Chapter 1: A Hero’s Journey

Seven months ago I sat down to read Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Despite owning the book for several years (I think it was a gift?) I had yet to make the effort to delve into the rather sizeable tome. That was until prompted by a tweet, which I’ll get to in a minute, and I decided to crack the cover. I read the first three pages in a week, then gave up and decided to move onto something more my level - like Kipper or Let's Go Home, Little Bear.

Around the same time, I made the decision to try and start a blog in which I would chronicle the PhD I was about to start. I came up with a blog title, drafted the first post and started designing the website. And, just like the book, I gave up. The post sat saved on a memory stick and the idea was forgotten about, laid to rest alongside previous unsuccessful endeavours.

In both cases, the book and the blog, I used the excuse “I was busy”, which at the time seemed true. The two were linked by an initial idea, prompted by the aforementioned tweet (and subsequent comments); a friend of mine started a twitter thread which compared the trials and tribulations of a PhD to the journey seen in The Lord of the Rings. It was an impressive story he told and I recommend checking it out: 

This is what prompted me to try and read Campbell’s book discussing the hero's journey; LOTR being a typical depiction of this story trope. I have still yet to read the full book but have since read certain sections and done some more research on the subject. In particular, I wanted to see if other people had drawn the comparison between the hero’s journey and a PhD. I found a paper from Colorado Technical University that tried to use the hero’s journey as a way to prepare doctoral students for their studies.  While this study was interesting, it was based solely on testimonials. So I started thinking, it could be more compelling to see how Campbell’s journey compared to a PhD from a first person perspective, from the heroes themselves.

So that's where the idea for this blog came from; in September 2017 I started a PhD and wanted to chronicle my journey from start to finish. Unfortunately, I have failed to document the first seven months. Thankfully, I am on a CDT (centre for doctoral training) which means that my first year is a training year, and I will be starting my actual PhD project this coming May. Essentially, I am making another excuse to justify why I failed to start this blog seven months ago and am only now getting started.

I realise this is not an original idea; since blogging became cool in the early 90’s PhD students across the world have chosen to blog their time in academia. Likewise, I’m aware that setting myself up as the hero of this “story” is a little grandiose. But trust me, it could be worse and unfortunately in this analogy, it is necessary. Plus, it’s my blog so I can do what I want! (Sorry for yelling).

The aim of the blog will be to collect data because, you know, that's what scientists do.  Not only that, but throughout history people have used journals to keep track of their progress and document their thoughts - Marie Cure and Charles Darwin both kept notebooks of their discoveries. I’m not saying that my writing a blog comes close to their historic findings (I did warn you that the grandiose comparisons could be worse) but it just highlights that chronicling this kind of adventure can be important. Plus, this will be as much for my own records as it is for anyone else’s; I want to be able to look back and follow my descent from student to mad scientist.  

In the next post I’m going to cover my history and how I ended up doing a PhD, because if we are going to follow a hero we need to know his origin (I  really am  sorry for how this comes across, I’ll try to keep it to a minimum in the future, I promise). Until next time, this is Steve the Scientist signing off. 


Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Lord of the Rings: an allegory of the PhD?

Launching New Doctoral Students: Embracing the Hero’s Journey