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PhDone - So why do I feel like this?

PhDone - So why do I feel like this?
Jun 12, 2019 632 views

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Today marks one whole week since I handed in my PhD thesis! Happy anniversary to me. It’s a huge milestone for any PhD student and something to be celebrated, to be proud of your accomplishment, and embrace being done with writing. But it didn’t take me long to start feeling really weird…

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I have been a student my whole life, but this week is the first week in forever where I have no job, no student status, no new school year starting, nothing to aim to achieve. Now I’m in the unknown realms of the real world and I am a feeling all the emotions. At a time where I should be celebrating this PhD milestone, I am already beginning to feel completely overwhelmed by panic and anxiety, despite also feeling relieved that the thesis submission is done, and being absolutely exhausted and so on. I have worked damn hard since… well… forever, so I want to enjoy this time off to recover from everything a PhD puts you through, but my anxiety won’t let me forget about where my next pay packet is coming from, and having something to work to and achieve. Obviously, I still have to get my job and still be awarded that PhD but I’m fighting with myself as I want to do some things for a short while rather than all the things I have to do. Just for a little bit. But I can’t enjoy them because I am feeling guilty, that I should be applying for even more jobs. I’m stuck in the middle of a horrible and vicious circle.

So the weekend after the hand-in was great, but by Monday morning, I was already slipping into the post-thesis hand-in slump. Something that I’ve found is actually quite common among PhD students. My wonderful friend Heidi previously blogged about her post-PhD hand-in slump too. But my version of events happened a little bit more rapidly than Heidi’s. It was a matter of days before I had no idea what to do with myself and I was torn between two contradicting goals. Do I enjoy the time off while I can? Or do I put all my energy into finding that job? Obviously, I need to embrace both, so I need to find a way to manage all of these feelings. I’m in a complete state of limbo, where I want to move onto the next chapter of my life but I can’t completely let go of everything. Especially as my PhD journey is not completely over yet and I need to wait for my viva to be one step closer to becoming Dr. Soph.

So, what happens next?

Well, I obviously need to find a job, or at least a way to have some money coming in. But I also want to balance that with taking some me time. So, I need to do this in an organized way. I hate feeling this mixture of emotions, so I need to find a way to manage it all and overcome it all slowly. I need to split my time between these things I have to do and the things I want to do. It looks like I need to make a short-term goals board, also inspired by my wonderful friend Heidi’s post-PhD goals blog post. Here it goes:

  • Find a temporary source of income – My main source of anxiety after thesis submission is not having any money coming in, and having been independent and as self-sufficient as possible for as long as I can remember; not being able to pay my way is something I don’t want to do. So, for now, I don’t really mind what that source is and I’m looking at a few different avenues – so stay tuned – I just need to be able to contribute.
  • Find a permanent job – Obviously the big one! I have been doing some job applications, writing tests and interviews while writing up my thesis, and have a few more to contend with still, so the ball is rolling. But I also don’t just want to take the first thing I might be offered and bite their hand off for it just because it might be a permanent job. That’s not something I am very good at doing but hopefully, if I can find something to keep me ticking for now, that might give me the confidence to find the right place for me.
  • Read a book – I honestly can’t remember the last time I sat down and read a book. Just me, the book, and my imagination. I am definitely not the quickest reader in the world and I really like to immerse myself in words. And now, I’ve got so many books from New Scientist Live and many more on my wish list that I want to get stuck in, so I can share reviews of them with you guys too.
  • Get back to the gym – Exercise has always given me a huge boost mentally, physically, and emotionally throughout my life.  So I want to get that feeling back as I have neglected it and my health for convenience, to get through those last few months of my PhD.
  • Complete Blogtober – As I am no longer a student nor have a permanent job, I am basically a full-time blogger. I love getting creative on my blog and Instagram, so I am diving head first into this new role and trying out the Blogtober challenge – hopefully you’ve noticed, haha! – where I post a new blog every day throughout October, as well as a few other plans in the pipeline, like…
  • Reach out to companies and individuals for blog content – I was introduced to so many amazing companies, brands, and individuals at New Scientist Live, and with some help and advice from my wonderful science journalist friend Charlie, I’m trying to get some collaborations with them to promote their messages and values as well as my own, all in the name of science education and STEM inspiration.
  • Get stuck with wedding planning – Now that I’m done with the PhD – well at least most of it – I can now actually sink some time into wedding planning and get excited about becoming a bride. Nothing major just yet – just a florist, a band, and those Save the Dates first of all.
  • Plan some time away – All I have wanted to do since March, when we had to cancel our trip to Portugal, is book another trip away. I think taking a break where I can completely switch off from everything is exactly what I need to hit that refresh button and come back ready to tackle everything. So, I am heading home next weekend for some celebrations with all my cricket girls, as we celebrate some birthdays and more. One of my beautiful school friends has just had a gorgeous little baby girl too, so hopefully, I can pop in and say hello as well. But I’m also hoping to be able to book a trip to Dublin for my birthday in December. Fingers crossed for securing that income to allow me to book it soon.

So, in typical Soph style, this is my rambling way of saying that after you hand in your PhD thesis, it is completely normal to feel weird. Each of us just need to find our own way to deal with it and move on, or not, as the case may be. You’ve spent years focused on one specific question and ended up literally writing a book on it. It would be strange if you woke up the next day and didn’t feel a little bit odd. So, now it’s onto new goals for me!


Dr. Soph Arthur (@sophtalkssci) is a scientist turned science communicator. This story was published on October 5, 2018, on Dr. Arthur’s blog, Soph Talks Science (available here) and has been republished here with her permission.

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