Tearing Off The Paper

About six weeks ago I watched as a dozen children almost went to war in my living room. The reason?

Pass The Parcel.

It was my daughter’s fifth birthday party, and she’d insisted on playing a lot of games, including Pass The Parcel. We decided it would be like Pass The Parcel from our childhoods, with a single prize in the centre, and no little prize with every layer.


The kids were in uproar. We told them there was just one in the centre, but they were confused. Wh- Why?! Where were the little prizes? Then I want to win the one in the centre! They were desperate to hold on to the parcel in case this layer was the layer. They stopped having fun. We thought it would be alright, they would see the fun in taking part, taking a layer off getting closer to the prize, but they didn’t. Wanting the prize was too much for them. In the end, we fudged the final round so a particularly desperate child won.

(I feared tears and physical violence if they didn’t)

I was thinking about this game of Pass The Parcel the other day and was reminded of my PhD, and research more generally.

Sometimes, you only get to tear the paper off; sometimes, you don’t get to the big answer, the thing you were looking for. You get closer, but not all the way to the prize.

And that’s fine, you learn, you grow and you move everyone in your field forward.

It can be hard though, doing a PhD, writing a thesis, preparing for the viva, to see it that way. It might be true, but will your examiners see it that way? Or will they focus solely on why you didn’t get to the end goal? Examiners appreciate that not every research journey ends at the point one might want. They’ll have the experience to recognise what you’ve done if you don’t reach the point you wanted.

Your job, if this is your situation, is to be able to talk about how far you went. How close you came. What the different layers you tore off were. How you might have done it differently. And what other steps someone might need to take to reach the prize.