6 months post PhD hand-in

Doing a PhD is often said to be one of the toughest things you can do. I don’t think it’s that tough compared to some really tough jobs like teaching at an inner city public school, but it is lonely. It’s a mental battle all the way through, and some people don’t make it through in one piece.

For a hot minute, I thought I was through with it. I guess I can’t fully recover from the whole PhD until I’m done with everything. Later this year, when I’m truly done, then I’ll find relief. Although that feels like a long time from now, I’m glad for this space away from it so that I can reconfigure my life and actually start moving on.

125th Street subway station

Oh what a ride it has been

Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to think about this or look at it ever again. Now that I feel more in control of things, I don’t feel that as strongly.

I missed that feeling like you’ve done enough. That you’ve done all you can and now you are ok. You can relax. And breath.

Being a PhD student is almost by definition being in a constant state of anxiety. You’ll feel anxious about your work, about your health, about if you are doing what you should be doing, about whether or not you can get this darn thing published.

I think most PhD students would benefit from learning how to not give a f*ck, or at least giving one in the right situations.

Onwards and upwards!

If you asked me six months ago what I’d be doing in six months, I would have probably said job searching in New York. That is completely true at this point, but past me could not have guessed at the types of jobs I’m applying for as present me.

It’s fun to look around and see what types of jobs are out there. It’s a great feeling when I come across a job description that gets me excited. I start thinking about what kinds of tasks I’d be doing for this company, and what working for them might look like on a day to day basis.

One thing you should know is that I’ve stopped looking at jobs in academia and research. Doing a PhD was generally good for me and I don’t regret it, but I’m not in a good position to be applying for research jobs, nor am I sure that it is what I most want to do. Actually, I’m quite sure that it’s not what I want to do anymore.

I don’t have any publications yet, though one is submitted and a few others in the works. Add to that my reluctance to move absolutely anywhere there is a job, and my chances for success in academia are looking slim.

I know that after living abroad for several years that work and company culture would be important to me. Work culture in academia and research is famous for being competitive, rife with politics, and unfriendly (especially to women). That might be an oversimplification and probably common problems in many industries, but it captures the basics of how I feel about it.

Instead, I’ve been focusing on my interest in science communication and writing.

The last time I was looking for a job, it took about 9 months and it was during a recession. I’m hoping for it to take less than that this time!

The post-PhD life

One thing I have been doing again is reading. I’m reading more blogs, more websites, and more books than during the PhD. Although I still feel reluctant to read the news, more general reading has been good for me.

I read two sports/athletics related books, a genre that I’ve never touched before. I read a book about joy, a book about happiness, and I’m currently reading a book about princesses who behaved badly.

I’ve also been writing a lot more. In the last few months of working on the thesis, I was writing for this blog on the side as a kind of break from all the formal writing. It was a nice way to use different parts of my brain and get to be creative.

Blogging has also made me realize that I do want to work on my photography. I had an interest when I was younger, but I never got fully into it and was partly discouraged by my parents. Buying a secondhand GoPro was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. Now I’m saving up to get a mirrorless camera so that I can take even better photos.

In the last few months, I also got to do some summery or completely random things, like go to a beer hall and help set up an art/architecture installation at the MoMA PS1 in Queens.

Lumen by Jenny Sabin Studio at MoMA PS1

My friend is a student of Jenny Sabin. This exhibit opened officially on June 29th. I went in early June for a day to help with installation. Mostly what I did was sew up or apply nail polish on the holes in the knitted canopy.

Lumen by Jenny Sabin Studio at MoMA PS1 - Setting up

My legs were pretty tired by the end of the day from all the squatting, crouching, and bending over for long periods of time. But I’m happy and proud to say that I helped with this project!

Leaving my childhood home

Living at home after the PhD was never the long term plan for me, and this month I took the leap to move in with some old friends. I’m traveling quite a bit this month, so won’t have much time to settle in. It still feels good to be out on my own again, even if it is walking distance from my parents’ place.

Moving out forced me to go through all of my stuff and throw things out or donate them. I don’t make a great minimalist, but I’m trying.

I was surprised at how easy it was to let go of some really old things, like high school writing assignments and our senior class T-shirt. Along with those, I also tossed books from my childhood that I never felt attached to. It felt good to get all my things down to a reasonable amount, and create some more space in the apartment.

There are 2 hoarders in my family: my mom and my older sister. My mom compulsively buys work clothes and can’t resist a good sale. Even though my older sister doesn’t live with us anymore, there are remnants of her high school, college, and working days in the apartment.

I know I don’t have a hoarding problem, but living amongst the stuff of a hoarder makes me feel like I do. That’s one of the plus sides of moving out that I know I will continue to appreciate.

Mental clarity

Along with clearing the physical stuff, I’ve been clearing out the mental stuff too.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to spend my time doing, who I want to spend my time with, and what are my long term goals.

I know that travel will always be on the table for me, but I also know now that I want to have a home base in New York. Maybe I’ll live a semi-settled kind of life where I go off for a month and then come back.

Ultimate is a big part of my life, but I am trying not to let it feel like such a big deal. For example, the tryout process for club teams was stressful for me for all of April and part of May. I should not have let other people’s decisions about whether they wanted me on their teams affect how I felt about my own life and my future.

It’s the same with the PhD.

If I’m not the best PhD student, that doesn’t mean I’m not smart or a good worker. It might just be that it isn’t for me. It’s tough, and it’s lonely, and lots of people also realize that it isn’t for them.

It’s not shameful to leave. It doesn’t have to mean that you couldn’t “hack it” (what a terrible term!).

Maybe I could have left and quit the PhD. Maybe I should have. I can’t know what the right course was, but I’m where I am now already anyway.

Bohemian Beer Hall in Astoria, Queens, NYC

Current state of health

I’m feeling pretty good, health-wise. I’m still trying to stick to a no wheat, garlic or onion food plan. It’s much easier when I cook for myself and avoid eating out. In fact, I think I’ve eaten out about a handful of times in the last 4 months that I’ve been home in New York City. I know that is strange because there is so much good food here, but it’s also been money saving!

When I was living at home, I couldn’t eat a mostly vegetarian diet as I preferred because my parents pressure me to eat more non-veg (fish, chicken). Now that I’m cooking for myself, I can go back to only eating fish or chicken once or twice a week, if at all. I’ll also stop feeling like a burden on them because I can’t have garlic or onions in my food.

A date with defense

My thesis defense date has been set, and it’s in mid-October! I was aiming for August or September, but now that it’s set for October I’m feeling ok with it.

The air of anxiety that was collecting over my head has lifted now that I know the date and feel confident that I have enough time to prepare.

I still feel that this will be a good summer, but I can’t believe how fast this year is going by!

Doing your PhD? Pin this for later!

6 months post PhD hand in-min

  • Hey Chewy,

    Your thoughts really resonated with me, I felt similarly when I finished mine. All I wanted was to step away from it and do something completely different. The “different” ended up being a research assistant/coordinator for an education & technology centre at the same university I did my PhD at (a bit of a far cry from linguistics but the research skills came in handy 😉 ) but all I had to do was “work” and not carry all that massive responsibility for your own research as well. And it wasn’t so lonely and I got to work with some truly inspirational people. I’ve since stepped out of academia completely, it took a few years and it took guts to say ‘this isn’t for me’ but I’m ultimately a lot happier. 🙂

    Things will fall into place. Sometimes it just takes a bit of time for us to realise where this road called life is going. 🙂 And doing a PhD has taught me so much (about working hard, about what it’s like to be lonely, about persisting, …) that it’s definitely not been a waste of time!

    All the best for prepping for your defence!!

    • Hey Kati,

      Thanks as always for reading and sharing your thoughts and experiences!

      I’m glad that you are now a lot happier. I can’t imagine myself being happy in academia, but I also can’t help but think that maybe I should be trying to stay at least to see. I have some friends who are in post-docs or will be starting one soon, and although I know that that’s not necessarily what I want, a small part of me wonders and feels a tiny pang of what might be jealousy.

      But that might just be me wanting to feel security in my future. I agree that it definitely hasn’t been a waste of time, although it might seem that way to others! The loneliness is something I hope to never have to fully experience ever again. I also don’t know if I’ve learned well enough to work hard and persist, or if I’ve just learned to muddle through hahaha

      Thanks and hope you are doing well!! Sorry for the delayed response. I was traveling and have finally settled back into my routine!!