Roozbeh and the Confused PhD Student

This is a short play that my PhD colleagues performed during my PhD celebration fest. I put it here with their permission.

The Narrator (Noel)

As a PhD student, at one time or another, you get to the point where you feel confused, or lost, you just need to talk to someone to get some advice and get back on track. Now our friend and colleague Roozbeh is the kind of guy who’ll always be happy to have a conversation, to support and to discuss, and he does it, in a very special way that we have all come to appreciate and like about him. In this small play, we want to re-live some real or fictional encounters with Roozbeh, where he’s helped us along in one way or another.

The Confused PhD Student (Jonathan)

Oh man, this PhD thing is tough, I just feel confused by all the reading and the writing and courses. [Sighs] Well, for what it’s worth, the last thing that goes is hope. So I can hope that I’ll manage it somehow. And then, there’s always hope for… [Pause] cake at fika.

Roozbeh#1 (Simon)

Is it, though? Is hope the last thing that goes? If you can’t manage the PhD, is it really hope that is what remains before you tell your supervisors that you can’t make it? I’m not so sure! It could be that it’s just your sense of commitment that keeps you going. Well, little buddy, whatever it is that keeps you going until the end, I, as a Doctor, can tell you that it’s totally worth it. Maybe, you just need to relax, get your mind off of it for a bit, maybe watch a good movie?

The Confused PhD Student

Yeah, maybe I just need to get away from it for a moment. Do something totally else. I think I’ll go watch an animated movie, since all academics are real humans, I probably can’t get much farther away than that. I’ll watch “Inside Out”. Being inside a human sounds fun!

Roozbeh#2 (Matilda)

But what is the purpose of animated movies? Think about it? Are they really saying something? If you compare with the ones being produced now with the ones from before, they had a meaning, right!? What is the purpose now? Is it the animation Technology, just showing of? Think of it like PhD studies: Are you just taking a certain topic because it’s cool, it’s trendy and has all kinds of special effects? Or do you want to tell a story, make a difference? A PhD should not be a flashy animated movie. If you take that into account, you’ll surely not get lost in the process.

The Confused PhD Student

Okay, first a movie, now not an animated movie. I’m not sure where this is going. Anyway, Roozbeh, I read your book and I saw all the crazy analyzes and everything you did. You seem to be really good with numbers. See, I’m just doing my literature search, and I get this huge number of hits that I really need to narrow down.

Roozbeh#3 (Sally)

So you mean that you have a big number? What is actually a number? We use numbers every day, but take a step back, what are they, really? Why do they do such good job of helping us explain the universe? Mathematical structures can consist of numbers, sets, groups, and points — but are they real objects, or do they simply describe relationships that necessarily exist in all structures? This is essentially an ontological problem, where we’re left baffled about the true nature of the universe and which aspects of it are human constructs and which are truly tangible. I think that’s the central point here in all of this!

The Confused PhD Student

Wow, Roozbeh, way to confuse me. [Sighs] Well, now I feel I really need a break. [Looks at watch] Oh wow! It’s 2.30. Someone’s bringing kanelbullar today!

Roozbeh#4 (Linn)

Yes! Kanelbullar! You know what I sometimes wonder? Are kanelbullar really the right choice? Think about it! It’s just a bun with sugar and cinnamon, I’m not sure that will get you to your PhD, my friend. Just consider the number of bullar you eat over the five years! Is that really what we should be doing? Consider the old Greeks, they made such progress in understanding the world and the universe, all without kanelbullar! Maybe, your confusion would be lower without all the sweets clouding our minds.

The Confused PhD Student

Well, Roozbehs, I really appreciate the talk, but I’m really not sure how not focusing on hope, not watching animated movies, not trusting numbers and not eating kanelbullar will get me through my PhD. [Turns to real Roozbeh] Regardless, we know that we still have time to understand all the things that you’ve already understood.

We’re just really glad that you’ll stick around for at least a few more years, now that you’re a Doctor, so that we can continue to have our talks, that we can help each other in our work, and we can benefit from your great knowledge and the magic of your mind, that never stops to wonder. Congratulations on making it, Roozbeh, we’re all very proud of you!