Monday, August 17, 2015


In a Twitter discussion (where much of my PhD related ideas and wisdom come from) I referred to 'The Post PhD Comedown' (Capitals needed) which was in fact exactly the phrase I've been searching for lately.

The thing with the PhD is that there's not a really certain end point. It's always a 'Yes but'. Yes you handed it in, but there's the viva, yes you did the Viva, but there's corrections, and waiting endless waiting. Even Graduation given we finish at odd points in the year isn't a natural progression.

Then there's the shift. The shift from the endless energy required to, well nothing. When doing a PhD there's always something that needs doing. Even in those moments after it's handed in, you could be studying for the Viva, or doing corrections, the list is endless. It's also full of adrenaline highs when it goes right, and crashes when it goes wrong. For me, juggling work as well it was an endless battle of time, head-space, and well time again. Always going always something to do.

There's also the endless job search. I started looking over a year before I actually finished. And obviously stepped up the search after everything was completed. Replacing the endless drive to do something PhD related to always doing something job search related. And the job search is both exhausting and with it a wave of adrenaline highs and lows. From the oh-theres-a-job-scramble-to-apply to the energy put into interview prep, and the crash when it's over. Anxiety of waiting, crash when you don't get it.

And when it's all over, what then?

I'm sure, while a lot (all) PhD students express relief when the thing is done (ha! relief doesn't begin to cover it) there's also a feeling of...emptiness. For me it's the same kind of feeling of losing something but not knowing quite what yet, or knowing you've forgotten to do something but again not sure what. To go from years of always having something to do, no matter what, to suddenly that thing being yanked from under you (however gratefully) is a really odd feeling. I don't miss the PhD as a thing, but I miss having the thing to do. I have to find new things to do. And that's good, and healthy but odd and scary.

And if you are lucky to find a job, but that job isn't an academic job (like me) there's a sense of losing purpose. I imagine, for those who go straight into an academic post, many things continue as they were. There's still research to be done and it still forms your 'day job' (even if the actual research is done at silly O'clock at night) it's part of your professional day to day as it has been across teh PhD. For those of us who don't take that path, that's suddenly no longer there. And even if in a way it's a blessed relief, it's still odd.

Since I officially, officially ended the PhD madness and started a new, full time 'proper' job (both around the same time as it happened) I have been relentless in my pursuit of 'the next thing'. In my personal case it is the dawning realization that both the job I am doing and academia are not for me long term, and also being on a fixed term contract (again) the ever reaching anxiety of what the next move will be.

And it paid off, to a degree. I started writing for a well respects online Arts website and have gotten excellent feedback, I wrote a blog that got over 2000 hits, I've written more words in the last 6 weeks than I have in academic work outside my PhD in over a year. And I put my PhD to some actual creative/real world use by doing two post-show talks in London and becoming a trustee of  a theatre company. Not too shabby for 6 weeks work outside work. But it doesn't feel like enough.

On one hand it's the sheer lack of anything constantly pressing to be done. The going to a place of work, doing the work and the coming home. Which on one hand after years of juggling and endless work is wonderful but on the other feels incredibly empty. A question of is this it then?

Because I'm used to going at 100 mph at everything, struggling to fit things in and always pushing for the next bit, the next stage to be over. Because I'm used to juggling the PhD with work, and conferences and trying to get published, none of this feels enough. But because always in a PhD and in academia there's always something else to be striving for, something else to be pushing for. And you're always not quite good enough.

That last one is quite important. I think the combination of a drama school Masters and  a PhD have instilled that one core belief into me more than anything: you are never good enough. There is always someone working harder.

It's also because in taking a step back, and trying to step away from academia I'm wondering what I'm doing. Because I've already 'stopped' to a degree and taken a job that isn't academic (though still within the walls of academia) it all feels a bit 'so what was all that for then?' and a bit more like 'Well that was a waste of time then'

The end of the PhD for me feels like a massive deflation. It feels like a 'What was that all for?' and 'Where do I go from here' it feels like I'm constantly not doing enough and it feels like it was all for nothing, because post-PhD life feels like it has just...stopped.

I want to move away from the PhD, I want to frankly run pretty damn far away from academia. But I've been conditioned to work and think in a certain way. I'm re-training my brain, re-directing my energies and putting everything I have into finding my new path. But it's a frustratingly slow one as ever, and its disappointing having spent years carving out one path with a PhD to now need to form a new one.

But this is not a negative post. It's a reflective one certainly. I'm feeling many things about the end of the PhD. And I've certainly been pretty down about the whole thing, and my new (temporary) job. None if it is the final destination* I know, and perhaps before the next 'big thing' happens, we all need a bit of a break to pick up the pieces ready to move on. And change takes time. But for me the post-PhD moment, when the dust settles is a frustrating one for now.

As ever, a suitable Musical Theatre metaphor, it's all a bit 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall'

*not like the film, it's not that grim a blog.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Move on...or walking away from Academia.

I do love a Sondheim reference. And the lyrics are particularly apt today,

'The choice may have been mistaken, the choosing was not. You have to move on.'

This was not the PhD blog I intended to write this week (when is it ever I hear you cry) I was going to write an account of the fantastic experience I had lending my expertise (ahem) and getting involved a wonderful play related to my PhD. As is, (you'll get that if you read it, promise) that's going to be over on the theatre blog here:

What I am writing is related, bear with me while I get there...

Today I did a thing you should never do, I wrote a hasty, angry reply to a Facebook comment. I know, I know, I should know better. But sometimes the right thing is the wrong thing for multiple reasons. So I wrote an angry comment, then went to the gym angry (something I heartily recommend, though my legs may not tomorrow) And when I walked out of the gym I felt as if a weight had been lifted in more ways than one.

My angry comment had been to call an academic on their bullshit, something that had been bubbling for quite some time. This person may have (unfortunately) been an epicentere who pushed one button too many, but it's part of a larger personal and professional conflict I've felt for a long time.

Shore version; something was said that really did offend me and cut to the heart of the issues that have been bothering me in academia, and that make me finally finally say, it's ok to move on.

I am done. I am done with the High School level bitching. The 'freezing out' because you aren't into the right sort of thing, the thing the 'cool kids' are into. I'm done with the childish tweets and Facebook updates deliberately targeting the things they know people like, or passive aggressive comments on areas of research. I'm sick of 'friends' who exist only to endless bitch about other 'friends' and who stop talking when you refuse to engage. I'm done with being told I'm not good enough, or judged for giving up. Judged for a lack of monetary wealth and therefore privileged. I'm done with being judged for the job I've taken (had to take) I am done with having to have an "academic opinion" on everything. I'm done with proving my academic status as well as my nerd status. People who would shout about girls being accused of 'fake geek girl' doing the exact same thing. Personally I am done, I like my drama on the stage and I am walking away.

My personal reasons aside what I am so very, very tired of is the cult-like mentality of academia and the entitled nature of it. Firstly the cult-like mentality that a PhD, to full time academic position is the only desirable goal. And secondly within this that teaching is somehow a secondary activity.

I'll let you all into a secret as much as I am passionate about my PhD as something I wanted and needed to write. And of the associated good it might do, mainly outside academia (more on that later) what excited me? what got me up in the morning? was teaching. At Graduation, my students cheered for me so loudly and that, right there was the moment it was all worth it.

When teaching works it's like flying, it's also one of the most important things any of us can do formally or informally. What is more important than passing on information? To quote Alan Bennett:
 "Pass the parcel. That's sometimes all you can do. Take it feel it, and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on boys"

And I passionately, wholly believe in that. However you do it in life, we can all pass the parcel. But if you are an academic you have a damn responsibility to do it. And you may say you are by writing, researching, but let's be blunt, who reads that if you don't teach it? Five people in your field? Who will probably be only doing so to say you're wrong or steal it

You have a moral obligation to teach what you research, to pass on the information that got you to the point where you were able to research, otherwise who is going to carry it on after you? it's a selfish narrow minded approach. And one that I see all too often.

I'm not talking about the 'Christ almighty my workload is so heavy I wish I didn't teach so much so I could research' issue. 100% you should and there is massive workload problem for academics in teaching positions. What I'm talking about is those who think that teaching is beneath them, that it is time 'wasted' or even worse their 'talent' wasted. And that makes me angry.

And heaven forbid anybody be a school teacher, or an educator outside of formal education. I assume for some those people rank just above service industry and admin folks (who work a damn cite harder than some academics I know and deserve more credit and pay than many the academic too)

Much of this harks back to the kind of entitled nature I talked about in this post:

Most of us from less privileged backgrounds don't think that there is one career and one alone that the world owes us, or one way to go about it. Again, don't misunderstand me, I admire passion, I admire 'I'm going to do some of this one way or another' What I don't admire is the insinuation that the world, and a very specific occupation owes you a living. What you do is find another way, another path, to do what you want. Even if that means not doing the thing you want to straight away.

And that way might well be outside of the hallowed academy. And for some of us, that might be the right path. The path where we will do more work, do better work. And some academics need to wake up and drop the attitude problem that somehow seeking work outside of academia is somehow a failure. Not all people with an engineering degree become engineers, not all Chemists work in a lab, people take their skills and use them elsewhere. And PhD's can do the same-and still be following their passion.

As I noted at the top I was lucky enough to be involved in a pretty fantastic play recently, delivering some talks. As a result I met some people from both theatre and HIV/AIDS charities (where my research is situated for those who don't know) who both valued my knowledge and could see a place in their industries for me. That won't happen tomorrow, it may not happen in ways I expect or even want at first, but it may happen, and if I do end up with a role there I will count myself as successful, not a failure for leaving the academy.

Because just talking about it, thinking about it, thinking about returning to the career in theatre I was chasing, or about working with charities I feel passionate about gets me excited, it motivates me, and it makes me think the PhD was worthwhile, because I'd be doing something with it. If I worked putting on plays that meant something, that were about the work, about theatre and creativity, to me it would mean something while drawing on my PhD. If I worked in education and theatre, or outreach in charities, I'd be drawing on those skills, I'd be doing something important and using what I'd learned. I'd be using my PhD (and skills) in the 'real world' I would in fact be 'passing the parcel' And I couldn't ask for any more than that.

And that's just me. For me it's education and creative work that gets me fired up, so that's where I'd locate my work. But it doesn't matter, it shouldn't matter to anybody but you.

And that's where I say a resounding fuck you to the academics with attitude. You are not better than me, or anybody else because you have a PhD. I admire any of us who managed to get to the end of a PhD. But we are not better. I could name you five people I met just this weekend taking my research 'out into the world' who are far 'better' far more 'important' in the work they do that is related to mine, I couldn't compete. I look around at my friends from teaching days and I bow down in admiration, my friends in disability support (I miss you all dearly by the way) you do important work, so important. Are any of these people passing judgement? no there're just getting on with their job.

Having a PhD doesn't mean the world owes you an academic career, and you are not superior to those who choose a career elsewhere. Having a PhD or what you do with it also shouldn't define you as a person. I'm probably losing a lot of "friends" today. And you know what that's ok. Those who look beyond what letters are before and after your name, those who look beyond where you earn a living and look at what you do with your life, those are the people making the most of what they do.

And so I'm walking away. In a manner of speaking. I continue to do my day job which yes happens to be in a University, which I've been heavily judged for taking as well as it isn't an academic post. And I will continue to cultivate work outside of that, through writing, through networking, volunteering and doing whatever I can.

Because this is not a world I want a part of. It has ground me down for too, too long. And while this may have been an incident of 'Mean Girls' the truth is I am miserable. This is not the life I want for myself. And there is so much more I want to do with my life. It's taken a long time, but it's a difficult leap to take having been indoctrinated for so long. But moving on finally feels right, I'm sad it's taken something like this to cement it in my mind, but it finally feels right.

As Sondheim says

'Anything you do let it come from you, then it will be true'

P.S Please, have some Jenna and Daniel singing the title song, it is rather perfect....