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.