Hi, I’m Emma and I’m a PhD survivor!
It’s crazy to think that I submitted my PhD thesis nearly 10 months ago now.
Let me take you through my post-PhD journey starting with my thesis submission, thoughts post submission and PhD viva.
The last 3 months of my PhD were a whirlwind of eat, sleep, work, repeat. Despite all my planning, I finished my lab work later than planned meaning time was of the essence in getting everything written up and submitted on time. Not ideal as you can imagine, but it meant I had no time to worry or stress about whether I had done enough, I just had to get on with it.
The day I submitted my thesis was a bit of an anti-climax; on reflection I was so exhausted that I felt pretty numb about it all combined with an overwhelming sense of relief. After a nice holiday to recover, I really needed to think about what my next move was. Even though I had been considering my options for a while, it still came as a bit of a shock to be finished working on a project that had been my focus for the past 4 years of my life.
I spent a while looking at potential job options and speaking to colleagues who had made the transition into a post-PhD career about how to consider my options. I found it difficult to initially decide whether I wanted to try and stay in academia or move into something different. Things came to a head when I applied for a position outside of academia and was invited for an interview whilst being offered a position as a senior research technician. Having to decide what option to go for made me realise that I didn’t feel like I wanted to move on to something different, I still felt positive about an academic career and felt like I had more to give and more to achieve, so I took the senior research technician position.
Admittedly a post-doc position is a more desirable addition to the CV, but I am fortunate that both of my PhD supervisors are involved in the project my technician position is based around. This means they are keen to give me additional responsibility and allow me to take on more aspects of the project that I can hopefully generate the holy grail of academia from – publications!
Whilst all the above was unfolding, I experienced the PhD viva. My viva was around two and a half months after my thesis submission and by the time the fearful day approached, I just wanted to get into the room and get it over and done with! Preparation for a viva is awkward to say the least. You have no idea what questions you will be asked, what points the examiners will pick up on and want to discuss, so it is a real fear of the unknown. What I can say is that my PhD finally made me realize and accept that I was the expert on my PhD topic and thesis. Nobody will ever know it as well as I do. Pretty much every question I was asked was something I had already discussed with colleagues over the course of my PhD or considered myself. I was also pleasantly surprised by the respect I received from my examiners – you tend to view them as the enemy, but they are actually fellow scientists who are interested in your work and keen to discuss the many aspects of it and offer advice to help you (although admittedly it’s difficult not to be defensive!). I was relived to see that they appreciated the amount of work I had put into my project and how much progress I had managed to make in a short space of time.
So, what would I say about the PhD viva? Well it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. My preparation involved re-reading my thesis, making a list of any errors I made and preparing answers to the most obvious questions (I made a list of these from internet research). I also brought along a handful of relevant publications so that I didn’t have to remember information from them on the spot and all in all, that preparation seemed to serve me pretty well in the viva. I have to say, that it was only when my PhD viva was complete and my corrections handed in, that I really felt like my PhD was over.
There is so much to discuss when it comes to the post-PhD journey that I am really keen to hear the thoughts of those in a similar position. How has your post-PhD journey been? How did you determine what direction you wanted your career to go in? What support is available for those in their post-PhD journey that you would recommend? Do you think there is enough support out there? How do you feel about your post-PhD journey and decisions so far?