Sorry this post is somewhat late. Last week was a busy week. It is often said that when you’ve finished your PhD you’ll have so much free time that you won’t know what to do with it. For me, at least, this is definitely not the case. I did take a bit of time between my hand in and my viva, and for a week or so after my viva, to calm down, but now it is certainly back to work – of sorts. It is entirely possible to have rest, and to spend most of your time concentrating on recovering, then finding work, or, if you’re lucky, moving straight into a job. But being currently without employment, I’m taking the opportunity to say yes.
The thing about finishing a project that has hitherto consumed you is that it opens up your ability to throw yourself much more completely and vigorously into things that you would previously have been prevented from taking on. For example, I now combine part time, temporary work with hunting for a more permanent academic job. Currently, I have a transcription job which is fascinating, but involves a confidentiality agreement, and when that is done I will be invigilating exams requiring special arrangements – an insight into University administration, but also a way of helping individuals who wish to achieve, but who have to face far more serious challenges to do so than I ever did. Both of these are new experiences, opportunities to extend the world that my PhD confined to my own desk and my own brain.
Wednesday mornings (sometimes all day) I work as the Treasurer of the Museum Ethnographers Group. I gained this position in the final year of my PhD, and though I did my best with the time I had available, there is no doubt that I am now much freer to devote more to this organisation, attending and writing a report regarding its annual conference, and helping with its various events and projects. This voluntary work has been a lifesaver, keeping me in the museological and academic loop. It is not an easy job, but now I have the mental capacity I can take it on much more wholeheartedly and with a lighter mind. It seems that submitting my PhD came hand in hand with an exponential rise in my mathematical abilities.
Any chance you get to look outside university hallways is also worth taking. I’ve spent all my life in education, and the rest of the world is rather fascinating and strange to me. This week, I got to experience a particularly peculiar part of it, when I helped my partner’s father exhibit his business, which designs and manufactures wind tunnels for testing fire detectors, at a Fire and Safety show at the NEC. It was strangely familiar – somewhere in between the conferences I’ve been to, the architecture expos I’ve read about in my research, and the strange, temporary glamour of a Formula 1 pit lane. Large stands were set up to display products, covered in corporate badges, films and in some cases, models both female and male. One was designed to mimic a pub: and it did sell beer. The ripping up of carpets and the tearing down of stands was a most surreal experience: a marker of the whole event’s temporary nature. Universities can be quite insular – recently I’ve learned how interesting and equally strange the world outside them actually is.
I’ve also already found a number of Calls for Papers, both for articles and conference papers, which I intend to answer, and of course I write for this blog. My old department have invited me back to speak at their research week, and I have a book for review half read and floating somewhere on my shelves. In other words, now that I’m free, I’m busier than ever.
Many of these recent experiences are somewhat left field: I never imagined that I’d be showcasing fire safety equipment, and who knows what else will come my way. My present situation of technical ‘unemployment’, which I’ve complained about on here in the recent past, actually offers a distinct advantage: what I do no longer has to be directly related to my research, and no matter how strange the offer or request, I now have the choice whether or not to say yes. Unemployment was not what I expected, and perhaps if you let go of expectation about what you will or should do when you finally submit, the hands of possibility open up.