Dr. Loser! 8 Lessons learned after spending 8 years on a PhD… and then failing!

8 years is a long time.

That’s about twice as long as most people put into writing their PhD theses. And they pass.

I failed.

Okay, so now I’m not going to be able to strut around with the prestige of that doctorate and get into all the best clubs and upgraded on flights. And sure, now the rest of my life will most likely be defined by the decade I spent in this embarrassing pursuit and the massive financial and mental toll it took on me. But there must be something I learned from all of this, right… right?!

Well, before I go and jump off a bridge (joking) here are 8 things I definitely learned not to do thanks to those horrific years… 8 years that will leave me forever branded as Dr. Loser!

1) I’m not THAT smart, so I should stop thinking I am.

Take it easy, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so don’t go all “ahhh, no, you are smart” in some kind of condescending baby talk voice. I get that I’m not dumb, and certainly if you spend about an hour with me then you’ll realise that I definitely still think I know everything; I’m just not THAT smart.

Someone who is THAT smart can sit down and read all day. And I’m not talking about comic books or pro-wrestling gossip websites, but actual academic texts and journals. They’re not on the bus or sitting in a restaurant staring at their smart phone screen like the rest of us because they’re the ones figuring out how to make something that futuristic come to life and are already up on the next thing (how does a touch screen work anyways, I assume it’s not by magic like the way planes fly, is it? See… what do I know?). To them trivia is trivial, fixing things is fun, leading people is an instinct, and breaking them down is second nature. They will be able to tell your home address, your lineage, and exactly where you belong in the world just by the vocabulary you use; they can smell your averageness like a cancer sniffing dog, and you will know they are right because they don’t ever brag.

So when people who are THAT smart are legitimately insulted by a pedestrian thesis that they’ve been asked to read, they then proceed to destroy said project with words so beautifully crafted that their effort at least makes up for all their wasted time. My 3 examiners spent about 5 pages each on actual compelling and interesting prose that utterly ripped apart everything that I wrote, attacked me as a worthy human being, and had me breathlessly thanking them at the end for putting it all so eloquently.

So they got me, and just like comedians ripping into a heckler they put me in my place. And it’s tough to realise that you don’t belong on the stage because you’re just a wise-ass in the audience. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t find it funny. 

2) Putting notes all over my walls did not make me a genius.

I always thought that eccentric brainiacs wrote on the walls of their rooms or pinned up notes everywhere so they could be completely submersed in their work. That was until I started doing it.

crazy person wall-was I trying to piece together the timeline in an unsolved murder case or connect the dots in a time-spanning conspiracy theory?

Today, I’m pretty sure that this is what the room of an insane person looks like since this strategy apparently had no benefit at all towards writing a good thesis.

3) Listening to music was not helpful while I studied.

I’ve always loved listening to music while writing and studying but this cannot be what high level academics do. Maybe they’re listening to chanting monks, orchestral opera pieces or Leonard Cohen, but it can’t be something that kicks as much ass as a band like Clutch!

How are you supposed to listen to ‘Earth Rocker’ and not be forced to air drum?

 -“don’t do it at all,” indeed!

In my case, stopping every five minutes to bang my head, dance or pantomime the playing of musical instruments that I don’t know anything about, probably wasn’t a sound study habit.

4) I should not be downloading this much.

I’ll be damned if I haven’t missed a single episode of a TV show that featured monsters, vampires, fist fights, evil people, pro-wrestlers or robots since 2005. Having a professional teaching job, researching full-time on a PhD and also watching as much TV as a television critic was difficult to juggle.

But who can blame me? I had been training for this my whole life and was just waiting for the technology to catch up with my ability. For example, when I was younger I used to travel for hours to distant video stores just to make sure I’d watched every pro-wrestling PPV rental possible, I’d planned entire movie festivals that were held in my basement, and I maintained a collection of clipped up VHS tapes full of movies and random scenes that I’d found by scouring TV guides like they were academic journals.

If only the real journals had been as interesting as those damn TV shows then I might have actually gotten that PhD years ago and right now you wouldn’t be reading this sad hot mess but rather an announcement in the Brampton Guardian about a top notch community writing class at the Chingacousy Public Library led by some local boy who done made good at a uni down under!

And while I did work incredibly hard during those 8 years, when it came down to having to make a decision to keep studying or download the latest episode of WWE Monday Night RAW, the wrestling would win every time. That quirky little proclivity of mine is probably what separated me from the true PhD candidates, but to them I ask, “Who defeated inaugural WWE European Champion, the British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith, for the now defunct title back in 1997?”


5) Playing Angry Birds did not count as taking a break.

Eventually it just became that working on my thesis was the break between 3-star-ing levels in the App game Angry Birds.

Sometimes I would get stuck on some damn level for literally hours, just trying to squeeze out a few more points and get that elusive 3 stars. Amazingly, I found that if I stepped away from it for a while and then came back with a fresh set of eyes I could get those 3-stars right away, and this is one of the most satisfying feelings of all time! Going back to work on my thesis was always a good respite from the stress of a difficult level.

Angry Birds

That was me in the #1 spot for Angry Birds Rio, legit without any hacking! For those who are familiar with the iOS Game Center, that is a serious accomplishment. Okay, sure that’s not a doctorate I can hang on my wall but it’s damn near just as impressive!

6) Letting myself get so out-of-shape was not a good idea.

Chalk this one up to the easiest scapegoating excuse I can think of, good old stress! When I wasn’t studying, worrying about studying, preparing for the classes I had to teach, teaching them, or getting up to any of these other nonsense wastes of time I’ve described above, the last thing I was thinking of was my health. I suppose this is fine when you’re a regular young college student, but when you’re still doing this in your middle-ages that’s dangerous. There are other things to think about at that point, like what you have to do to actually live longer! Who knew this was going to be an issue?

In my mind, all problems would be solved when I finally got that PhD anyways; it was going to be my career, my retirement plan, my long-term financial security, and I suppose somehow it would be the key to an endless healthy life for a fine-looking elderly dude.

Instead, I now have none of those things to look forward to and physically I’m a train wreck! I’m scrawny but I have a protruding belly like a pregnant teenage girl, I’m curved over like a scoliosis candy cane, my hair is just a few rough shakes away from being the classic George Costanza horseshoe pattern, and a man my age shouldn’t look like a California Raisin when he smiles.


Possibly at 38 anyone might start to manifest some of these signs of the glue factory, but for a guy who slept away about 85% of the day between the ages of 16 and 28 like he was in deep space cryostasis I really should only look like a young fella on the cusp of 30.

Worst of all, I didn’t exercise once during those 8 years of PhD ruin. My skin and the mushy stuff packed inside is like a bag of tofu from the supermarket, which shouldn’t be surprising since that has been my main diet for the past few years. I sought out the quickest, easiest meal and that was a plain daily square of colourless food stuff that made me look like I was eating in the canteen of the Galactica. After my last company mandated physical when I worked in Korea, this concise and translated diagnosis pretty much said it all: ‘scanty muscles’.

So now I’ve got to start the uphill battle of physical recovery on all levels. At least if I’d gotten that PhD people could have accepted me as some disgusting old slob because they’d think I knew something, but now my physical shape is going to match my current paltry mental condition.

7) It’s not worth it!

I won’t ever do the full math on what it cost me to undertake this challenge, not just the tuition but also the lost income from taking time off of work to study full-time, travel and the expenses. That number might cause me to do something even more drastic than filming myself air drumming!

And in the end if I did get that PhD, the way I did it I’m not sure I’d be in any different of a place right now anyways. It’s not like anyone was waiting to recruit me for some fascinating new job. An even if they were, I wouldn’t take it. I don’t want to work, I don’t want to study, I literally don’t want to do anything a normal respectable member of society should be doing.

I’m damaged goods! How could anything have been worth all of that, pass or fail? I’ve got the Post Traumatic Stress of 10 Afghanistan soldiers. All the money that I lost could have bought me cars, homes, extravagant meals, giant televisions, and clothes that aren’t from Uniqlo or Old Navy. And I could have done something a little more exciting with my 30s than sitting in a room and starring at a wall. 

8) … but it is worth it!

To be fair to myself, I tried to do something incredibly difficult, pretty much all alone… and okay, I failed, and yeah, that’s pretty embarrassing considering how long I spent on it and how many people on earth I told about it. But anyways, it was something.

And doing something is better than doing nothing.

If I’m either Dr. Brown or Dr. Loser, life goes on.

It’s just like in my favourite thing ever, wrestling: you see, most fans seems to think that the build up to the annual Wrestlemania event is part of a conclusion to the WWE season. There are, of course, the cumulations of big feuds, dream matches, some heartbreak, drama, exhilaration, and then it all comes to a close with a bunch of fireworks. But guess what? The very next night they’re all back on TV. Nothing ended. Everything keeps on rolling. You may have been the champion at the end of Wrestlemania, but you could be a piece of crap the next night on RAW. The point is, it’s still Wrestlemania, it’s worth getting excited for whether it turns out to be great or just totally sucks.

In the end, it’s all about doing stuff. That’s what really matters. So yeah, I’ve had some fun here, and gotten some silly things off my chest. And honestly, I’m glad that I tried to do that PhD. It gave me a purpose for the last decade, and I experienced things, met so many people, and traveled to some interesting places. Nothing was ever stagnant and isn’t that what really matters?


Who the fuck am I kidding??!!

Anyways… enough of all that… of course it fucking sucks not to get that PhD, no matter how much I try to justify it with some feel good bullshit… I practically defined myself by that damn thing for almost a decade of my life, and what do I have to show for it? NOTHING!

I quit my job and now I’m burning off my remaining paltry savings like the fuse on a cartoon stick of dynamite.

So this is it. This is what you get world. Another guy who is just going to write a bunch of shit about the stupid stuff he’s up to.

I’m going to write a novel, I’m going to write poetry, I’m going to write this blog, I’m going to fucking tweet for fuck’s sake, because that’s all I think I want to do right now.

When that fuse burns down then I’ll have to do something new. And most likely it will suck, pay me less than I deserve and have nothing to do with the major I’ve been studying in university since I was 18 years old.

And just exactly what was my major? What did I invest so much time, effort, money and sanity in only to come out on the other side with a blog that cost me $26 to start:

Creative Writing

– Dr. Loser

13 thoughts on “Dr. Loser! 8 Lessons learned after spending 8 years on a PhD… and then failing!

  1. Josh, I’ll be delighted to review your first book. I can even tell you the soundbite now:
    “…unbearably honest…”

    1. Thanks my friend! I doubt I’ll be mentally stable enough to teach Creative Writing anytime soon though. Those poor kids would have to endure a whole lot of passive aggressive lectures on why the world sucks and I’d completely ignore all their great free verse poetry on the weather and childhood memories. Actually… that doesn’t sound too bad!
      Thanks for reading!!

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