Commentary – the grey area of ‘studying’ for a PhD

Working on a PhD is a strange thing. You get paid to do research, work independently and with others as a team, have a supervisor and management structure, undertake professional development, but are still a ‘student’. I often came across this grey area when travelling during my PhD. Covered by staff insurance but not able to access the staff infrastructure for purchasing tickets. Following student protocols for flights, but not able to get reimbursed without following the staff protocols. It’s always worked out in the end; it’s just often inefficient at the time.

I often felt that people unfamiliar with Australian Universities have a preconception that a PhD is simply the continuation of a university degree, and that a university degree is simply the continuation of high school. Which, to be fair, is a perfectly logical progression. The nuance, though, is that at each step is less structured and more determined by the individual.

I feel like ‘studying’ a PhD is a poor description of the work a science PhD candidate undertakes. Studying implies that the answer is known, that the ‘answer’ can be known after a month with the books. I agree with one of my supervisors, who argued that a science PhD is much more like an apprenticeship. That the supervisors are there as collaborators and mentors, much like senior members and management at a more typical workplace.