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Are you a catastrophiser?

Geoff is one of out favourite kinds of people. He does science for a day job, he’s clearly a bit of a nerd, he likes our lame academic jokes, he spends time doing ICECReamy things despite having more important stuff to concentrate on and he has written in to us. Hope this amuses you as much as it did us.

I am currently in the throws of preparing for my thesis defense and your ideas are great in fostering peer support. Recently I've had an idea of a measure you could use to determine whether newly-to be PhDs are in need of a little ice cream.

I recently can't help but think I've become a bit catastrophic in my thinking as I prepare to defend my thesis. Thus, I thought I would measure this in a quasi-valid way by modifying the Pain Catastrophizing Scale to the TOCS - (Thesis Oral defense Catastrophizing Scale). Individuals who score highly on the TOCS could be referred to ICECReam for a little Tom Foolery and peer support.

The modified scale is below (it is scored the same as Mick Sullivan's PCS). I scored high on rumination (I think about my defense all the time), mild-moderate on magnification (I worry something serious might happen during my defense), and moderate on helplessness (everyone keeps telling me there is little I can do to prepare at this point). I self-referred to ICECReam and, like most interventions, achieved a modest reduction in my TOCS score.

Gave myself a good chuckle during this exercise and thought I would share!

TOCS (modified from Sullivan's PCS)

Score each statement on the following scale and sum all items to reach the total score:

0. Not at all

1. To a slight degree

2. To a moderate degree

3. To a great degree

4. All the time


1. I worry all the time whether my PhD will end

2. I feel I’ll never move past my PhD defense

3. The defense will be terrible, the exam adjudicated and it will never get any better

4. Thinking about my defense is awful and I feel it overwhelms me

5. I feel I can’t stand it anymore

6. I become afraid that the defense will be worse than I think

7. I keep thinking of other stressful events

8. I anxiously want the defense to be finished

9. I can’t seem to keep it out of my mind

10. I keep thinking about how much it is going to hurt

11. I keep thinking about how badly I want this exam to be over

12. There’s nothing I can do to reduce the intensity of my stress

13. I wonder whether something serious may happen in my oral defense


A total >30 represents clinically relevant catastrophizing.


Items 8 to 11: Rumination

Items 6, 7 and 13: Magnification

Items 1 to 5 plus 12: Helplessness

Geoff’s bio

I am a physical therapist and PhD candidate at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton Canada. My thesis work pertains to understanding beliefs through as many lenses as possible (biological, inter-subjective and psychometrically) and used WAD as a model to do so. I am currently wrestling with what to do post-PhD and have found the ICECReam blog a great resource!