“What will I do after the PhD?” is a major (and sometimes terrifying) question for many PhD students, especially those who don’t *really* know what they would actually *like* to do. If you recognise yourself in this description, this post is for you. Not that it will bring any answer, but hopefully you will find the idea that you are not alone somewhat comforting.
There is a plethora of jobs that you can do after a PhD, and a PhD is not a sentence for an academic career (unlike some education systems would tell you — yes France I’m looking at you!). If you do want an academic career though, or at least for a few years, again there are several options. The Holy Grail of the lectureship (a permanent contract in academia!) is indeed possible right after the PhD, though unfortunately for me (and for you) I am absolutely not the right person to tell you how to get one of those. Another option is to win a fellowship, that will allow you to conduct your own research (unlike the post-doc), and without heavy teaching requirements (unlike the lectureship), though those only last a few years (unlike the lectureship). Unfortunately, again, I am still far from getting one of those. Finally, a more common academic route after the PhD is the post-doc: a contract lasting a few years, working on a PI’s research ideas. Once again, unfortunately for me, these are also extremely competitive (especially during worldwide pandemics).
As a result, in reality, even if you are interested in staying in academia for a little while longer, it is very likely that the first year (or so) after the PhD won’t include any of these 3 jobs. And that’s completely okay!
For me and many others, the reality of the first few months after the PhD has been the joy of cumulated and overlapping short-term part-time contracts: tutor, research assistant, research admin… You name it! A friend who has now found a dream job has been spending the last 12 months overlapping 3 6-months-long part-time contracts as a research assistant. Personally, 6 months after the thesis submission, last week I was actually working on 4 different jobs or missions.
There is undeniably a number of tricky aspects to this (rather stressful and often overwhelming) situation. After 3 to 4 years of PhD, finding yourself living from one short-term part-time jobs to the next is less than ideal. This situation also sort of forces you to take on as many opportunities as you can while they come, because the thought that “in a few months you may have no job at all” is never far from you. Accepting all these opportunities is also essential for you to put your name and skills out there, which should help with the actual job search.
However, I am finding some benefits to my situation. Having part-time contracts also means being able to do small projects I would not have done otherwise, like giving talks here and there, or doing some student research project supervision. Doing short-term projects is also very useful to check if something would interest you or not, it’s a low-stake trial period! Taking on many overlapping jobs also means that I am learning so much all the time, and I’m developing so many new skills very quickly. And finally, probably the best on a day-to-day basis thanks to the current “working flexibly from home” situation: if I ever get bored doing one of the jobs, I can just take a break and work on the other job the next day.
Sure, it’s not an ideal situation, and I still think academia should have a stern word with itself regarding the situation of its early career researchers. I do hope this phase won’t last too long. Still, the world is in quite a state right now, and I am so grateful I get to 1) work (unfortunately these days not enough people can say the same) 2) on so many exciting projects. If you are finding yourself worrying about the next chapter after the PhD, I can’t tell you it will be easy, because some bits definitely won’t. What I can tell you is that most of the bits are (at least from where I stand), extremely exciting, and you’ll know how to make the best of it!
(Well then there is also the option of saying bye bye to academia… Which might be worth considering)
A forever slightly confused Bérengère