2017 | 356pp | £19.99
You must be very intelligent is a semi-autobiographical account of author Karin Bodewits’ time spent as a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, UK.
From the initial excitement of a new PhD position and dreams of academic success, Karin quickly has to cope with disillusionment and the reality of life in academia. The book is disarmingly honest about the everyday trials of a postgraduate student struggling to make it, and goes a long way to smash some of the stereotypes of life in the lab. Our protagonist finds that academia is not a perfect team of brilliant people making earth-shattering discoveries. Instead, it’s a battle for meaningful results in a lab dictated by an ego-centric supervisor and heavily influenced by the funding (or lack of) they are able to secure.
The book captures the dirty business of life in academia, the tense relationships among lab mates and intense friendships that can blossom under pressure. It’s funny as well though, and tales of student parties, attempts to find love in a university city and eccentric peers help lighten the mood.
I found I related to Karin a lot, and I recognised the problems she encounters from my own time in a chemistry lab. I think a lot of PhD students will see themselves in this book. I felt physically relieved when (spoiler alert) Karin finally passes her PhD viva and is free from academia. The story is immersive, and I felt like I was there with our hero every step of the way.
The book also raises some serious questions about the culture, corruption and sheer unreality of life in academia. Maybe it’s time that we started addressing some of the problems the world of academic research faces, so future PhD students don’t have to live out an experience like Karin’s.