Richard Butterworth Digital Media Design

I did a PhD and did NOT go mad (2013 update)


In about 1997 I was asked to give a presentation in (what was then) the School of Computer Science at Middlesex University about my experience of doing a PhD. It was to be given as part of an induction day for to the PhD students just starting off in the school.

I'd just completed my PhD and felt somewhat jaundiced about the whole process, mixed with the startling feeling of exhilaration that lasts for several months after completion and decided that I should tell the new intake exactly what my experience had been -- warts, spots, disastrous relationships, and all.

This was probably somewhat unfair on the audience.

 It was also probably a bit unfair on the senior academics who had spent the morning telling the new intake how this was going to be the best time of their lives -- the thrill of pushing the boundaries of knowledge -- the freedom to pursue challenging research paths. My subsequent talk came as a contrast.

I'd done some cartoons to go on acetates for the overhead projector (remember those, academics over 40?) and instead of doing the usual thing of stuffing the cartoons in my cartoon drawer never to see the light of day again I decided to write up the text of talk, scan the cartoons and stick them on one of those new fangled web pages. This was long before the days that social media had been dreamt up, or even before the days when comment boxes were common.

In the subsequent sixteen years the web page travelled with me in the various incarnations of my different personal web sites as my career hopped about here and there, eventually finishing up forgotten about on some old server space that a friend had lent me when I first set up a website outside the groves of academe. I'd been aware that a few people were looking that page, and judging by occasional email I got saying from distraught students saying how I'd described their wretched lives perfectly, its contents seemed to be still relevant.

It came as quite a surprise when I finally started taking the strange world of Twitter seriously to find out that not only was I did a PhD and did NOT go mad still online but seemed to have gathered quite a loyal following. After a bit of Googling I was also rather gratified to find that my words had taken on quite a life of their own, and in the minds of several internet authors at least, I had been promoted to Professor Butterworth.

So as I'm setting up my new website and blog I thought it was obviously time to drag I did a PhD off its forgotten server, into the 21st century, and into the social media world.

It is, I'm pretty sure, the only thing I wrote as an academic that was read by more than ten people. A lot has changed since I wrote it, but the crucial importance of chocolate has not. And never will.

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