Two Years

I have mixed feels about today. Two years ago was my viva. It was bittersweet in a lot of ways. I was very glad when it was over, but at the same time, the whole experience really shook me.

I was jet lagged, hadn’t slept in 4 days, had a panic attack, and then got on a plane and flew 8 hours home only to go directly to a friend’s party. Needless to say, I slept the next week solid.

But what I didn’t know – and couldn’t know – at the time was what came after. What being ‘post-viva’ was like. It wasn’t as exciting as I thought. It was a lot of time explaining to people not in academia what a viva was, what it meant, what came after. It was a lot of months being very stressed about my job, and even more stressed (or disenchanted) about my corrections. I didn’t enjoy most of 2015 and most of the reasons are linked to my viva and finishing my PhD.

Afterwards is hard. It feels like something has been stolen from you, as much as it feels something has been given. Your brain doesn’t quite know what to do with itself ‘afterwards’. You mean I don’t have to read articles for 12 hours today? You mean I don’t have to write 5000 words before 9am when my advisor expects them? You mean I don’t have a class to prep for?

There feels like this vacuum.  And for a while afterwards, that vacuum was filled with corrections and final submission (and lots and lots of emailing for permissions). It was filled with a stressful job (but unlike PhD stress). And it was filled with an overwhelming sense of imposter syndrome, worse than I had ever experienced in 3.5 years of doing my PhD. I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I felt like they had surely made a mistake. I felt completely and utterly unprepared to be a ‘Doctor’.

People congratulate you, though they really don’t understand what they are congratulating you for. People say to you ‘must be great to be done!’ People ask a lot of ‘what’s next?’ until you are sick and tired of hearing it and get more and more creative in your responses (my best one was ‘I think I’ll run away to a cabin in the woods and write romance novels’*).

It kind of feels like the Twilight Zone. It feels like you’ve strayed over into another world. It feels like the last few years (or more) haven’t really happened.

It kind of still feels like that, two years on. I graduated a year ago. I have a pretty piece of paper and a picture framed on my wall. I still don’t completely believe it’s happened. And maybe that’s normal. Maybe it’s okay too, because it means I’ll never stop thinking about it. I’ll never stop remembering what I went through, and how hard it was, and that the paper is there to remind me what I accomplished.

*Still a possibility


A Question of Teaching

How can you gain teaching experience when your university doesn’t offer it?

First, it probably does, they just don’t advertise it. It took me until third year to realise my university had a lot of teaching options, but by then I was so overworked with other jobs that I decided to pass. I also knew I wasn’t continuing in academia, so teaching experience became less important (though not not important).

Your department may not have teaching options, but that does not mean no department at your university does. Email. Ask around. Ask students in other departments. Look for adverts for contract teaching, or single-course teaching, or online course-teaching. Look for tutorial positions. Look for marking. Or extra credit courses, that are often difficult for universities to find staff to teach. Go to another university nearby. There will be options available, but you have to find them. YOU have to find them. That’s what this is all about.

Look outside universities. Look for organisations that do professional development, or that are in your field of study. Perhaps you can teach a skills course, or an information class. If you know anyone at a business in your sector, ask what options they suggest.

Ask people at distant universities. Know someone who works at a university across the country? Ask if you can do a lecture via video-conference. You don’t have to travel, or only look at places near where you live. We have the technology these days to go further and do more.

See if you can volunteer somewhere that involves giving tours or talking to people. All of these count as teaching experience, because you are developing communication skills with a wide variety of people. It’s a great thing to be able to put on your CV.

Create your own teaching position. Offer departments at your university an online course option that you will teach, based on your research/field of study. CREATE positions. It does not always need to be about what’s available already.

You need to be creative. You need to think outside the box. There are experiences out there you can find, but sometimes you have to go after them with a club.

Anyone out there found creative methods to gain teaching experience while doing your PhD?