I handed in my PhD a year ago.
I used to keep a blog – ‘Let’s Try This PhD Thing’ – the title of which says a lot about my identity. Or at least how I used to think about my identity. I stopped writing a while ago.
Excuse my privilege for just a sec, but I struggled throughout my studies. It was hard to deal with the judgements of the research crowd who saw my ideals of working outside the academic sect...I mean sector…as, at best: alien and at worst: a literal waste of time.
Shortly before handing in my PhD, I was offered a casual job as a science content writer for an educational institution. I was insanely grateful. Middle finger up to the haters, I could do this.
Parts of the job were super fun – I got to talk to academics about their research and their motivation. But itgot repetitive (I had no other roles other than to churn out marketing copy) and the organisational structure was…questionable.
A few months after handing in my PhD, I was recruited as editor for the science platform of a major television network. But I was paid as a freelancer (see: paid when someone felt like pulling their thumb out of their own arse hole) and working from home meant none of my relationships developed. I didn’t have a team, I didn’t get feedback, I didn’t have a defined role and most weeks I didn’t even get a pay cheque.
I also volunteered as a coordinator of a national science communications project. I had no idea of the scale of the project I was taking on until it was too late, and I was drowning in unpaid man hours and sleepless nights.
Finding meaningful work is hard.
Then, just when I was nearly done bitching and moaning about these roles, both the paid ones were pulled out from under me. My department at the educational institution disappeared as part of a restructure, and the TV network’s (one and only) science platform got decommissioned.
I’d been applying for alternative work in Australia for just under a year at this point and got more or less nowhere: no interviews, no feedback aside from ‘close but not close enough’. Strangely, I’d applied for two roles in the UK and got interviews for both - just before my partner and I made the final decision to stay put.
After struggling with my ‘non-academic-PhD’ identity for the duration of my doctorate, only to be faced with mediocre opportunities once I FINALLY dragged myself over the finish line of that nightmare - to have those opportunities collapse on me felt like a nail in the coffin.
What an absolute tit I was to think I was worth anything to anyone.
It was as though the universe was finally agreeing with what I had been trying to tell it the whole way through my PhD: I am a waste of space. I have never been so ashamed of myself.
It felt like anyone I had ever met professionally or personally knew that I was unemployable.
The turning point came when I realised: no one was even looking at me. No one was keeping tabs on how much money I’d been making, or whether or not I had been ‘using my skills’ or developing new ones. This audience – this constant head-shaking audience – was completely in my head.
If it was going to take me a few months to find my way then my world wouldn’t collapse on itself.
Once I got this far in my mindset, it didn’t feel like a big step to start reaching out to friends and contacts. I had been convinced that ‘real’ jobs came through seek.com or advertised roles – so I had been unintentionally shunning the concept of networking.
I began calling around, researching interesting companies, asking friends about their experiences with different employers. Before long I picked up some casual editing work – it wasn’t full time and I didn’t apply through seek.com but it paid money, it gave my days structure and I had some sense of purpose.
From those tiny mole hills of confidence, I had something to build on.
Once I started reaching out to friends, I got introduced to heaps of interesting people – I started going out more and pushing myself to attend all sorts of weird and wonderful events.
Things are really picking up for me now – I feel more confident and capable and I’ve had more offers for work. But I really don’t want this to read like an advice column…after all – what’s the moral of this story?
Everything will be OK as long as you have enough money put by to pay rent while you get your shit together?
Everything will be OK as long as you’re an extrovert?
Everything will be OK as long as you have a degree or two?
While I really want to write that this post isn’t complete or perfect, I also don’t want to apologise for the first creative thing I have put together in a while.