#43: Life after the PhD: It’s waiting for you!

Have you forgotten that there will be an end to the PhD? Have you ever thought about how you will feel after your graduation? Awesome! Your life will be all the better, so why not trying to end the hardship and complete your PhD? Let us help you to get there quicker and more easily. 

We know that PhD students often – in the midst of hard work – forget to see the end! You have so many struggles, so much on your plate, that you don’t realise anymore that one day this will all be over! There is a day in the future when you will be a PhD holder and your life will be significantly different! Yes, you’ll have your PhD degree and all the hardship will be an experience of the past! 

Realising this and reminding yourself of the bigger picture can have a great effect: It can make you realise that life after the PhD is something fabulous and worthwhile striving for. Keeping this in mind is motivating and can help you to endure the momentary struggles! But it can also make you want to get there sooner! So why not pushing on with your PhD a bit faster, or at least trying to finish on your planned completion date instead of going for an extension. 

In this post, we want to assist you in reaching your goal more easily. To do so, we

  • remind you why it is so important to have the end in mind
  • give you nice inspirations for your life after the PhD
  • let you develop a vision for yourself so you get a taster of how life-after will feel, and
  • give you hints, what you can do to get to the end quicker and more easily! 

1. Regain a sense of purpose

At the beginning of your PhD, it was very clear why you started all this – you wanted a PhD, and you wanted to do a research project. Some time into the PhD, this initial motivation fades, and sheer hard work is taking over. In the middle phase, PhD students often experience the most severe problems and the daily rut of work seems never ending. This is the hardest phase in the PhD because you cannot yet see the end, and you can’t be sure yet that you will succeed. 

In this period it can be very helpful if you from time to time look beyond what you do right now, leave the problems aside and imagine how it will feel when you have achieved what you are striving for. Just pausing a moment and thinking about how you will feel after the PhD is completed! 

Allowing this to sink into your brain, will bring instant relief of your struggle. It has two great effects. First, it is highly motivating and second, it can help you to re-gain this much needed sense of purpose. In the middle of seemingly pointless and tedious work, this will remind you of the bigger picture of why you are doing it and how this PhD will improve your life! 

So, allow yourself to develop a clearer idea of how you will feel after graduation (imagine the evening of graduation day or a few days after! Imagine how your life will be and create a vivid visualisation of this. And then, whenever you feel stuck with your PhD, one problem is piling up after the other, or you have a seemingly endless and tedious task ahead of you, do come back to this visualisation. Recall that situation and evoke that mental image of yourself after PhD completion! If you lack any idea of how much having the PhD degree can influence your life, below we give you some inspiration to start with! But then, we let you develop your own vision! 

Want to develop it right away: Get our free worksheet “My life after the PhD”

2. Imagine yourself after PhD graduation

Let us give you a few ideas about your life after graduation. We look at the professional and also on the private part of your life.

Career in science:

Professionally, if you enjoy research and stay in the academic world, you’ll likely work as a postdoc or junior researcher after graduation, and that opens a whole array of new and exciting opportunities. You can decide whether to work in the same field as for your PhD, or deliberately chose something else (new, more exciting!). You can seek your own funding and set up intriguing new projects. You can expand your professional contacts and join international initiatives or research programmes. You can sharpen and develop your own researcher identity, and you can have your own MSc/MA or PhD students, which allows you to have a higher throughput and work more independently. Over the years, I have seen many PhD graduates moving from a first postdoc to becoming an assistant professor or PI in just a few years time. It’s possible, it’s within your reach!

Non-academic career: 

If work in academia is not your first choice or you took the PhD with the aim to improve your career chances outside, there are a billion of great options waiting for you. If you have not made up your mind yet which career path exactly you want to pursue, you’ll probably spend some time researching your options and see what is be the best fit for you! This depends on your skills, your personality and preferences, e.g. what would make you truly happy in the long run. 

You can work in the private, public or voluntary sector. You can choose a career in a big global corporation or work for a regional charity, be one of several thousand employees, or contribute to a team of just ten! Either way, you’ll work in exciting new environments, and you can finally apply the knowledge and skills that you accumulated all those years at university, and you can make a real impact to the world!

Just a side note, because we know there are always a few among you who are afraid of being unemployed. You can calm your nerves because the chances are slim. Unemployment rates among PhD graduates continue to be lower than those of graduates of lower-level educations. In many countries across the globe, unemployment rates continue to be very low with 2% on average (varying between <1% and up to 4%), depending on the country or region where you work (see, OECD 2013, and ESF/Boman 2017).  

Your private life after PhD graduation:

The biggest immediate change for many PhD graduates comes from the fact that they finally get a decent payday. This is certainly true for all those, who were on a scholarship during their PhD, which often is barely enough to make a living. But even those with PhD positions will get a remarkably higher pay after graduation. You’ll be able to afford the things that make life a little bit easier and more enjoyable, and without any valuation, I guess everyone can find something they are longing for here. Whether you finally want to move out of your tiny overpriced apartment, make a travel you always dreamed of, spend more on your kids or their education, or donate to a charity, you’ll simply have more freedom to live the lifestyle that suits you. 

Does this sound good? Well, it is! It is totally worth striving for! Now, imagine a few things that will come true for you after PhD graduation. 

3. Create a vision

There are many ways in which you can create a stimulating and compelling vision of your life past PhD graduation. To help you along the way, we have compiled a free worksheet “My life after the PhD” with some great exercises to get you started. 

Have you ever tried to imagine how you will feel a few days after your graduation? How relieved and happy you will be! How proud and confident you will be! Or, jot down a few things that you dread now and which would change after the PhD, and would be over once and forever. Or, picture yourself in a great professional environment, working for a great company, exploring new applications or leading a team, or meeting clients or patients, who rely on your expertise. Yes, all of this is within reach once you have completed your PhD. Feels good just thinking about it, right?

4. How and when will this come true?

Did you enjoy envisioning your life after PhD graduation and the good things that will come along with it? It’ll be awesome, right?

So why don’t you ask yourself the following:

  1. What can I do to get there as soon as possible?
  2. What can I do to get there more easily?

We suggest that instead of moving on with your PhD in slow motion and leave your graduation day in the distant future, you plan for timely completion. Instead of begging for an extension of your PhD time, see what you can do to complete as initially planned. Instead of having nightmares about running out of funding ask yourself what you can do to get the PhD in a more straight-forward and direct route. 

So ask yourself: What is your most direct path between now and PhD completion? What are the current obstacles that have to be overcome? What decisions have to be taken? What changes do you need to make to move ahead? Think about the following:

  • Do you need a mindset shift? Do you need to move from “I do everything everyone asks me to do” to “I focus strictly on what is necessary now to complete”? Or from: “I do this later” to “I tackle this right now and move on”?
  • Do you need to re-organise your workload? So you can finally spend more time analysing your data and publish those papers or write chapters in your dissertation?
  • Do you need to recalibrate your PhD goal? Maybe you had it some months ago, but now you deviated from that idea and you have lost traction? So it is about regaining clarity and defining exactly what will constitute your thesis in the end?
  • Do you need a better overview? Have you lost track of what you have completed and what is still missing? In need to define the most crucial steps until completion? Is it about planning the remaining months in your PhD in a way that you CAN finish on time?

5. We help PhDs who want to complete

Have you silently nodded to one, two or all of the above? Do you agree that something significant has to change in order to move the needle? Well, then let us help you, because teaching PhD students how to move ahead and complete is exactly what we do! 

As a member of our community, you have access to a lot of great material to get you started right now: highly recommended free resources are the SMART ACADEMICS blog post no# 2: So you want to finish your PhD on time and our Expert guide: 5 reasons why PhD students delay and how to avoid.

We are offering a free PhD Webinar to help you complete your PhD project – if you’re interested, sign up here. 

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