This thesis is getting finished in the next few months. There’s little doubt about that. It’ll be cool to not have to work on it any more, and to be a doctor. But honestly, I’m terrified about what’s going to happen after that.
I stand by what I said in my Guardian article the other week - I love being a PhD student. I love the freedom, and the research, and the opportunities. But I can’t see how an academic career will work for me. I keep seeing postdocs, thinking they look fabulously enjoyable, and desperately wishing I could apply for them as I’m full of new research ideas - but they will prevent me from leaving home for at least another two years. I want to buy a house, and for that I need a salary, not a grant. I’m pretty sure I want to leave home more than I want to stay in academia, at least for now. It’s not so much that I feel like all my peers are getting their own homes and it’s seen as a bit sad to still be at home in your late twenties - though that is part of it - but while my parents are lovely and their home is pleasant, I’m at a stage where I need more space and more control over my surroundings. That and after nearly ten years with my boyfriend, it’s about time we moved in together, and renting isn’t an option when none of the letting agents in Colchester seem to know how a phone works. And then there’s the worry. If I enter short contract after short contract, I’m going to go through months of anxiety every time one comes to an end, and it feels bad enough that I’m having to deal with that now. Moving from place to place all the time won’t be exactly great for me mentally, either.
But at least, being based in and familiar with Essex, I live/can live near enough to London to commute, and that is where many of the ‘alternative’ jobs I would like to do seem to be. One option I love the idea of is working in academic publishing, on the editorial side. I love the writing aspect of my PhD, and I like improving other people’s (rather than my own!) work, so that’s a part of my brain that I’d gladly engage in a job. I think the way in would be through an internship, which I’m in more of a position to do than when I left university last time. It’s just finding such opportunities, though. Everyone talks about ‘career planning’, but other than vaguely knowing what you want to do, I don’t know how you can really plan a career. If there’s one thing graduating in a recession taught me, it’s that the opportunities aren’t always there, and that there can be fierce competition that stops you getting what you want. And then there are things like illness which also mean you can’t totally plan your life.
Another option I’d like is continuing to work with students, on a one-to-one basis. My favourite parts of teaching are marking and helping students improve their work indidivually, so I’d love to work in student support or somesuch. I also love the university environment in general. Again, it’s a case of whether the opportunities become available in places I can commute to at the right time. Timing is a major thing - I try not to look at job websites at the moment, because if I see something amazing I’d like to apply for (not necessarily in publishing or student support, just generally cool cerebral jobs in various industries), I feel really depressed because I’m not free to get a job yet, and there might not be any cool jobs when I am looking. On the other hand, if I can’t find any jobs I like the look of, I get depressed because I think there won’t be anything out there for me down the line!
My biggest fear isn’t unemployment. I have savings (privilege alert!), and unlike when I graduated the first time, I have ways to fill my time - I could write some articles, work on a book, or start a new research project with what resources I have available. No, it’s ending up back in retail, or some other routine, soul-destroying job. I worked in retail during sixth form and my BA, and after my BA, and I can’t go through that feeling of boredom, hopelessness, and being trapped again. It’ll probably be even worse now I’ve experienced happiness in my employment. It’s close, but I’d feel less awful if I was unemployed, to be honest. Maybe if I hadn’t lost two years of my life to retail, and done my MA and PhD two years earlier instead, I could stand to stay at home a bit longer to do a postdoc - but then, I wouldn’t have had the time to really think about whether I wanted to go into postgraduate study, and what I was actually going to research. If I hadn’t been an MA in October 2012, I would never have gone to the colloquium that inspired my PhD research. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
Sorry if this post is a bit depressing! I’m just worried, and scared…