It’s now a year since I submitted my PhD thesis and I have no idea how time has flown by so quickly! In all honesty, I quite like post PhD life. I’m still a bit of a worrier when it comes to my work but I think having experienced a PhD, I am much more capable of putting things into perspective, seeing the wider picture and achieving a better work/life balance. I see PhD students now that become increasingly frantic and all consumed by their work and I try my best to convey that sense of perspective to them as I believe you are always more productive and efficient when you are calmer!
Having said that, I am still working on my PhD data for publication so the fact that a year has already passed does make me a little twitchy but the twitchiness helps motivate me to make more progress. Still, working in academia as a senior research technician is helping, as I have the advantage of being given time to work on my PhD data which a job outside of academia wouldn’t allow.
Time management has become increasingly important. I have my PhD work to juggle with my full time research technician position plus a second part time job doing outreach work with young people. Between various meetings, school visits, completing computer-based and lab-based work and supporting new PhD students in my research group, my calendar has become an essential acquaintance. So far, I’ve learnt to try and book as many meetings together as possible or organise them for the start or end of the day so that I get them all out of the way in blocks, meaning I have more uninterrupted time to do other things. Despite this, I have still had to learn how to be consistently productive throughout a day with several interruptions – sometimes I manage it and sometimes I give up! It’s a case of working out when you are most productive on certain aspects of your work and timetabling them to match that. It takes a lot of practice! I am also a fan of to-do lists (realistic ones!) and knowing when to say no. Sometimes you just can’t do everything you need to do all at once and even though I want to be productive as possible, I have learnt to be able to politely and logically explain why my answer might be a no this time.
Another odd sensation that comes with remaining in academia is the more senior and supportive role I have taken on. I still find it odd when people come and ask me for advice or my managers voice their great faith in my abilities to pull a project off or to teach something to new PhD students. In a way it’s a confidence booster to know that those around you have faith in you and know they can rely on you, although the downside is that you become a very busy person! I think I must like being busy!
I recently read an article online about being a scientist. The scientist who wrote it talked about permanently feeling stupid and how essentially it was a part of the job and I can relate to that – you spend your time trying different things in different ways to see if you can make sense of it. Sounds about right really – we can only find something out if we stumble around looking for it with some logic, taking one result, interpreting it and modifying what we do based on it. If that doesn’t work for you, then I guess a job in academia doesn’t either. I think I quite like the stumbling, which is why I am still in academia now.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the interest I have in it and the enjoyment I get out of it. I can teach and I can learn at the same time and so that’s what makes me happy right now.
Of course you can do all of these things in other jobs and I might change my opinions and move onto something else in the future, but there’s no crime in that either. It sometimes seems like a lot of advice about careers is directed from the perspective of you finding something you are good at and sticking to it. I agree with that partly, but I also think more focus should be given to how a job makes you feel. Nobody wants a job where they wake up in the morning and can’t face the day because they’re good at their job but it makes them miserable.
So, my advice would be: find something you really enjoy, try and make a job out of it, try and be good at it, see where it takes you. I wonder what my fellow post PhDs think about this advice? How has your post PhD journey been? Seeing as though I have stayed in academia, I am keen to hear the view of those who haven’t!
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