Working in the PhD Room: A Male Survival Guide

22 Nov

First, a clarification. The PhD room is an oestrogen filled den of iniquity, corruption and procrastination.* That being said, it also offers a convenient place to pretend to work whilst remaining in the good graces of your supervisor – a worthy goal for any PhD student. In order to survive this natural habitat of that strange species, the female PhD student, a male PhD student needs to adopt a range of strategies and survival techniques. I shall introduce a few of the more common ones below:

Desk Choice

Whilst not a survival technique in its own right, poor choice of desk will render all of the following techniques useless, therefore it is essential that you get this right on your first go. On entering the PhD room you will be presented by a vast array of desk choices, if a desk has any form of decoration (a sure sign of female occupation) then DO NOT SIT AT IT. Instead, if the female PhD students are in a good mood then asking which desks are available might be safe, if the mood is hostile or you are too scared then make a beeline for the emptiest, dustiest desk in the room. If there are multiple desks to choose from then you can consider your options a little more carefully. If available, always choose a desk near a convenient exit such as a door or window. If you choose a desk near a window try and find one which opens, jumping through plate glass during your escape can, in extreme circumstances, be almost as bad as falling prey to the depredations of the female PhD students.


The first and possibly most useful survival tool for any male PhD student is that of obliviousness. By obliviousness I mean the ability to ignore your surroundings so completely that you fail to react to even the most outrageous of comments, there will be many of these, you MUST learn to resist. Obliviousness works much in the same way as camouflage, it enables you to blend into the background and become part of the furniture. By remaining oblivious to everything that goes on you project a non-threatening aura which may buy you some peace. In extreme circumstances a self-inflicted mild concussion can help to simulate obliviousness. A final point about obliviousness: never, ever react to your own name, this is a ploy used by the female PhD students to ensure you are not listening to their conversation. You have been warned.

Feigned Obliviousness

An advanced form of obliviousness which should be used with caution. This technique involves pretending to be unaware of your surrounding whilst secretly observing for signs of trouble or collecting information which may prove useful at a later date (see confectionary). When using this technique always make sure you are aware of your exits in-case you make a mistake and your cover is blown. This technique should only be attempted once real obliviousness has been mastered.

Drunken Buffoonery

A personal favourite of mine, although I am prone to overusing this technique. We all make social faux pas when drunk (some more than others), the retelling of these events whilst making yourself out to be the buffoon (swallow your pride gentlemen) can be helpful in making yourself appear like a harmless idiot. Care should be exercised during the drunken phase of this technique to ensure that your social faux pas is not directed at one of the female PhD students in order to avoid dire reprisals the next day.


This tool should be used sparingly to defuse possibly explosive situations. Should you find that drunken buffoonery has failed or you lose your obliviousness then a well-placed compliment (new shoes, homemade knitware or haircuts are generally safe topics) may help to divert the attention of the female PhD students long enough for you to change the subject or to resume your armour of obliviousness.


WARNING: ONLY TO BE USED IN EXTREME CIRCUMSTANCES! Overuse of confectionary may lead to an expectation of confectionary on a regular basis which can cause severe damage to your beer fund. Maintaining a healthy beer fund is essential for the purchase of much needed medication – make sure to heed this warning.

Now that the requisite warning is out of the way we can talk about the wonders of confectionary. Every male PhD student should carry a supply of confectionary for emergency situations. To date, no more effective method has been discovered for diverting attention during escape attempts. In the early stages of your forays into the PhD room cake should suffice for most situations where you need to make an unobserved exit. Once you have mastered feigned obliviousness (see above) your first task should be to learn which confectionary is most favoured by the female PhD students. This is essential for allowing you to tailor your confectionary supply for maximum effectiveness. Confectionary should be used in one of the following two ways:

1.)    If the mood is hostile but you are not yet cornered, place the confectionary on a desk near the centre of the room and as far from your own as possible. This will draw the female PhD students to the confectionary in short order allowing you to make your escape.

2.)    In extremely hostile situations when all paths to your exits are blocked then bring forth your confectionary and say in a loud, confident (no matter how scared you may feel) voice: [INSERT CONFECTIONARY NAME HERE] anyone?

A note on the use of confectionary: The use of confectionary is almost fool proof, however, care must be taken not to use a confectionary which is unsuitable. Use of an unsuitable confectionary will only serve to further enrage the female PhD students and may lead to permanent physical disability or death.

Note: These survival strategies work best when used in conjunction with each other, over reliance on any one strategy may arouse the suspicion and predatory instincts of the female PhD students. In order to avoid permanent mental scarring (or physical injury) make sure to have your survival strategies in place before venturing into the PhD room.

I hope these techniques will prove useful in your early explorations of the PhD room. Many horrific injuries have been sustained by better male PhD students than I in the learning of these strategies.  Let us take a moment to remember our brave fallen comrades and thank them for their dedication and sacrifice.

Time wasted from PhD: 60 minutes

Expected level of punishment for use of comedy sexism: Severe

* I will pay for that later but the truth must be told!


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