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.