Welcome to the first post on my blog which will focus on all aspects of post-PhD journeys, starting with my own, which began with a PhD in Sociology, completed in 2009 at Aston University and recently led me to a project manager post in the IT department of a large teaching university. Whilst my personal journey led me to the professional services side of academia, I will want to write about other paths as well, drawing on my work as a part-time coach and mentor with PhD students and early careers researchers. Finally, I am a keen long-distance runner and like to make apply lessons learnt from the world of ultrarunning (that is, anything above marathon distance) to other aspects of my personal and professional life, so undoubtedly running-related topics will make an appearance here.
It is quite fitting that I am starting this blog at the beginning of 2016, after all, January is a good time to kick off new things and no doubt a number of fellow post-PhDs will be using this time to think about their strategy for the year ahead. Equally, the beginning of the year is also a good time to reflect about the past twelve months and so recently I have been thinking a lot about resilience, understood as the ability to bounce back no matter what life throws at you. Certainly, I saw a lot of changes in my personal and professional life in the past 12 months. To start with, I successfully completed what felt like a really long and arduous job search (a topic for a separate post!) to secure my current position and now find myself having to cope with the challenges of establishing myself in a new place and survive the probation period. In addition, my new workplace, like many other universities, has just emerged from a spate of restructures and so for some of my colleagues, things feel quite fragile and the department overall is still trying to find its feet. On a personal level, the new job meant a move, involving yet more change for myself and my partner and so the ability to cope with challenges has been at the forefront of my mind.
Resilience has also been a recurrent theme for the early career researchers and PhD students I have been talking to as a coach. Moreover, a lot of them come to coaching precisely because they want to become better at dealing with the twists and turns (and sometimes blind alleys) of academic journeys. Whilst to a certain extent, resilience is an inbuilt trait, the good news is that it is a learnt skill as well, a bit like a running habit. First step to do that is to start by reflecting on the strengths you currently have – and think of a time you faced a challenge and managed to find a way through. In the case of post-PhDs, an obvious challenge is completing a PhD, a major feat which a lot of people seem to forget about! Then to facilitate that reflection you might want to ask yourself, how exactly did you accomplish that? Were there strategies that you used, strengths you drew upon, resources you utilised or insights that turned out to be helpful? Then you can start using those reflections to become more resilient and build a pool of resources to turn to when the going gets tough. So here’s to a resilient 2016, whatever your post-PhD path may be!