I defended and finished my dissertation in February 2012, graduated in June, and now we’re in December. It’s been six month since I received my PhD, and I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life.
And that’s ok.
I wish the transition process was faster, but you can’t hurry progress. And after years of doing something that mostly wasn’t thrilling, I’m determined to up the thrill factor in my life.
As I neared the end of my dissertation writing I didn’t go on “the job market”—the academic job market, that is. Most of my peers had been, were, and will be, I guess. But I had no interest in applying for one-year contracts, sessional positions, or tenure-track jobs in Toronto (where I live), Corvallis, OR, or anywhere else. I was so disgusted with my department—really—and just sick of the whole academic thing that I couldn’t even get up the energy to write 150 words on my research to contribute to a roundtable proposal for a conference session with other nice, smart, and supportive young scholars in my exact subfield. Ugh. Not the best time of my life.
That was about a year ago. Now, I feel much better . . . about everything, including academia. I’m pretty sure being a professor is not for me, but at least I don’t feel like committing a major criminal offense!
So what happened?
At the beginning of this year I went back to freelancing, something I’d done on-and-off for a couple years with a small roster of repeat clients: guys who had their own sole-proprietorships or very small consulting firms and who needed extra administrative, research, and other help on a part-time or occasional basis. I was introduced to them through a colleague in my graduate department, a woman a couple years ahead of me in my PhD program who had worked on projects with them as a consultant herself before going back to school. It was a nice landing spot for me as I finished up and kept thinking about what to do next. Or maybe being a freelance “research analyst/whatever” was what I would do next? In the spring I landed a regular part-time (10-15 hours a week) gig through a friendly acquaintance I knew through the music scene. The work wasn’t that great but I learned some important things and I liked seeing money come in. I kept that job for about six months then quit.
Meanwhile, my other freelance work had its ups and downs and it had reached the point where I felt I was no longer learning much or on the right track. There was no opportunity to grow given the nature of the work and my employers businesses. Psychologically, I was done but I had a bit of on-going work to do. That was back in October, a breakthrough month for me. Although I’d been doing lots of job/career search things, I decided to kick things into a higher gear. What I was doing to earn money was sucking the life out of me; it was time for a major change.
With my new “give me what you got, world” attitude, I hired a career coach (!) and now, about a month-and-a-half in, I know I’m on the right track. It’s a slow track, but finally the right one.
Why this website?
Over the past few weeks a few similar ideas came together in my head and I realized that what I’d learned about making the transition from PhD student to something else could benefit others. I decided I should gather up in one spot the results of all the searching, reading, talking, thinking, and questioning I’d done. I’m excited about doing this. I want to share what I know and will come to know—and what I still don’t know—in the hope that other newly-minted PhDs will feel as excited about I am about what the future holds. I don’t what what it is but I’m fairly certain it’s going to be awesome.