Yes, it has been quite a few months since my last post. It’s been a strange time and getting used to this post-PhD life has been quite the challenge, simply because life is complicated in the most interesting ways.
I’m just over one year into my post as a Researcher Developer and it is only now that I feel like I’m actually getting to grips with what I’m doing. The switch from focusing on one research project (e.g. my thesis) to juggling several projects simultaneously hasn’t been an easy transition and I can’t say that I’m entirely comfortable handling different projects on the go. I prefer to have one main focus but at the moment, that’s more a luxury than reality.
More on this, and on other musing on my post-PhD life will be coming up!
The last five months have been rather eventful, with everything happening at the same time:
March: I submitted my thesis corrections which were approved by external examiners. I then submitted the final version of my thesis to the university.
Early April: I completed my first, full marathon (26.2 miles / 42 km) in 5 hours 13 minutes, then blogged about it HERE.
Late April: I started a job at The University of Manchester!
July: My parents visited me in the UK and witnessed me graduate from my PhD programme wearing a Tudor bonnet and medieval robes! While they were here we travelled to Sweden and visited family that we haven’t seen for years.
August: Had laser eye surgery. Now I can see without the aid of contact or glasses. This was my graduation gift to myself and something that I had been planning to do for quite a while. I also changed my bank cards to say “Dr”!
Whew. It’s a lot of process. I’ve already blogged a little about the expectations I had for my post-PhD life, but now I’d like to backtrack and say a little about graduating. Now there is something very final about graduation ceremonies. Everything up to this point – submitting the thesis, the viva, then submitting corrections – was an end in themselves, but they never felt like THE end. I felt I didn’t really have a PhD.
The graduation ceremony, on the other hand, is an event that publicly marks one’s successful academic achievement by conferring a degree. With awesome robes. My last graduation ceremony was my high school graduation. I remember the giddiness of feeling so ‘adult’ and ‘ready for life’ or something along those lines (it was a a long time ago)! My PhD graduation was far from feeling ‘grown up’, but was more like a very solid sense of achievement. A “Yes, I made it!” kind of moment, a swell of confidence in myself, and a sense of closure. A proper “I’m done now.” finality to my PhD journey. For me there was no sadness or emptiness on graduation day but a lasting memory of feeling very, very good.
Making the transition from PhD student to academic staff member isn’t as straightforward. There’s this tendency that once you finish your PhD you know what to do next.
Such as get a job.
The thing is, it is assumed that getting a job = lecturer. If you don’t become a lecturer then you don’t have a proper job. You’re not really working in academia.
For a long time I bought into this mindset and found myself desperately throwing my CV at any lecturing post that remotely seemed to be in my field. Trouble was that a lot of the posts I was applying for were fixed-term (e.g. 1 year / 3 year, non-renewable etc.). The academic job market is not great and is fiercely competitive with permanent contracts few and far between. I’m not adverse to working on fixed term contracts because frankly that is what I’ve been doing as an English language teacher. Working from contract to contract for 5 years was doable, 10 years was a little tiring, but the thought of working yet another 5 years with no job security was disheartening.
I suppose I’ve had enough.
I think what was more troubling was the fact that the only future I envisioned for myself was “be a lecturer” because “that’s what PhDs do”. When I wasn’t getting hired as a lecturer I became increasingly anxious and disillusioned. Intellectually I understood that having a PhD guarantees nothing, but experiencing the reality of it was worse.
I wasn’t ready to leave academia (yet) and I began to look for other opportunities within the academy. One of those opportunities came in the form of student support. As a PhD student I was given the opportunity to work in different areas of the university which gave me new insights into the different roles available to PhD students that aren’t lectureships yet still very much part of academic life. From these experiences I began to wonder what else is there to academia, which lead to looking for non-academic roles in academia, which eventually led me to my current post!
I now work as the Researcher Development Officer for the Faculty of Humanities at The University of Manchester. I work in academia but not as an academic. It’s an interesting position to be in and one that I’m still getting used to. In a way, I’m battling my own insecurities of being perceived as “less than” because I’m not a lecturer. This is when I start to get angry at the fact that I’m justifying my job to myself, let alone other people. It’s made me realise just how PhD career paths narrowly defined and actually, there is so much more to the academic life than research and teaching. I wouldn’t say that I’ve settled into my new role, but I’ve been learning a lot about myself and my own prejudices along the way.