In April 2015 I joined the Researcher Development Team at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Manchester as a Researcher Development Officer. It’s been an exciting and busy start to this new role and I’m excited to see where this new opportunity leads me.

I didn’t think that not doing a PhD would be so awkward. Some of you might be thinking “You’re crazy! I can’t wait until this is over” and y’know what, I totally agree with you. Finishing a PhD has this “I-want-to-break-free” kinda feeling. Now that I’m on the other side, so to speak, it feels very strange not to be doing my PhD.

I write from the perspective of someone  going through a transition period because on one hand, I am SO GLAD that I’ve finished my PhD, yet on the other hand, I don’t feel entirely settled in my new role at the university. I’ve been reflecting on why I feel so out of place and I found the following:

  • As  PhD student I was largely in control of how I spent my time and had the freedom to create my own schedule. In my new role, I work to a 9-5 timeframe and need to organise my time accordingly. I do have quite a lot of freedom and flexibility with regards to what / when I work on my projects, but this time I must take into account the times/schedules of others who work within these hours.
  • Most of the work I do must take place during office hours (as in real office, 9-5 kind of deal and not my-office-is-everywhere) because it involves working with other people. Consequently I don’t need to take work home, and it feels a little weird. I haven’t been able to shake that “academic guilt” and am still getting used to the idea that not working weekends is OK.
  • I miss my home office. It was a space that was entirely mine and one in which I carefully cultivated during my PhD. My books are arranged just so (e.g. by subject, genre, alphabetically *sigh*), my plants are at an optimal light angle, and my cat has his napping box that is out of the way of my chair. However, I need to be physically at the office, not because it’s a requirement but rather my day-to-day activities involve other people, and so while I have the option to work from home it isn’t really feasible in my new role.
  • In my new role, I’m responsible for several different projects and am juggling (changing) deadlines. A lot of my work involves consulting with and reporting to other people on a number of details in order for decisions to get made. So there’s a lot of emails to answer and meetings to attend. I’m not used to this way of working and it is taking some time to get used to!

It’s been about eight months since I started in this new role and I’ve come to realise that I had different expectations of what my post-PhD working life would be like. I suppose I thought it would feel more “normal” in that I should be able to just switch between roles. I’ve realised that I’ve gotten used to working as a PhD student that I’d forgotten what it was like to work differently.   It’s a nice change, and one that I think I needed for my own personal development. With any sort of change, it’s not easy, sometimes awkward, but certainly eye-opening.

Anyone else experience something similar? Please add your comment below!

7 thoughts on “Awkward! – Transitioning from PhD student to working academic

  1. I’m experiencing exactly the opposite situation, moving from working life and working with others to studying for a PhD. I haven’t settled in this new and (quite) isolated life which involves working late evenings and weekends. I also find it challenging to make others understand my new situation and manage their expectations! I think all we need is time 😉

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    1. I can imagine it’s a strange transition period! I found that you need boundaries regarding your time and your priorities is really important otherwise things will suffer, but you don’t really notice until it gets really bad! Hope this semester has been a good one (even if it’s been a learning curve)!

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  2. I was nodding throughout the post! Although I’m a postdoc, it is in a research cum practice institute and as you mention I work on several things, with multiple deadlines – quite different from working solely on my PhD. One year in, I still go back into ‘PhD mode’ at times! But I try to bring strengths of my PhD days like sticking to a problem till I crack it or doing a thorough literature review to my new job.

    Thanks for the great post!

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    1. Hi Chandni! Thanks for reading my blog post. It’s strange, I thought as a postdoc it would be more like doing a PhD but it isn’t quite like that. Do you work in a team or is it just you? I work in a team but I’ve got my own role to fulfil.

      I was trying to get to the bottom of why I felt (feel) unsettled in my new role is partly because I don’t have complete control / decision making power over the different projects I’m involved in. As a PhD student it was MY research, MY decisions, and MY responsibility. I suppose I’m getting used to being pulled in different directions with different timescales to work to.

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      1. I work for a large project, so like you say, often things are out of my control. So even though I may finish my bit, several other people are involved which takes more time, but also (mostly) helps me learn more!

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  3. My experience has been somewhat similar. One major difference, for me, was that during my PhD I was responsible for just one big project; in my new role, I am involved in literally dozens of things. Not all of them are major, not all of them require the same degree of involvement, not all of them are urgent, but the sheer number of projects running at the same time seems daunting, especially when I have spent several years working on nothing but the thesis.

    The second thing I am finding frustrating is the lack of flexibility compared to doctoral research. Over the years, I had developed a pattern of alternating bursts of very high intensity work with more leisurely periods; plus, systematically avoided starting work before 11:00am (although I would often work until dawn). I am finding out that this pattern of work is not very compatible with what other people tend to do, and that I have to adjust to their expectations. This has proved a challenge 🙂

    But overall, I think that this new situation is not entirely bad. I think that, while our doctoral community in Manchester was made up of absolutely brilliant people and good friends, we all had to focus primarily on our theses, which meant that one often felt somewhat alone. In my new situation, there is a much greater expectation to collaborate, and while this has at times inconvenienced me, it has been very rewarding 🙂

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  4. My life post PhD has changed and it hasn’t. I think it’s because I’m working in the same department on the same project pretty much. Good point: legacy for my research; not so good point: it feels like I’ve not transitioned from student to researcher. I have all the working long hours (and guilt when I don’t) and stress that comes with being a PhD student, except now I don’t get the right credit. My PI does. I love my research but the way the game is played is unfair. I also really dislike the guilt from other parties, both direct and indirect and often think this career is hard enough, shouldn’t researchers gave each other a break (and some grace!)? What are your thoughts on this? It is a job after all.

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