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How to spectacularly fail in your PhD

James Davis

Careers Commentator
When life gives you lemons, sometimes it’s best to throw them into a blender, take the lid off and let Ben Franklin work his magic.

Research got you down? Literally and figuratively tired of all the late nights and early days? Fear not. There’s a solution to all life’s problems that has succeeded for time immemorial: giving up. From weary Alexander’s crusade across the known world to modern peoples forgetting manned space travel, giving up has been a syrup sweeter than honey. An elixir befitting all the mangled gods of cultures long forgotten. In this article, we’ll go over some ways you too can go down in anonymity with a debonair flair. So put on your snuggie, close the curtains and open the peanut butter. We’re going in.

Mismanage your time

Under no circumstances should you observe deadlines, both self-imposed and wracked with the scent of your supervisor. Staying organised will lead to nothing but successful ruin, so don’t ever put such things in a diary, Google calendar or otherwise. Furthermore, you should by no means fill such entries with details regarding the nature of these obligations. Leaving everything to such a dire brink you can’t help but feel anxious and helpless at the same time, a true existential wombo combo. Only then do you let out a great sigh of relief, signifying nothing. 

Deadlines aren’t the only thing to jettison. Knowing how to prioritise tasks in the worst way possible is the mark of an enlightened soul. Still need primary research? Must be time to change the font size. About to defend your thesis? Perhaps it’s time to meet your supervisor for the first time. You get the picture. Creating an ordered list from most important at the bottom to least then working your way down is essential to failing in spectacular fashion. Ooh, is that a new season of Black Mirror?

Keep irregular hours

One hour on Monday followed by 13 hours on Tuesday with no work at all for the next two days is just one of many creative examples. If you keep to a consistent schedule and treat it like a full-time job, you run the risk of getting your PhD done in a timely manner. Avoid at all costs. Above all, make sure your weekends aren’t ever sacred. If you never dedicate any time to keeping your thesis out of mind, you’ll burn out sooner, which is exactly what we’re looking for. Bonus points for absolutely never taking leave.

It also pays to either have no lunch breaks, or too many. So long as your body is crying out in desperation for one reason or another, you’ll be on the path to shining self-destruction. 

Prioritise work over your PhD

Universities generally don’t accept work commitments as acceptable extenuating circumstances. For this reason, let work devour your PhD time. Don’t ever let your university think for a second they’ve got you. You’re too good for them. Let them know you have other options out there on this big ball of mud we call Earth. You’re the alpha dog. What are they going to do, fail you? Checkmate, nerds. 

Risk it all

Backups are the bane of your existence. Under no circumstances should you be creating regular backups, not only of different versions but of the same versions, across multiple cloud and physical storage systems. By having one, single master copy of your thesis, you guarantee you have no way of viewing or restoring previous work that may have been useful later. Furthermore, a catastrophic systems failure would lead to losing the entire thing. Wonderful. We recommend using a hacked Russian copy of Windows 7 running on the most expensive brand of toaster you can find in the Johari Bazaar on a sweaty Jaipuri morning. Relocate to a dangerous neighbourhood for best results. 

You should now have a better idea of how to fail your PhD. Remember: doing the inverse of all these things can only improve your chances of success, so keep to the instructions. Good luck, soldier. We look forward to seeing your unpublished work on Reddit some day. 

(For the latest in postgraduate advice, courses and scholarships, sign up for free here on PostgradAustralia. It’ll help you nail your thesis, but only if you’re into that.)