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I spent 5 consecutive days at home last week and realised late last night that I was slowly going mad. So here I am, at my office, doing things more like a human being than a writing-crazed zombie, like checking emails and writing this post.

I am 2 chapters down at the moment and am halfway through a third. I have until March 4th, at the latest, to have a full working draft of my thesis done, and I’m feeling upbeat and hopeful about meeting my target.

That said though, it is HARD work. The paradox is that at the time when you need to be churning out words and sentences productively and producing logical, tangible volumes of writing, your mind goes blank. You spend hours just staring at the page, looking over your chapter plan, over the papers you have to cite. You know what you want to say but you can’t put it into words. Or if you can, it sounds cumbersome or illogical.

I’m supposed to be submitting in May and I still can’t write a sentence. Well, I can. I’ve written thousands of them already, and I will keep doing so until the job is done. But exactly how great my writing will convey my ideas, I have no clue.

On top of which I found out over the weekend my internal examiner has declined to examine me due to a clash in his schedule. So that’s great. I’ll be chasing after my supervisor today to see if we can have a chat about moving our viva date around a bit to make this work, because I really, really don’t fancy changing examiners at this late stage.

I just want them to stay alive and safe, not to have heart attacks or schedule clashes.

Everything’s all over the place again. This is supposed to be a peaceful time, I’m supposed to be sitting quietly at a desk in a peaceful room, turning all my research into a sensible narrative, all comfortably in time for my submission deadline. Instead, I am writing madly in the midst of examiner melodrama and trying fruitlessly to hold on to my sanity.

I’m probably going to be at home with my nose in a book, but I’m hoping RT will stream it live.

He’s given assorted interviews over the past 6 months, plus his new book Cypherpunks has recently come out, but rumor has it tonight’s address is going to contain a few surprises. Oh, the anticipation! What will we hear next? More details about the plan to join the Aussie senate? Launching the new WikiLeaks political party?

For all the festivities and fun of the season, it’s a shame we still live in a world where Assange is holed up in an embassy he can’t leave, still hasn’t been charged with any crime, and is probably worse for wear in terms of his physical health. It’s sad that we live in a world where people – peace heroes like Manning – who dare to show the public the war crimes committed by governments are preyed on by liberty-forsaking powers and hidden away in classified locations for weeks, months, years on end.

Whatever Assange says tonight, I hope we will soon see both him and Manning, and all people struggling against political persecution in their quest to show us an alternative view of the world, free to speak their minds and free to do what they believe is right.




If I had a magic wand with which I could change any three things about the present world, I would:

1. Create absolute world peace, forever. Probably, this would have to happen by removing the majority of men in power of various authorities, like governments and educational institutions, and replacing them with well-educated, liberal women.

2. Distribute free chocolate to all PhD students, worldwide. And…

3. Make all men disappear…at least for a little while.

I mean like ever.

(This is the one where he talks about his reaction to the EU being selected for the Nobel Peace Prize).

Whilst we cannot be certain of Alfred Nobel’s reasons for prohibiting Nobel Prize nominees from being publicly identified until 50 years after their nomination, the rule seems to have come in handy to the Norwegian award committee this year, who are responsible for selecting the winner of the Peace Prize category. The winner this year, of course, was announced last Friday, and was the European Union.

For a pan-governmental authority currently bowing to the political persecution of individuals like Julian Assange, directly contributing to widespread unhappiness and political unrest in the Greek population through severe austerity, and, for one particular member, following the Bush administration into unethical and expensive wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I must say I am surprised by the committee’s choice.

Naturally, because the nominees considered alongside the Union cannot be revealed until 2062, we have no reliable way of evaluating whether the committee’s choice might reflect general public opinion. I have a feeling it might not.

It seems senseless to award the European Union a Nobel Peace Prize when the European Union is constituted only by a range of member states, each of which have engaged in acts that both promote peace and damn it at the same time. Moreover, I would personally favour everyday individuals or non-governmental organisations for the Peace Prize over and above governmental authorities, whether over a single state or a whole continent. Mostly because I believe grassroots movements have generally achieved more in the way of progressive social change than any government.

So, if and when we come to the day when the European Union’s fellow nominees for Peace are announced, I shall look forward to shaking my head and pitying Nobel award committees’ seeming fascination with an outdated reverence to state and pan-state authority.

I really believe that one day, the boundaries we draw between men and women, between freedom and captivity, between war and peace, between enlightenment and darkness, will be erased, and we will come to see that all people are the same and worthy of the same good, and we will no longer see horrors like this.

I believe that one day all those oppressed will be able to walk freely on the path to education, development, and civil liberties, and to be a woman will no longer be insufferable.

We must do all we can to empower girls and women to seek and defend their right to education and equal rights and liberties in all corners of the world.

We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds. -Chekhov

September 21st is annually observed as International Day of Peace, also known as World Peace Day. Many national and international peace organisations hold campaigns across the world to promote peace among people of all colours, creeds, and classes. Although these campaigns are held throughout the year, special attention is given today, as a way of highlighting peaceful resolution of political and other conflicts over and above war and resolutions made by force or coercion.

Whoever we are, we all have an opportunity to contribute to peace, whether it be personal peace with those around us, or social peace in our communities, nations, and internationally. More than ever, peace is an idea whose time has come.  

Some interesting resources about World Peace Day:

Well, I don’t know how much the ideal of using PhDs as a force for peaceful change in the world can be translated into reality. Some of the challenges facing academic researchers today are pretty tough:

  • Cuts in state research funding stemming from wider austerity measures
  • Cuts in state teaching funding, ditto above
  • Hence even more increased competitiveness in research council, private sector, and non-profit organisation research funding
  • Hence marginalisation of ‘blue skies’ research and increased focus on hypothesis-driven, certain-outcome investigations
  • And an (in my view) unhealthy obsession with the concept of research ‘impact’, which is materialistically, instrumentally, and unpragmatically defined.

In fact, research impact is probably a whole separate post in itself, which I might address another time.

In a way, I don’t think we can totally blame many of today’s academics for being so fiercely competitive in activities like grant applications, networking, and self-promotion (‘selling yourself’, as it’s sometimes put). It’s a culture that has evolved out of necessity for researchers – for us – to keep up with the ever-changing ways the wider political and economic climate affects academic life. If public spending and inflation had never gotten out of hand (in an ideal world, obviously), there would never have been a need for austerity (except perhaps under hardcore right-wing administrations, but then again they wouldn’t exist in an ideal world). If so-called ‘free market’ ideologies hadn’t been applied so rigorously to higher education (by, I might add, a certain hardcore right-wing administration in the 1980s UK), there would be no league tables, university rankings, research assessment exercises or ‘excellence frameworks’, and no student consumerism. In other words, we could perhaps have an academia in which we collaborate rather than compete, do research for peace rather than for prestige, and aim for pragmatic, real-world impact rather than impact based on paper citations or journal rank.

When I was first starting out I imagined academic researchers to be progressive, politically rebellious intellectuals who questioned everything, especially the state and self-serving politics, and who actually believed in something, some values or principles or things they hold inalienable. Well, as people further along in their careers probably know already, it’s disappointing to see that’s not the case! Even in my own limited experience, I’d say probably 95% of the academics I’ve come across have come across as intellectually exhausted with keeping up with today’s research life and struggling to produce research that has direct usefulness for some form of social progress (as opposed to just constituting another publication for their CV with a vague statement about how the work might one day aid in the understanding of such-and-such a pressing world problem, pending, of course, much future research).

So where are we going with this?

I’m just saying I guess I realise it’s easy to say we should use PhDs to bring about sustainable world peace, but how to change today’s evolved research culture to bring that about is a harder, and as yet unanswerable, question (but you never know what might come out of future research!). I think right now though, before the whole of degenerating academia can be changed, each PhD student has a choice to do research directly and expressly for world peace, if they want. It’s a tough choice because to be ‘successful’ in today’s academia, the research community expects us to have ‘high impact’ publications in ‘high impact’ journals, an eyeball-popping funding record, and a glamorous employment history at ‘high rank’ institutions.

But then…

What if I publish open access journals because I believe all researchers, and anyone else, should be able to read and use my work without having to pay subscription fees to print journals, which essentially take papers from researchers for free, publish them, and then sell them back to researchers for a fee for cutting our forests down?

What if I assess the impact of my research, and others’ research, based on what real-life, observable outcomes it has brought about for real people, rather than how many times it is cited, how many times its journal of publication has been cited or how highly it is ranked, or what its rejection rate is?

What if I evaluate researchers’ employability from what they have done with their funding, rather than from how much of it they have been awarded?

What if I believe all higher education and research institutions should be cleansed of segregational, class-creating ranking systems and of all activities relating to self-promotion, advertising, and corporate marketing, and instead be formed into an equal, international intellectual network in which funding is distributed according to the ability of projects to directly solve world problems, and as equally as possible, and in which there is as little professional hierarchy as possible?

What if I think today’s researchers must believe in something and be willing to not conform to established academic culture in many ways in order to stand up for those things they believe in, rather than stay silent in the safe little position they have found in such trying times of austerity?

What if?


I still believe that one day we can use PhDs and higher learning to create worldwide peace among all people, irrespective of colour, creed, age, sex, or class. Let’s create a world in which there are no boundaries between schools, colleges or faculties, or between disciplines, no borders between countries or peoples, and no possessions. A world in which there is neither poverty nor greed, in which humanity transcends both wealth and politics.

On a recent field trip to the Imperial War Museum in south London I was taken aback at how much this chunk of the Berlin Wall seems to bear relevance to what PhDs are for.

After experiencing the apparently common phenomena of First Year Fun and Second Year Slump I have now moved on to Third Year Cynicism (my apologies for being unable to find a synonym of cynicism that begins with a ‘Th’). I feel cynical about the purpose of PhDs and how that purpose must have evolved from a purpose more noble in years past. Sure, we’re ‘changing the world’, but progress seems slow. At present, I count at least five academic staff in my own department alone who have no publications, and no visible ongoing research. And, unless their staff profiles’ ‘research and publications’ sections are empty because they are relentlessly busy doing life-saving research to create a utopian world, that’s pretty disappointing.

I had hoped so badly that getting to the top of the academic qualification ladder would mean being able to change life, to work harder for peace, to create a classless society. Now, I just feel cynical. I can’t work out if that’s because I’ve been working on my thesis for too long, because I don’t believe in it any more, or because I’m just being stupid.

But I do think, with increasing marketisation, competition between universities for research funding and league table status, and this overwhelming emphasis on corporate advertising to trumpet out people’s achievements, we’ve lost track of the fact that we need to use PhDs for change, not for self-promotion. While most people would happily agree, change is hardly at the forefront of our minds every day while we’re editing minute details in a diagram, fixing PowerPoint slides, or attending lab meetings.

Change is a far-away ideal on the horizon of doctorhood. Conversely, it should be the blood that runs through our veins.

Friend of WikiLeaks

July 2020


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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!