PG CWWN Recommends…

PG CWWN recommends… Notes on a Thesis by Tiphaine Rivière

by Krystina Osborne


In a slight change from our usual Tuesday Top Tips, today’s piece will focus on a recommendation of a book based on PhD life! I credit this book with helping me to drag myself out of a recent PhD-related slump and I think that it deserves to be widely read.

Notes on a Thesis by Tiphaine Rivière is a graphic novel originally written in French, before being translated into English by Francesca Barrie and published a few months ago. Based on Rivière’s own experiences as a PhD student, it is the most enjoyable – and the most painfully accurate – book on academia that I have read thus far, and I would recommend it to any PhD student, particularly those working in the field of English Literature! The blurb claims that it will ‘make you laugh – or cry – in recognition’ and whilst it didn’t actually bring me to tears, it certainly hit a little too close to home.

It focuses on Jeanne, an idealistic young woman who is delighted to be offered a place on a PhD programme in English Literature. It means quitting her job as a high school teacher, but Jeanne follows her dream of pursuing PhD study full-time and is confident that she will finish in three years despite a lack of funding from her university. However, as time goes on, Jeanne’s enthusiasm wanes as she has to teach modules on subjects that she knows nothing about (‘Medieval literature, for God’s sake… Everything I know about the Middle Ages I’ve learned from Game of Thrones’) and is exploited by senior academics, who use an administrative technicality to avoid paying her for the teaching she has already completed. She and her fellow PhD students vie for the attention of their elusive supervisor, Alexandre Karpov, who only continues to accept supervisees in order to compete with his academic rival. Meanwhile, Jeanne struggles as her PhD-related woes soon overwhelm her personal life, estranging her from her boyfriend, who tries and fails to understand her frustrations, and from her family, who jovially (and repeatedly) accuse her of going back to university to avoid the real world. Oh, and because she spends so much time obsessing over emails from her supervisor and preparing her lectures, she doesn’t actually get much writing done… Sound familiar?!

If you are considering pursuing doctoral study, Jeanne’s anxieties could put you off altogether. However, I found that Notes on a Thesis made me feel more positive about life as a PhD student than any of the ‘How to Finish a PhD’ guides I have read (and I have read many). Jeanne’s battle with imposter syndrome reminded me that I am not alone and that (spoiler alert!) I will get there eventually.

You can read Rachel Cooke’s Guardian review of Notes on a Thesis here and you can buy the book here.