You’ve handed in your thesis (best feeling ever!), you’ve celebrated accordingly, and you’ve rested after one of if not the biggest achievements of your life. Your mind may turn to your viva but that might be a while yet, but what is likely to start making its way into your thinking is what next?! You may have been lucky enough to land a great job or training position somewhere that you are going to seamlessly transfer to from your Ph.D. without a break, but you may also not have a next plan. Nine months ago, that was me.
I handed in my thesis in September 2017, in the field of glaciology, and was in a great position with a number of published journal articles and a fair amount of teaching experience. My supervisors had been really supportive and made sure I knew the job market was difficult, but that I had the experience and work ethic to be OK. I knew I wanted to be in academia or something equally interesting, but there didn’t seem to be many academic jobs about. However, some job adverts trickled in and I applied, getting rejected from some and interviews for others. Then, in December I got a great little six-month position at the University of Cumbria as a Lecturer in Physical Geography – an amazing opportunity to get lots of teaching experience and earn some money!
What ensued was a really great four months (still got two months to go)! I was thrown in at the deep end teaching a variety of students across the whole physical geography spectrum, some of which I had never done myself before as I did geology as an undergraduate degree. I was used to teaching in a team, but due to the small class sizes I was on my own, which was both daunting and great experience! It has been full on and a bit of a shock – being responsible for the whole teaching process takes dedication and time. My boss was nice enough to give me teaching material to build on, but I still had to put in a lot of time to get them into something I was happy to teaching. This didn’t leave a huge amount of work time to do research, but after passing my viva in February I shared my spare work time (and a lot of evenings) between thesis corrections, finishing papers and applying for the next job. The last of these is still undecided, but what I am learning is that whilst I thought I was only trained for a specific job, my Ph.D. had actually led me to develop a huge range of skills, to be dependable, to have a good work ethic and to be passionate about I do. That meant that the range of jobs I am now applying for is in a far broader area than research and lecturing, and with the last job behind me I have the confidence that I can get one of the many jobs I am applying for.
My experience is only one of many. Some of my peers have landed a job before the end of their Ph.D., some got the first one they applied for. Some have become teachers, or expedition leaders, or gone travelling. The end of your Ph.D. is scary, but you are highly trained and have worked hard – that will lead to something. However, here are a few tips I picked up along the way that might be useful:
- During your Ph.D. say yes: My supervisor always told me to take every opportunity that arose, and I did. There were instances that didn’t feel right, but those extra things (teaching, outreach, reviewing papers) all helped me to broaden my skill set, which is so handy for future job applications and for broadening the jobs you can apply for.
- Save up some money/ have a backup: Don’t assume you’ll get a job straight away after your Ph.D. Try and save some money along the way so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you have to take a bit of time off or wait to be employed. I needed some time off because I was exhausted after working hard for four years, and I anticipated this so had kept a bit of money aside each month to enable me to do that.
- Apply for everything: a rule I’ve heard in academia is that you should only apply for jobs where you meet all the criteria. I agree with this, but even if you only have a slightly tenuous example of how you fit one of the criteria, apply! You can only get rejected and as long as you are ready for that by being realistic, you might as well apply. You’ll learn about the application process along the way and build up a bank of covering letters, research statements and answers to criteria, which will make the process increasingly easy.
- Keep talking to academics: your peers, your supervisors, anyone you’ve been in touch with during your Ph.D. If you’re looking for an academic job they will let you know if they hear of anything, but I’ve also found chatting to such people keeps you interested in academia. Ideas for further papers or grant applications also might appear in these chats, which are always good to follow up, and get them to read your job applications too!
- Think about your own research: Job applications will ask about your future research, so you need to be prepared for that, but it is also a great idea to have a go at writing a grant application yourself. It will force you to come up with and refine ideas for your future research, and you can then also add you have grant writing experience in applications.
- Look beyond academia: You may be dead set on being in academia, but realistically it may just not happen. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it just means you are trying to get a job in a very competitive sector and you sometimes just have to be in the right place at the right time. Have a look what else is out there – you might be able to use your skills in another equally interesting role.
- Keep at it! Something will turn up – you are highly qualified with a great range of skills.