Though the remit of this blog is to discuss issues surrounding being a PhD student (and by extension, what comes after you graduate), that does not mean I’m not willing to deviate a little.
If you are one of the lucky ones who found decent employment after (or even before) graduating, then congratulations.
If, more likely, you have not, or worry you will not, I hope this post appeals to you, at least to give you something to think about.
I have been unemployed for a year now. That is since my last job in my field. I have worked two jobs during that time, but neither are the sort of thing I’d brag about on my CV and neither took much more brain power than a high school student would need. I disliked them both and worked them only for the money involved.
I only graduated in August, according to my university, so in their minds I have only been unemployed for three months now. Which is definitely a more optimistic way of looking at things. However, on the flip side, it means I’m facing a year OR MORE of looking for a position that remotely makes use of my education, as opposed to my ability to smile at customers even while they are frustrating me. A good skill to have, but not what one goes to university for 10 years to develop.
I acknowledge the job sector is hard. I acknowledge that I know intelligent people who have done wonderful things, but have so far been unable to find a stable job in their field (or, in some cases, any job in their field). That is not how the world should work, but it’s how it currently does, and may for many decades to come.
But I’ve given up bemoaning this fact. I have given up being angry when people ask me ‘so, found a job yet?’ as if it’s that simple. I have given up struggling with whether to take the retail job to make money, knowing it will leave me less time to pursue employment in my field. I have, in other words, given up worrying about anything that does not further my ends of being a professional.
And that was my choice to make. It’s not an easy one, and for some people it may be an impossible one. It means I’ve made sacrifices. I live with my parents to save on rent. I spend almost no money on anything, even when I need something. It means a lot of pressure and stress knowing I have to develop a good career at some point, and that because that career will start later than most people’s, that will effect the rest of my life, not to mention my retirement. But I didn’t pick a PhD because it was easy, and I hardly picked museums because I thought it would be a relaxing career path. I picked it because, to me, there was no other choice to be made.
My that doesn’t mean I sit around all day and job search. There are certain things about doing a research degree that are wonderful. And other things that are not. And having very little time to pursue other possibilities or interests is one of the main things I missed the most while doing my PhD. But I have all the time in the world to do them now. So I’m writing novels again (right now, two at once). I’m looking into agents and publishing opportunities. I’m painting again. I’m handwriting again (a lost art in a world of online communication). I’m taking simple joys in decorating for Christmas and finding the perfect gifts for people I haven’t been able to shop for for years and that I can give to them in person. And a lack of money doesn’t stop me from doing any of those things.
And next year? Next year I’m going to travel. There are limitations to what you can do when you work full-time, and I will never, ever let that stop me from seeing the world. But since I have a pretty good chance of being unemployed for another twelve months, at the very least, I am going to travel when I can, particularly doing such trips as a full-time job would not afford me the opportunity to do. And yes, it may seem like I am spending money on frivolous things. But travel is never frivolous if you do it right. It shows you more of the world. It allows you to meet people you would never otherwise have met. To experience a new culture. To open your eyes and develop you as a person. Travel is a necessity of life, for me, as much as a roof over my head or food in my belly. As much as air to breath. I am always most happy when I’m travelling.
So, writing, reading, painting, travelling, thinking, and a dozen other things I’ve been wanting to do. And these days? I’m not feeling guilty about any of it. And that is the biggest change from my PhD.