Once you achieve your PhD and after the euphoria and the well earned sense of achievement has worn off a little you might get the post-PhD blues. This is common after achieving a major goal and so it’s important to anticipate it and set up new goals before you achieve your PhD. I also strongly recommend taking some time off – three months if you can – between submitting and before you start your next job.
Make sure to celebrate your achievement and take some time off to reload the batteries before you begin your next project. You will greatly benefit from a change of scene after you have finished the PhD. Think of it as a mini-retirement. Go do something that has been a long-term dream – this will be a further incentive to finish your PhD and a gift to yourself at the end of this major project.
For me it was doing the Camino de Santiago, an 800 km medieval pilgrimage route across Northern Spain from the French Pyrenees, and later exploring Cuba for a month with a friend. I did the first between a gap in my post-doc contract and I travelled to Cuba the year after. Both of these trips were life enhancing experiences and a great way to mark what was for me an end of an important chapter in my life and to acknowledge the beginning of a new one.
Getting a PhD will likewise mark an important milestone for you. Also taking some time off to consider your options and to really investigate whether a career in academia is for you is a good idea. You can also use this time to try on other careers for size and get experience working in different environments. Be creative and explore what inspires you!
A PhD is no longer enough to get a job in academia. It is a prerequisite, a necessary hurdle through which you have to clear in order to even be considered for an academic position. If you are really certain that you want to further pursue an academic career – and I would urge you to speak with as many academics working in University to get their stories on how it is to work as an academic before you make this decision – then you will need to be strategic in the way that you differentiate yourself from the competition – because there is going to be a lot of competition for jobs.
You differentiate yourself from the competition by building a network with scholars and others outside academia during the course of your PhD, by distinguishing yourself at conferences, and by publishing in international peer-reviewed journals. It also helps if your PhD thesis is in a good state to be considered for publication and that the revisions will not take too long – if you have decided to publish it.
But connections, like in most fields, are critical to your success and the quality of the relationships that you develop during the course of your PhD studies. This is true in all areas of life, but it holds especially true for academia. You might be familiar with the saying: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts. For getting a job in academia, we could rephrase this to say: It’s what you know and who you know that counts. Talent needs to be combined with developing strong professional relationships.
You need to network in other words, but not in a pushy or sycophantic way. It’s just about making connections with leaders in your field, sharing your knowledge, and also where possible giving them helpful information and material that might be of use for their research. This also applies if you are considering a career in industry.
I got my first job straight after my PhD through a meeting I had with an eminent American Professor who I first met in Oslo. He advised me to go to Vienna, which had become one of the leading centres in the world for my field, and he put me in touch with the director of the institute there where I worked for several years.
I found out about a 9 month scholarship funded by the Austrian State to encourage academic exchange with international scholars. There was little competition for this scholarship. This led to me being offered a one year visiting fellowship when this scholarship expired and my contracts were then extended for four years. In 2013 I developed my own research project and a funding proposal for the Austrian Science Fund which proved successful. This project was awarded Euro 200,000 and enabled me to continue my research in Vienna for another three years. As a result of this funding I was able to organize and convene an international conference in Vienna and to start a collaboration with a leading scholar in my field on a book project we eventually published together.
Moving to Austria proved a wise decision. Many of my PhD colleagues in the UK sought academic positions in the UK where the competition was intense and where many institutions unfairly favoured candidates with doctoral degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. I know one colleague who had published two well-received books and a number of articles who was passed over for a recent PhD graduate from Oxford who had only published one article. This is grossly unfair, but sadly not uncommon.
If you are contemplating another career path the PhD will look impressive on your CV and might appeal to some employers depending on the topic of your PhD expertise, but it will not be the determining factor in your success in the job market. While getting a PhD places you in an elite – less than 2% of the population have PhDs – you will need to further distinguish yourself in order to land a job. You do this through the hard and soft skills that you have developed, again through connections and your network, and through the experience that you have built up ideally from the very start of your PhD. This, together with your PhD, will be what gets you a job or launches you on your new career path.
In any case, by achieving your PhD you will have shown to others and most importantly to yourself that you have the discipline, the project management skills, the focus, and the intelligence to successfully stay the course. You will learn valuable analytical skills, how to work independently, how to break down a big project into manageable chunks, how to monitor and track progress, how to communicate effectively, and how to build networks. The process of doing a PhD ideally should enrich your mind, develop your skills, and make an original contribution to knowledge. In the end this will be the greatest contribution of your PhD.
A new platform called Smart Tribe that connects PhD students and academics with those in industry will be a useful tool to start building your professional network especially outside academia. Here’s my referral code you can use when you sign up:
This book by Karen Kelsky is also excellent for practical tips on turning your PhD into a job
Networking is too important to leave until the end of your PhD – start now.