3-Minute Reads, Blog

Call for suggestions: PhDilemmas, or, I wish I knew then what I know now…

It’s now been five years (almost to the day!) that I graduated with a PhD in Shakespeare and the Living Dead from the University of Exeter and stepped into alternative academic (alt-ac) life as Dr Alsop. My memories of the day are scattered, if I’m being quite honest with you; I’d spent so many years living life on the very edge of my wits that, as I entered the auditorium in my academic regalia I struggled to fix myself in the swirling enormity of the entire thing. I was, I am positive, relieved, grateful, excited to be there: the whole day was *enormously* welcome after eight years of gruelling work. At the same time, though, I remember – even as my name was called out (first on the list, perks of winning the game of alphabet) feeling a curious, even worrying, sense of detachment from the proceedings. It took me some time before I could understand why.

The answer, of course, was fear.

Completing a PhD is a strange kind of Green Cross Code experience. Janus-faced, we look both ways before crossing. We turn to view the past, we view the roads that we have taken, we celebrate the achievement, the triumph of our fortitude and academic passion. And yet we also look ahead to what, for many, will be a future riddled with uncertainty. Under those circumstances, it’s natural to feel out-of-sorts. When you’ve spent such a long time building up to one moment, travelling towards one fixed spot on the horizon, what do you do once the moment has come and gone? Where do you go tomorrow? Have you even had chance to think about it? I hadn’t. Even as we pop corks, smile for photos and throw those puffy hat-things high up in the air, one question looms: what now?

And yet: over the last five years I’ve learnt – often through trial and error – a few things that would have made the transition from PhD to post-doctoral, alt-ac life a good deal easier. There’s no denying that the potential for confusion and uncertainty is absolutely real (and if you’re there right now, I feel you), but, thankfully, the fear need not be.

This, I hope, is where I might be of use! Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a series of short-ish blog posts about my own experience since graduating. In particular, I’d like to share some of the things that I now know that I wish I’d known five years ago. To be clear: I’m no expert in the field of early career academic guidance. I’m still learning and still making mistakes. All I’d like to do, if I can, is offer some support. I can only speak for myself, but a little guidance here or there would have taken away some of the pre-completion and post-graduation fear, imbued my next steps with a renewed sense of purpose, and perhaps even given me more reason to believe in myself.

So, what now?

I already have some areas I’d definitely like to cover, including:

  • The current minor controversy surrounding the merits of “recreational” (ha!) unfunded PhDs
  • Capitalising on transferable PhD skills
  • How school-teaching made me a better, more successful academic
  • Preparing an article for publication (particularly if, like me, you were unable to publish anything during your doctoral studies).

But what else would YOU be interested in reading about? What else would be useful for somebody to know as they approach the end of their doctorate?

Let me know in the comments below, Tweet me (@readtheshakey), or use the “Contact” page to get in touch directly! I’d love to hear from you about stuff and things that are playing on your mind en route to your Viva, graduation, or first alt-ac job.

(Also, if you have any “if I knew back then…” tips or advice that you’d like to share then please do get in touch as well! It’d be great to share your experience via this platform!)

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