Sunday, September 20, 2015

Post-PhD chat: Sometimes the wrong way is right

Hello, I thought I'd start posting a few 'post-PhD' blogs, under the heading of 'Post-PhD Chat' to cover a few bits and bobs that only really crop up in the aftermath.

And my first musing is about how, as with much of the PhD so many people have ideas about the 'right way' to do things post-PhD. And as with much of the PhD, many people are frankly full of crap. That's not to say there isn't good advice, or people who mean well, but you have to find your own way.

Case in point, recently I was offered some teaching work and for reasons that are neither interesting or in my control it now turns out I can't do it. And you know what? I'm relieved. On being offered what was in honesty some very nice teaching work, my first instinct was 'Yes, yes 110% yes'  This instinct is partly years and years of zero hours contracts that mean you take anything and everything that's offered. And partly the PhD/Academic mentality that you can't say no. Well actually you can.

Now as it happens it didn't work out-nobody's fault just one of those logistical things. BUT I was relieved, and I'd considered turning it down, and it was only PhD/Academic guilt that kept me from doing it outright.

Now I love teaching. As I've addressed elsewhere it's the teaching I love in academia, and I love teaching in any context. But in this particular context it was a challenging seminar to run on top of my full time job and a plethora of what me might call 'extra curricular' activities (I'll get back to that) And frankly there's only so many hours in a day. And I've just finished a PhD, and I'm only just remembering what it's like to not work 12-14 hour days 6 days a week. To be frank I am exhausted still, months on. Because it takes time to recover and shift gears.

There's also the pressure to immediately publish, produce conference papers and generally be a PhD machine once more. Again I've majorly taken my foot off the gas on this one. Currently I have one book chapter in progress for the end of the year, one review to write and I'm idly (very idly) considering how to publish bits of the thesis. And yes, my uncertainty about academic future is a component in this, was I set on an academic job I might be more pro-active in that, but then again who knows. I do know that the one chapter I've written is better than anything I was writing previously, so maybe doing less better is not a bad way to be. I don't know, there's no right way.

What I have been doing is ploughing a whole lot of energy into a whole lot of other projects. And (say this quietly) I feel a lot more fulfilled by these than anything I was doing academically. I gave post-show talks for a play in London, I've started writing for Wales Arts Review and a few other places, and honestly I get more satisfaction from that than churning out meaningless (to me) academic essays. I've recently got involved in another theatre production, I've been invited to give a couple of talks at Universities. And I'm even slowly getting back to my own writing (well staring at things, but it's a start) All in all I'm doing things I have a passion for and that get me excited.

Now many an academic will shake their head sadly and say I've already shot myself in the foot. That I'm doing it all wrong. And I say you know what, I don't care. I'd got to a point where academia and trying to get a foot in that door, of a room I wasn't even sure I wanted to be in, had made me miserable.

And we need to get it out of our heads that there's only one right way. Even if I did decide that academia is the path for me, I've still got a foothold (my actual job for a start is academic related, within my chosen field just not a pure 'academic' job, but that's another set of snobbery from the academic brigade for you) And I am still publishing what I have in process, and I may do more. I'm just not killing myself to do it. And maybe if my heart was set on it I'd feel differently, and maybe it's a sign it's not. But either way what none of us needs is the braying mobs of academia telling us we're doing it wrong and our careers are over before they've begun. So take a step back, take a breath. Pause before leaping in blindly because it's what we're supposed to do post-PhD.

I may not know what I'm doing or where I'm going with it all but I'm making new contacts (maybe even, shock horror new friends too) and I'm developing skills, broadening my work and figuring it out for myself instead of being told which path to take.