Life after PhD

I’m filled with words I want to write at the moment. Clearly not thesis words, don’t be ridiculous.

I am actually drafting my first real chapter.  I’ve got all my materials, testing out new reading/summary techniques using coggle.it, and have planned out my chapter headings.  Actual writing starts in the next week, really it will.

I also have themes emerging as possible chapter headings or content within chapters.  I’m going to take some time next week to begin writing about what I mean on these issues.  It makes me happy to see it unfolding like this, though it’s the interweaving of my outcomes with theory that makes me nervous. 

Yesterday I conducted my first interview in 3 months.  Time flies.  And I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the process.  This was my first foray into real creative industries territory, speaking to someone in digital design.  It definitely added to my perspective and I will be interested to see if the themes that were raised continue as I meet more in this pod of people and are reflected in my advertising group who I meet in Melbourne in a few weeks.

This week also saw me meet with the Australia Council for the Arts, we cautiously sounded each other out about research and found that their’s and mine are producing some similar themes. This is comforting as it makes me think my perspectives are not unusual, but also opens up (hopefully) potential for collaboration in the future.  I’ve decided to skip my faculty HDR conference in November to attend the Australia Council’s Art and Education conference as long term this is more likely to offer me career prospects.

I have also been accepted into the Social Theory, Politics and the Arts Conference in Adelaide in December, which is good, but I think they might be struggling to get speakers, hence deadlines keep being bumped.  Still it’s an opportunity to present a paper in a real conference, as opposed to the doctoral symposium, and catch up with a few people I met in France.

Last night I competed in my faculty 3-minute thesis competition, and it has pre-empted some more consideration about my future.  I had had such a good day, meeting with OzCo, interviewing a practitioner, I was loving #phdlife.  Then I faced off in front of a panel of academics and it all comes crashing down to reality.  It was a 3 minute version of AIMAC, I’m just not ‘academic’ enough.

It’s not impostor syndrome, because imposter syndrome suggests you are ‘doing’ the task but don’t feel worthy.  When it comes to academia I’m not doing, I can’t get traction when speaking academically, and I’m not getting anywhere with publication.  It’s not through lack of trying, I promise. It is like I’m in a country with a different language, and despite 18 months of classes I cannot communicate with the locals. At best you get rejection, at worst (and most often) you get nothing at all.  It’s like throwing confetti to the wind.

The thesis whisperer is conducting a MOOC on resilience and the PhD and I’ve decided to do it, along with over 2600 others apparently.  Because I don’t think I’m resilient enough for academia, but I need to be resilient enough for the rest of the PhD. 

This has me thinking about life after PhD. I can’t help it, I have to plan that far ahead, I can’t stop myself. I have to acknowledge academic life isn’t going to happen, which is hard as that’s what I had hoped for many years.  But I also have to stop looking at it from the perspective of this being ‘the’ goal, all else being lesser.  The reality is I don’t think it s suits my personality, and my aptitudes.  This isn’t a bad thing, it just is.

There’s a certain irony about the things I am good at: communicating with others (non-academic), facilitation, helping others achieve goals, career development, leadership development.  It’s why I love teaching, but it’s also what I started doing in 1999 when I got involved in running the ANZ graduate program. The idea that I may go full circle and end up working in that space, maybe in a university careers office, it’s sort of terrifyingly disappointing.

Of course working in professional development within an arts organisation or state body is a dream that has even less chance than academia, thanks George Brandis, thanks.

So I’m going to change my language. When I’m asked “what’s next?” I’m no longer going today I’m aiming for an academic career, I’m going to say I hope to help creative practitioners achieve their career goals and leadership potential.  I just need to believe this doesn’t constitute failure. 

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