What happens when you finish a PhD?

I graduated yesterday, 1 year exactly after submitting my thesis for examination. That’s a long time to wait… Everyone basks in the glory of finishing a PhD or getting a new job, but no one really tells you about the no man’s land that you endure between PhD submission and actually getting this glorious job.

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Because yes, there is a no man’s land. And it sucks. And no one prepares you for the fact it is going to suck. And no one tells you that it is ok for it to suck a little while.

Yes, you read that right, it is ok for it to suck.

Let me elaborate. You have just spent months stressing, not sleeping properly, angsting over code that doesn’t run, dealing with feedback from (in my case) 15 co-authors.

There is no time to be bored.

Finishing a PhD is such a great feeling: you can finally do the things you hadn’t had time to do, like sleep! And shave your legs. And eat vegetables. And then you realise you don’t know what to do with yourself all of a sudden. There is all the time in the world to be bored.

This is when you should ideally go on holiday.

This is also when, in actual fact, you are rat-arsed skint. With only just enough money to buy canned beans. So you sit at home eating your canned beans, getting your chapters published and applying for jobs.

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So yes, it’s kind of shit. But it is also ok, because EVERYONE goes through that phase at some point or another. People who have a job lined up before finishing their PhDs are rare. It’s awesome for them, but don’t compare yourself. They applied for the right thing at the right time and got lucky. Or some money became available with one of their collaborators just as they were finishing.

Things are messy in real life. Nothing is timed perfectly. Not everything falls into place the way you want it to.

I had to leave Australia for visa reasons, decided to go stay with my boyfriend in Switzerland for heart-ache reasons, and couldn’t find a job there for terrible-german-speaking-no-one-knows-my-supervisor-or-cares-about-applied-research reasons.

Yeah, who your supervisor is matters. Research that is cool in Australia, is not cool in Switzerland. Creating a network in a new country on short notice is difficult. Everything takes time.

I still got a cool job. In England. Where my german-speaking could not be made fun off. It took 6 months after submission for the right kind of job for me to come along. But it came along.

In total, I visited 3 research groups, put in 3 postdoctoral fellowship proposals. Didn’t get them because my doctorate had not yet been awarded. I applied for about 15 jobs that didn’t quite suit me, and 3 that did, got 4 interviews and got offered one of the 3 jobs that suited me. All in all, I started applying for stuff one year before finishing my PhD.

Why am I sharing my ‘failures’?

Well, I don’t consider them failures, just part of life. The reality is that there are more applicants than there are jobs, so you will not get every job you apply for. Fact. Not worth getting hung up over.

Because the one thing that stopped me from giving up when I felt a little down, was realising that many successful scientists went through the exact same thing when they finished their PhDs. Not that I am some sort of big wig, but it helps to know when you are not alone.

So if you are in no man’s land at the moment, it’s ok. We’ve all been there. Keep at it.

 

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Anyway, having a job comes with its own challenges

 

 

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