So what’s your thesis about?

So what’s your thesis about?

This is an inevitable question, which, outside of a university, may lead into possibly the most boring conversation in the world at that particular time.

I haven’t seen you around lately?

I’ve gone back to Uni.

Wow, again? What are you studying?

I’m doing my PhD. It is at this point that I suspect a flashing neon sign comes on above my head – Wanker. (I assume that everyone who is not doing, done, or considering a PhD, might consider it to be a bit of an indulgence)

I pause to see if they have noticed the flashing sign, but generally people are too polite to call me on it and they continue.

So what does that mean?

Well, it means I get to study what I want for the next three years and write a massive thesis on it.

I see, (and here it comes) so what is your thesis on?

Sometimes it is better to change the topic – look a chicken!

It depends on the audience.

Sometimes I say literature and stuff.

Sometime I say creative writing.

Sometimes I say I am looking at the human animal as a literary species; on how our brain has evolved to need and use fictional narrative; incorporating ideas from evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience, and what these ideas mean to the practice of creative writing.

I hear crickets for a moment, then:

Inside Uni I usually get a That sounds interesting.  Outside I get a Oh, Uh-huh, Mmmhm, and often a Why are you doing that?

My mum tells people I’m doing something on genetics. Someone thought I was writing a book on cloning your pets, and one person thought I was moving to Darwin to read fiction. Obviously, I need to work on my pitch, but will it ever get any easier?

One student told me to never mention my thesis outside of the University. It is too boring, he said. So am I supposed to pretend it is not happening? I don’t see how I can go three years without mentioning it, although I am currently giving that a red-hot go.

I think I will have to develop an inside voice and an outside voice. One pitch for inside Uni, which I hear is essential, and one pitch for outside Uni, with minimal wankering. If anyone has any suggestions, I am all ears.

For a good article of research topic envy see: I’ll have what she’s having.

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