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Freedom isn't always free

Freedom isn't always free

There’s a Radiolab episode concerned with the physics of falling cats. If a cat falls out of a high-rise apartment, it reconfigures itself mid-flight into a “flying squirrel/parachute” pose to, allowing it to land on its feet with minimal injuries. Cats have been known to survive falling from 30-storey buildings; however, a fall between 5-9 storeys can kill them, because they’re in the process of acceleration and reconfiguration during that time window.

This is a metaphor. I’ll be leaving university with a PhD by December, and right now I feel like a falling cat. I’m hurtling towards the defense date trying to reconfigure myself in mid-air, hoping I can manage before impact.

I’ve had interviews. I’ve had rejections. I’ve had interviews followed by rejections. On the horizon, it looks like more of the same. Keeping my own spirits up is hard. I have to balance relentless optimism (don’t worry about the rejections – just keep trying!) with reflection (well, something is going wrong here and you need to fix it). I have to acknowledge my flaws without succumbing to despair about them. I have to be flexible in the kinds of opportunities I apply for… but not set myself up for years of misery because I walked into something I knew would be a bad fit.

What I really have in spades is freedom. Honestly, I’m back to early-2013 levels of freedom when I was a “coffeeshop hobo” who lived in an apartment where mushrooms grew in the shower. Back when I had the freedom to waste hours in a coffeeshop writing freelance articles (8am weekdays, whenever), but didn’t necessarily have the freedom to eat more than £2 worth of bread rolls for lunch. Freedom can be a brutal thing.

My finances will be better for the rest of this semester, but oversight and regulation have vanished from my professional life. I’ve basically finished my research (Goodbye weekends in lab! I can get home every day in time to hear Marketplace!); there isn’t an equivalent time-sink to replace it. Nor is there a crazy rush to finish my thesis writing. I have time and income.

I don’t know if it’s too late to add anything meaningful to my CV that could help me change my career trajectory. I have a whole semester of university, and that’s the best place you can go to get random snippets of “experience” in new things. I have ideas, and will force myself to act upon them in the next week or two.

The worst-case scenario would be that I’m forced to return to Scotland, unemployed. Visions of the future see me stuck in minimum wage non-science jobs for decades to come, stuck in the small towns I thought I’d grown out of. I feel like I have to accept that as an option, and think about ways I could mitigate that. I’m not just thinking about firing-off job applications right now… but how I can prepare myself for returning to the UK with nothing.

Time keeps moving. I keep twisting in the air.


Dr. Claire Jarvis (@StAndrewsLynx) is a Science and Medical Writer at Covance. This story was published on September 3, 2017, on Dr. Jarvis’ blog, St Andrews Lynx’s Blog (available here), and has been republished her with her permission.

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Your Research. Your Life. Your Story.

A magnetic community of researchers bound by their stories