After years of hard work, getting to the end of your PhD viva and hearing the words ‘Congratulations Dr’ is the most incredible feeling. Now somewhere along your PhD journey you have thought, or even dreamt about the post-PhD life - but PhD life is all-consuming and thinking about being out of the PhD bubble can seem like a distant dream. I’m not going to sugar coat it - the last few months are also tough with the combined pressure to submit and find some sort of paid employment. I wasn’t interested in continuing on in academia so didn’t have the competitive postdoc application process, but after having only ever been in the education system, transitioning to a more regular working environment was not a challenge I anticipated.
Nearly six months into my first proper full time job and I am still finding the transition a struggle. So, I wanted to share some tips and tricks that those going through the same transition now and in the future will hopefully be able to find helpful.
1. Allow yourself a lunch break
So, I don’t know about you, but during my PhD I was terrible at taking a lunch break. I would either grab food between all experiments and set at my desk taking bites out as and when, or I might not eat at all. I just felt this constant pressure to be making progress with experiments. When you are out the outside of the PhD tunnel, make sure to take your lunch break every single day. Take all the time you are entitled to because you don’t get paid more for working more than you have to, and you’re not going to be getting an extra publication out of it. I’m still not completely at that stage yet, but I’m much better than my PhD habits.
2. Your weekends are yours
Far too many weekends during your PhD are spent in the lab working or just doing more analysis. When you can draw a line under your time as a PhD student, to adjust to the ‘real world’ you have to stop yourself from working on weekends. Enjoy your time doing what you want. There is no pressure to be doing work on Saturday and Sunday so just stop, even if your PhD supervisors are still on your back about writing more papers. Break that habit early!
3. Find a new or rekindle an old hobby
The likelihood is that because of the all-consuming nature of PhDs, you may have neglected the things you love to do. Maybe that is sport, maybe that is travelling, or maybe it is just sitting in the garden reading a good book. With all this extra time you have on your hands now, take advantage of it and try something new or restart your old hobby that you miss. It is also just another excuse to not work on the weekends because you would much rather be doing this right?
4. Treat yourself on pay day
I spent a huge portion of my PhD journey putting things off because I just didn’t have the money. It was especially tough as all my friends who weren’t doing PhDs were so far ahead in the game. I missed holidays with the girls, put off buying those shoes I desperately wanted, missed trips home to see family and I am nowhere near being able to buy my own house. So, my next tip is to treat yourself on your first proper pay day. You have ‘made do’ and worked so hard for so long, you deserve a treat.
5. Network, network, network
Starting a new job is going to introduce you to a whole bunch of new people. And chances are they have been in the ‘real world’ for a little while now so are going to know a lot of people in a lot of different places. Take advantage of that and you need to continue to network. Get to know as many different people in as many different sectors as you can because you never know who you will meet. This is especially the case if you are leaving academia for a non-academic career path. Careers are not linear and the more knowledge you have about your potential options, the better for your career progression and ultimately your happiness.
Career transitions don’t happen overnight, so adjusting is going to take time. As I said, I am six months in and still don’t feel like I am completely out of the PhD woods. You have spent so long comparing yourself to your peers in and outside of education and this is the first time where that doesn’t really happen, and I am still getting used to that. All that time you spent just doing what you thought was best and necessary at the detriment to yourself is over. This is your time to become whatever you want to be. It is your time now.