Getting Grants, Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life After the PhD

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Getting Grants: Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life after PhD was organised by History Lab Plus at the Institute of Historic Research in London on the 15th of July 2016 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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.

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There were four panels covering multiple different aspects of life after the PhD (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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.

Turbulent London: 2014 in Review

WordPress.com has very helpfully put together a summary of Turbulent London’s stats from 2014. The blog has only been going since July, and I am very proud of what it has achieved in that time. I had been wanting to start a blog based around my PhD, for some time, but had got stuck trying to think of a name. Once I finally got Turbulent London up and running however, I discovered that blogging is an exciting and dynamic means of communication which has been greatly beneficial to me, as well as thoroughly enjoyable.

As the summary shows, people in 41 countries have read Turbulent London, which is  just amazing to me. I get a buzz of excitement every time I see that someone from Finland, Iraq, or Algeria has read my writing. Closer to home, I am always humbled when one of my friends, colleagues or fellow PhD students tell me that they read and enjoyed a post.

I am aware that this may be coming across as overly emotional or self-promoting, but really I just wanted to take this opportunity to share my enjoyment of Turbulent London, and to thank everyone for taking the time to read and engage with my posts. Also, if you have been considering starting a blog yourself, I strongly advise you do it, because it is fantastic.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and I wish you all the best for 2015.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.