As I near the end of the third year of my PhD, what comes after is starting to loom increasingly large on my mind. As a result, I signed up for an event organised by History Lab Plus about life after the PhD. Getting Grants, Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life after the PhD took place on the 15th of July at the Institute of Historical Research in London, and I found it very helpful. There was a workshop about our post-PhD hopes and fears, and four panel-based sessions on making the transition, getting funding grants, getting published, and jobs outside academia/impact/public history.
The thing about advice is that it is personal; you can only really talk from your own experience, and it quickly became obvious that the post-PhD period is just as varied as the PhD itself. For example, it is very hard to get an academic job without a publication, but almost everyone seems to know at least one person who managed it. Any career is an individual experience, and people can only really give advice from their own personal experiences, which may not be relevant to yours for any number of reasons. This is something I always try to remember when given advice.
One piece of advice that does seem to be universally applicable is to spend time thinking about what you want to do after your PhD. Do you want an academic career? Do you want to turn your thesis into a book? Do you want to focus more on teaching or research? Think about what you want to achieve, and then decide which jobs/opportunities/ experiences will help you to get there. Also think about what skills you have, what you can offer to a potential employer. What are you interested in, and what are you good at? I spend a lot of time thinking about life after the PhD, but before this event it hadn’t occurred to me to try and think in these practical, concrete terms that might actually be helpful instead of just terrifying.
There were other bits of advice that I think would be useful for everyone; for example Emily Russell, an editor at Palgrave Macmillan, gave a talk about the process of converting a thesis into a book, but I think the aspect of the day that I found most helpful was the sense that we are all the same boat here. There must have been around 30 people sitting in that room, all of whom are coming close to finishing their PhD, or just recently had, who all had very similar questions about what comes next. As a PhD student, I am constantly being made aware of how difficult it is to get an academic job, how competitive it is (the ‘CV arms race’ is an analogy I like). As a result, I often find it hard to be happy for my contemporaries when they achieve something that might give them an advantage over me if we applied for the same job. My first reaction is frequently jealously, or despair that I haven’t managed to achieve the same thing yet, and I hate it. Life After the PhD was a reminder that we are all in the same boat. We are all dealing with the pressure, we are all getting frustrated about the structural systems that make academia so tough in the first place, and we are all worrying about how we are going to pay rent and feed ourselves when our funding runs out (those of use who were lucky enough to get funding in the first place). So we need to look out for one another. This can take the form of joining a union or a campaign like FACE (Fighting Against Casualisation in Academia), or simply being nice to one another- one of my favourite pieces of advice from the day came from Dr. Will Pooley and is a favourite saying of comedian Adam Hills: “Don’t be a dick!” Will posted the text of his talk on his blog.
I am scared about what is going to happen when I finish my PhD- this is the first time in my life when I don’t know what I’m going to do next, where I don’t have a solid, concrete plan that I know is going to work out. However, events like Life After the PhD help me to put it into perspective. As well as providing advice, the day was an opportunity to discuss my fears, and my ambitions, with others who are going through the same thing, which I found helpful.
I would like to thank History Lab Plus for organising the event, particularly Kelly Spring and Jessica Hammett.