Final Form

A long time ago on the blog I offered some thoughts about examiners being like video game bosses:

After all of the trials and tribulations of doing research, your examiners appear through the fog, two mysterious and challenging foes! Whatever you’ve done before, the rules don’t apply to them!! They’re bigger than the other baddies, tougher, hit harder and if you’re not careful you’re doomed!!!

Which of course means you’ve made it through the game that precedes that boss battle. This stage might be trickier or tougher, but you have the skills you need because you’ve already achieved so much.


Another comparison with video game bosses to consider, for those who are familiar: the viva is the final form in the PhD boss level. No more battles after this. No sudden changes or power-ups for your examiners. Whatever they ask or do, whatever they think or say, you have maxed-out experience and skills, there’s nothing else you can learn or practise or do to get ready. You don’t need anything else.

This is the final challenge and you are ready for it.

Katamari PhD!

During my PhD I became aware of the Katamari Damacy series of video games. They’re odd games, really colourful, really lively music – I used to write for hours while listening to the soundtracks! – and lots of fun.

The basics are always the same in a Katamari Damacy game: you are the Prince, a tiny creature tasked with making stars by your father, the King of All Cosmos. Your only means to do this is to roll up things using a katamari, a sticky ball that gets bigger and bigger and can roll up larger things as it gets larger. Levels end when you have created a crazy kind-of-ball that your father then turns into a star!

But the King is eccentric and all-powerful. What he says goes, and if he doesn’t like your katamari then it won’t get to be a star. And he’ll blast you with his cosmic eye-beams as punishment for failure.

The Katamari Damacy games are WEIRD. To some people they make no sense. To some, you can explain what you’re doing and why and still they look at you as if you have gone insane. How is this fun? How does this work? Why would you do this? What’s the point of all this???

The very best game we could use as a metaphor for the PhD is Katamari Damacy.

Lots of people won’t get your PhD. Those who do will really get it. The skills for success at both can be learned, though there are bound to be failures along the way. The skills for success might seem odd compared with useful skills in other areas, but they are necessary to master. They take time. As you go along the ideas that go into your thesis get bigger and bigger. A small notion leads to big ideas, that lead in turn to bigger concepts and results. And when you get to the end your thesis is weighed up by some all-powerful cosmic god-creatures who decide if it passes!

…OK, so my little thesis falls down towards the end! Still, for me and my PhD, Katamari Damacy seems like a great fit. I rolled along for years adding layers of ideas to my thesis-ball, growing in scale and importance. I didn’t always know exactly where I was going or how I was going to get there, but I had purpose motivating me.

If you’re getting closer to submission, and the time when your Cosmic Examiners weigh up your contribution, think about how you got there. What were the steps you made along the way? What were the little ideas that you had and how did they get big? How did you roll your thesis bigger and bigger?

Most important of all, what makes your thesis a star? And what makes you a star?

Cover for the original Katamari Damacy game! 🙂