Well here we are at Z. There were a couple of points this month when I wasn’t sure I was going to get to the end of this series. I’m reasonably pleased with how things turned out – I’ve only stretched the theme a little bit, once or twice. The series has also generated some positive comments, so hopefully it has been of some use.

I might be stretching the definition of zeitgeist slightly. The ‘sprit of the times’ is more obvious when you talk of the 1920s (the wild abandon following the close of WWI and previous almost puritanical times) or the 1950s (a veneer of boring conformity spread over almost dull terror at threat of the bomb), although perhaps a zeitgeist is confined to a particular location – these descriptions probably suit the US more than anywhere else and are not at all applicable to some places in the same time frame.

An aspect of zeitgeist of modern times is memes. I couldn’t bring myself to go down the lol-cat route, but I thought that this was quite relevant:


Another is #hashtags: #AtoZChallenge #thesis #PhD #EngD #PhDChat #Iamwriting…

Modern zeitgeist, oxymoronically is both permanent and impermanent. Electronic records have a tendency to hang around for longer than you might expect and turn up in unexpected places, but fads come and go quickly – trends develop and dissipate, much like weather patterns.

In terms of writing a thesis, the zeitgeist will, consciously or unconsciously, inform your writing. Zeitgeist is tempered by your discipline – some are urgent and hungry, demanding to be fed with your thesis; others allow you to take your time. If you don’t get your thesis out there on time, someone may scoop you, submitting something close to your own area which makes your own work obsolete. Sometimes, an area moves more slowly and you are at leisure to write up as and when you will.

Technology moves on apace, and this is a major driving force behind regulations designed to get researchers out of the door in a timely way. Long gone are the days when you could spend 15 years not writing up and then turn up with the thesis and still expect to get a doctorate (unless you are Brian May).

My final digression for this series: think very carefully about getting a ‘proper’ job before you have submitted. I know this is easier said than done but a (new!) job adds a level of complexity that you need to factor into your organisation. Start writing up early, submit on time or as close as you can and save yourself a wold of pain.

So, think about the mood of your discipline, the spirit that links it to reality: channel this through your context and scene-setting, and listen to it, with at least one ear when you are writing up. Your work needs to be relevant and timely.


5 thoughts on “Zeitgeist

    1. Thanks Alex – yes, exactly. Your work cannot possibly stand alone, you need to be aware of the context that it sits in.


  1. I never had any desire to get a PhD, so I never faced the prospect of researching/writing/presenting/defending a thesis. It sounds daunting, to me. However, much of your advice here seems applicable to any sort of writing. I especially like your final sentence: “Your work needs to be relevant and timely.” Words for all of us to live by.


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