Life after PhD: the anti-climax

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Let’s go back 2 years:

My PhD has been my life for what feels like forever.  I submit my thesis, turn around, and……………oh, OK; no brass band.  Where is that overwhelming feeling of exhilaration?…….I’m too tired for that.  

This was the feeling I had for my pre-viva and post-viva submission.  It is normal. 

What came after was an expectant feeling of ‘you have done it all; you have finished’.  However, this was really only the start of my academic career in terms of research.  If you are fortunate you are in an academic role, if not, your focus turns to landing your dream position.

Though what struck me was that there was a huge psychological and emotional aspect to finishing my PhD which was not widely talked about.  When you think about it, that makes total sense, right?  I had lived and breathed the PhD.  I guess in some ways I had put my life on hold for the PhD.  Now that the PhD journey had run its course it was time to ‘break up’ with the PhD. 

‘It has been…; It’s not you it’s me; I just feel it is time to move on…..; I am done with you!’

Back to today: I loved working on my PhD (yes, really!). It was an emotional roller coaster but I got to focus on a research area I loved. For me, the experience of completing a PhD was similar to hiking up a mountain. You would see what looked like the summit, only to get there and realise that there was still a way to go. I would encourage anyone to consider doing a PhD, though advise that you must be prepared to think of it as a learning journey and something you are doing for your own personal development.

There is no doubt that it is a lifechanging experience.  However, it had become my comfort blanket; I just had to focus on completing my PhD. It was a coping strategy in times of grief, a convenient excuse to turn down invitations to social events I did not want to attend, but it was also the thing that had given me life purpose. The nature of the research topic (Living with Stroke) meant that I felt my work was contributing, in some way, to the lives of others.  I was making a difference. Post-PhD I have done some wonderful things with my life and I have a fantastic job, which I love.  I have continued to research ways to make post-stroke life a little better for people.

When you finish your PhD there is a huge opportunity to re-evaluate where you want to be in life.  Please take this opportunity.

When you graduate from university you end a chapter of your life, whatever your level of study.  There is an opportunity to reflect upon your goals and expectations in life.  So, why did this feel different for the PhD?  Was it because I was older and I already (supposedly) have my s**t together?  Is it because my career path was perhaps already established and I knew my niche?

I appreciate that am writing this in a position of post-PhD employment.  I realise that I am very fortunate.  I know of others who have really struggled with post-PhD life as they seek to establish themselves in their ideal research position or lectureship.  It is tough; like it is for any other graduate.  However, even in a position of employment you cannot help but stop and think ‘where do I go from here?’ on that personal level.  We tend to think about this in terms of research, and if we are lucky there are Professors out there ready to act as mentors or advisors. 

Here, I am asking the question, ‘where do you go from here?’ not in terms of research or career, but personally.  I think this is an important question to ask on a personal level during these uncertain times.  ‘The world is your oyster’ may seem like a cliché, but finishing off your PhD or doing through a career change and taking that giant leap into the unknown does not need to be daunting; perhaps it will give you that exhilarating feeling you were looking for when you handed in your thesis!

Closing thoughts: This post reflects my own thoughts after PhD completion.  I guess the take home message here is to use your time post-PhD to re-evaluate and consider what you want to do, and where you want to be.  Think outside of your career path.  For some, a PhD can be a process, part of career development.  For others, it can be an emotional sponge.  Think about what gives you a sense of wellbeing in life and what your own personal life goals and expectations are whilst you try and answer that pivotal question: ‘where do you want to be in 5 years’ time?’

How did you feel when you submitted your thesis? Did you feel like I did? Are you currently completing your PhD and asking the question- ‘what’s next?’

I would be interested to hear your experiences.

**If you like what you have read, please give this post a ‘like’ below. Feel free to share. You may also like: What is wellbeing, anyway?

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