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Although PHD is a Gag Series that focus more on jokes about grad school life, some characters stand out among the cast.


Students

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The unnamed protagonist who serves as the typical go-to representative of a graduate student. He majors in engineering and works under Professor Smith. Has an older brother (who Mike knows) and a younger sister named Dee.

  • Author Avatar: He looks a lot like Jorge Cham, and his sister once mentions how he wants to become a cartoonist.
  • Audience Surrogate: He has no name or any distinctive personality, and could represent just about any Grad Student (i.e. the intended audience of this very series).
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  • Named by the Adaptation: In the movie adaptation, his name is Winston.
  • Nerd Glasses: The main character is the embodiment of a stereotypical, dorky grad student. Naturally, he wears a pair of glasses.
  • No Name Given: He's never referred to by name. Jorge uses him to depict himself in his "Tales from the Road", where he visits other universities.
  • Out of Focus: Frequently gets shafted from the limelight whenever the series want to delve deeper into the darker side of grad life drama and Character Development, and the series would focus more on Cecilia, Mike and Tajel instead.
  • Put on a Bus: He briefly suspended his PhD to work with his crush, Mariko. He later returns, only to realise that no one had missed him while he was gone.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: There's really nothing special about his appearance, or character traits, that distinguishes him from other students. In fact, whenever he and his other course mates are seen together, they behave almost exactly the same way (i.e. procrastinate whenever they can, and fumble around in an unsuccessful attempt to make progress with their thesis when they can't).
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Cecilia
One of the few female students in the Engineering faculty. A diligent over-achiever who constantly worries about her inability to properly write her thesis and despairs over the increasing lengths of time that she has wasted in grad school.

  • Author Avatar: Whenever the strips receive a reader's comment/request that needs addressing, Cecilia would be the one to respond to them.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Since Cecilia's social life is very limited, she has no friends to eat with during lunch breaks.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Cecilia had always been too meek to approach her high school crush, Scott, and believes that a popular guy like him wouldn't be aware that she even exists. However, Scott reveals that he actually likes her for being the humble overachiever, and after they reconnect during their high school reunion party, they hook up.
  • In Vino Veritas: Played with. The shy and reclusive Cecilia turns into the Life of the Party not because of drunkenness, but from a chocolate high.
  • Knight of Cerebus: It's fairly minor, but whenever she comes into focus, you'll know that the strips would shift from the usual jokes on advisors, thesis and the like to highlight the stress and anxiety that a grad student may face in trying to complete their degree.
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  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When she refused to eat chocolate after breaking up with her boyfriend, Tajel is rightfully concerned by her behaviour.
  • Shrinking Violet: Cecilia is extremely introverted and barely has the courage to approach anyone to make friends. Tajel seems to be her Only Friend.
  • Trademark Favourite Food: Cecilia has an addiction for chocolate and cookies (except raisin ones).

The Slacker, who has been at grad school longer than any other character. He has a surprising amount of luck in his quest to obtain free food, though this has not endeared him to the faculty. The only one who actually graduated. Now a post-doc.

  • Big Eater: He's always sneaking around the campus to steal food from various association meets, and could eat the whole batch if he doesn't get caught.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: He's a PhD at Stanford, so that alone should speak of his potential. Unfortunately, he'd rather sleep and eat rather than do anything productive.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Met his wife during a conference trip and marries her before his return.
  • Happily Married: He and his wife Jennifer have a happy, stable relationship, even though she does occasionally get exasperated with his laziness. Pretty surprising, considering how he only knew her for a week before marrying her in Las Vegas.
  • Heavy Sleeper: When Mike is not trying to mooch free food, he'd most likely be sleeping.
  • Meaningful Name: The resident Ridiculous Procrastinator is creatively named Mike Slackenerny.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Everyone is freaked out to see Mike actually working. When he was about to submit his thesis to finally graduate, he actually have a whole crowd of grad students watching him, as though it was a parade.
  • Ridiculous Procrastinator: Mike is so lazy that he even takes his own sweet time to be born.

Tajel
A humanities- er, Social Science student who is constantly finding causes to rally protests. She's Cecilia's house mate and best friend, though she's much more easygoing than the latter.

  • Ambiguously Brown: Tajel has dark skin and is said to be an international student, though her exact nationality is never revealed until we meet her parents during her wedding day.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: As the hippie-esque Soapbox Sadie of the comic, she originally wore sandals, but switched to going totally barefoot once Art Evolution set in.
  • Marriage of Convenience: The main reason she marries Khumalo is to gain U.S. citizenship and resolve her visa issues.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Always has some cause she's willing to protest, and is prone to forcing her political views on students while TA-ing
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Tajel dated one of her faculty Professors, Khumalo, and eventually married him. In an interesting variation of the trope, the teacher is actually younger than the student because Tajel is another one of those eternal grad students who will probably never graduate.

Dee
The protagonist's younger sister who is currently an undergrad. Carefree and irresponsible, she sees academia as a means to postpone the real world. Hasn't really figured out what she wants to do, has no major, and is generally more concerned about enjoying her freedom as a university student than actually achieving a degree.

  • Big Eater: She's almost always eating, and at one point left in the middle of an exam to buy food.
  • Heavy Sleeper: She could barely wake up on time to attend an 11 o'clock class, and would fall asleep in class anyway. She doesn't even have the justification of staying up too late.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Has a male friend she's always hanging out with. The two are inseparable (it is implied that they live together), and she laments over the prospect of not getting in the same school with him, but clearly only considers him a friend.

Faculty

Professor Brian Smith
A tenured professor of the Engineering department, who serves as the protagonist's and Mike's research advisor. A stern, uncaring and, at times, absent minded fellow, Prof. Smith generally represents the negative stereotypes associated with research advisors.

Professor Jones
Another member of the Engineering Faculty, Prof. Jones is Cecilia's research advisor. He tries to be supportive, but is often very vague in his advises to actually be of any help. Has a young daughter, whom he often brings to the campus.

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Sort of. He doesn't think in the same wavelength as his students, so any advice he gives is barely usable.
  • Good Counterpart: He's portrayed in a much more positive light than Prof. Smith and Prof. Rivera, especially in later strips.

Professor Rivera
A Social Science professor who serves as Tajel's advisor. Sees students as nothing but a brain on a stick, and frequently gives conflicting instructions.

  • Apathetic Teacher: Doesn't care to remember Tajel's name or even what her research is about, and never gives her any useful advise. In fact, he frequently hinders her progress by telling her to undo and redo her work over and over again.
  • Characterisation Marches On: In his initial appearance, he's a more level-headed Professor who bemoans Tajel's apparent lack of seriousness in doing her research. Their roles were eventually reversed, and Tajel is the long-suffering student who desperately tries to get advise from him, while Rivera doesn't seem to care about her progress at all.
  • Put on a Bus: He leaves Stanford to work with another university. At first, he tries to continue to advise Tajel via Skype, but the university eventually decided that it's too much of a confusion, and replaced him with someone else.
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