Things Learned During a French PhD

Books, books, books everywhere....

I’m halfway there – or at least I tell myself. Writing a doctoral thesis, and in a different language no less, is an experience that fortunately one need only do once in life. I’m thinking back to that time I told myself, “Yes, this is a good idea.” I’m sure I wasn’t sober.

There are stages you go through until you finish the document, if you ever finish it. For the moment, I’m in what I can only imagine is something like stage 3 of 5.

Stage 1 was the easy part -- pretending to work. This is the most enjoyable part of an academic’s career where you say, “Yes, I am doing a PhD.” And that’s about it. Maybe you read a few books, but let’s be honest here, you’re relaxing. Then there’s stage 2, when the work starts and you feel like you’re actually making progress. One interview completed? Have a drink. Two interviews transcribed? Time for a vacation.

But in stage 3, I’m actually writing. In French. This is where I learn that I really know very little at all. At the moment I only have two tools helping me: coffee and WordReference.com. Fortunately I have a French editor waiting in the wings, but I have to get him a product first. While my French isn’t getting better, I am learning plenty of other things.

That bottomless cup of coffee needs some filling...

I’ve learned that I drink too much coffee, and that there is not enough in the world to force me to focus enough on the task at hand, especially in a second language.

I’ve learned that a doctoral thesis is the permanent excuse for not cleaning up my bedroom/office, and that it would be futile to attempt. Those ants are my cheer squad.

I’ve learned that I don’t really speak French that well at all, and my constant verifications on WordReference.com only confirms my suspicions.

I’ve learned that Facebook and Twitter are true evils and that they need to be stopped.

I’m looking forward to stage 4, when I can actually start to see things taking shape and where details are all that remain – the editing process. Then there’s the roller coaster ride downhill to stage 5, when I hopefully defend and force everyone to call me “Docteur Bryan,” because I will, and you’ll have no choice in the matter.

I've also learned that stage 3 is marked by excessive procrastination. I guess I should get back to work. After I organize some books...