about the idea behind the title of the book - the idea that everyone with a PhD must be very intelligent.

Many people, when they find out I'm doing a PhD, say "oh you must be very intelligent!" and when they hear it's in chemistry they reiterate that sentiment. Either that or "oh, so you're like that guy from Breaking Bad - are you making drugs?" 
No, I am not making drugs!

Additionally, my girlfriend often says, "I can't believe you're doing PhD, you're so smart!" and is mind-blown by the stuff she sees me reading in bed sometimes. She often says she feels inferior, like she's dumb, because she's not at PhD level. Now, she is a teacher, a teacher of maths and science. Without people like her, people like me would never even make it to university, never mind PhD. In fact, it's my own high school chemistry teacher who is responsible for convincing me to study chemistry at university in the first place, leading me to where I am today. So, every time my girlfriend claims she is "dumb", I try to reassure her that she most definitely is not - she's just not as good as me in one very specific area of chemistry!

I read many stories on Twitter, and I have seen plenty of examples in my own workplace, of people who are doing PhDs or already have PhDs, doing things that, quite frankly, are stupid - as if they have no common sense. The more I read the stories, and the more I see with my own eyes, I realise that doing/having a PhD, and possibly having many high impact publications, does not necessarily make someone a super-intellectual being - it simply means they are good at what they do for a living (chemistry). Outside of their day-to-day work – robotically setting up reaction after reaction, and doing column after column - they appear to have very little common sense, even in some of the most basic of tasks.

So, to sum up for all those non-PhDs, and specifically those non-chemistry non-PhDs, just because someone is doing a PhD in chemistry, that does not mean they are VERY intelligent, it just makes them a good chemist (and even THAT is not always true!)

Image taken from:

P.S. You should totally read Karin's book - it's unputdownable! 

No comments:

Post a Comment