Two weeks on: alright for now

It’s two weeks today since I submitted my thesis.  As planned, I’ve kept myself as busy as possible, as I fear that if I stay still for too long, I’ll think too much and the enormity of finishing my PhD, being unemployed, and having to change my routine will hit me and I’ll end up a gibbering wreck.  I have plenty to do for the foreseeable, not least because I haven’t looked at my thesis again yet, and I still need to do some journal articles at some point.

My main activity has been applying for jobs.  So far I’ve applied for nine, been rejected outright for four, been rejected after interview for two, haven’t heard back from two after a month, and have one I’m waiting on.  I ‘failed’ both interviews for the same reason: although I apparently did really well, there happened to be someone else with more relevant experience.  On the one hand, it’s reassuring that I am okay at interviews, which used to be a huge weakness for me, but on the other, it’s frustrating that it’s come down to luck, so there’s nothing I can really work on to make sure do better at future interviews, and what if I’m so unlucky that there’s always someone more relevant?  I am actually being surprisingly philosophical, picking myself up quickly after rejections, telling myself its early days yet, and concentrating on the positive feedback.  Whether I’ll still feel the same was after my 10th interview rejection is something else.

Last week, I filled Friday by heading to London a ‘Life After The PhD’ event at the Institute of Historical Research, held by History Lab.  It was nice to hang out with scholars (who have the best reactions to me finishing my PhD because they really ‘get’ what a big deal it is) and hear that people with PhDs in history do actually get jobs.  However, it confirmed for me that I definitely don’t want to stay in academia, which might not have been what they were hoping for.  Hearing stories about taking three or more years to find a full-time academic job, and taking short-term and teaching posts in the meantime, uprooting oneself and one’s partner/family every year just made me realise even more that that’s not what I want to do.  I have neither the privilege (more on that in a minute) or patience to do that.  I already spent two years of my life in a job I didn’t want, feeling incredibly depressed and like I was wasting time and not using my talents, and I can’t help but look back on those two years as a waste I don’t want to repeat.  Doing a PhD was a way to solve that problem of directionlessness and worthlessness, and now I want to get on with my life, and not end up being 30 before my first ‘real’ job. 

A fellow conference attendee did raise the issue of privilege - being in the position to take short-term and/or part-time jobs, or do some volunteering in a museum - and it chimed with me.  I recognise that I have some privilege: I’ve saved enough money to avoid the Jobcentre, who would NOT be sympathetic to me being picky about jobs (and that’s in a situation where between them, the fields I’m looking in have way more openings than academia), think you should be spending all of your time looking for and applying for jobs (soul-destroying) and not volunteering or using your time productively in any other way, and apparently don’t understand that if you have a PhD, you can probably skip the functional literacy and numeracy tests.  I have a roof over my head, even if it is my parents’ and I don’t have a lot of space or control over my surroundings.  Nonetheless, I can’t afford to wait for a job for two years - my savings are really for a house deposit, and I’m trying to spend as little as I can for that reason.  I don’t have the privilege of being able to remain mentally strong during a long period of joblessness; work is integral to my sense of purpose as a person.

I have been using the privilege of savings and not having to get any old job that pays the bills to do a spot of work experience for Glass of Bubbly, a magazine about Champagne, Prosecco and sparkling wine which is based in my town.  I’ve been mainly working on the social media side, producing my own content as well as rewriting press releases for the news section.  I’ve also done a bit of proofreading and blurb research and writing for the magazine itself, and had a little go at photography.  I was a bit wary when I first went for it - I know nothing about sparkling wines except that some of them taste nice, would it just be watching Twitter notifications all day, would I like writing content about products for clicks when I’m used to writing ground-breaking ideas? - but I’m actually really enjoying it.  I like working with words, and things like picking out the important bits of an indulgent press release and doing a bit of research to beef up a post uses some of the same skills I loved using as a PhD student.  It’s a really informal placement, as the couple who produce the magazine do it from their home, and I just do a day here and there so I can still fit in the gym and job applications and interviews.  Last week, I couldn’t do Thursday because I was filming for an online course for incoming history first-years at the university.  At first I was a bit wary because I don’t like being recorded, but I went for it because I was paid, and only a few people would see it.  I surprised myself by managing to answer pre-prepared questions about history study clearly and quite concisely without access to my cue cards!

I’ve been taking care to look after myself.  Last week I received some #365daysofselfcare sticky notes, providing a perfectly-timed excuse to think about what I can do to make myself feel good.  So far I’ve done face masks, baths, colouring, eating ice cream, and watching DVDs - all fairly low-cost things really.  I want to take a holiday and get some new glasses, but, as I mentioned, I’m wary about spending money when I don’t know how long what I have has to last me.  But considering how I thought I’d feel about completing (based largely on finishing my BA at the height of a recession, having to sign on, having to go for jobs I didn’t want or wasn’t really qualified for, not knowing how to do interviews, and having less confidence and skills than I have now), I’m doing okay.

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About Alice Violett

Reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK