Awkward! – Transitioning from PhD student to working academic

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!

Challenging my own views: Working in academia as a ‘non-lecturer’

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.
By Jorge Cham of PhDComics
By Jorge Cham of PhDComics
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.