PREPARING FOR LIFE AFTER PHD
Completing a PhD is undoubtedly a major achievement that comes with a feeling of fulfillment and better positioning for career progress in any sector. Apparently, there are bountiful and boundless opportunities in waiting, courtesy of this great feat. Life is in phases; assuredly, your PhD journey will come to an end and certainly, there is life after. Failure to prepare for this new phase may lead to unwanted experiences in the short or long-term. How then do we prepare for life after PhD?
Living a life is primarily hinged on income while there is no legitimate income without a job or business venture. PhD certificate can be likened to a meal ticket tenderable in any world class restaurant for desired meal. Definitely, many will be faced with a dilemma of choice. Likewise, one may encounter such dilemma in choosing a career path; either to continue as an academia, practice in the industry, or develop a start-up or consultancy. Therefore, I will first attempt to give useful tips in deciding what next after your programme. Afterward, I will briefly share my opinion on the difference between life as a PhD and Postdoctoral researcher.
Deciding what next
One question that colleagues and friends will keep throwing at you towards the completion of your programme and probably you have also been asking yourself is “WHAT NEXT?” The answer to this question should be driven by purpose, personal interest, and life’s goal. Literally, there are three answers to this question:
- A research-related job (University or research-institute based): this is where I belong and it’s primarily for people with further interest in academics and aiming at landing a permanent tenure position in the future
- A job in the industry: this is for those interested in gaining industrial experience and/or working for a ‘research and development’ firm, and later rising to management position; or
- Create a startups or consulting firm: this is for graduates with marketable products from their PhD research, they may want to create their startups while others may want to found a consulting firm.
In Hong Kong, opportunities abound for the first two categories with numerous examples of ANSHK members who are currently functioning in either of the two sectors. Further discussion will be from the perspective of a University-based postdoctoral researcher.
Having known exactly what you want, you are a step closer to achieving it. The next step is to create (or update) your curriculum vitae (CV) coupled with a motivation letter in standard format. These documents should articulate your research experience and publication records and fine-tuned to perfectly fit the job cum research area you are applying for. Moreover, it is advisable to start your job search early by first deciding if you wish to continue with your current supervisor and/or confirming if he/she is interested in retaining you. I personally recommend 6-12months prior to the completion of your programme like I did. Luckily, I got my job offer 8months to my graduation, although for a lower position at first, but was upgraded before commencement upon presentation of proof of PhD completion (i.e. Testimonial). Adverts are usually placed on the career webpage of Universities, personal website of professors and other academic/professional forum like ResearchGate and LinkedIn. Here, networking also plays a role, you may want to send direct email to professors (even if they place no advert) you met in a conference, workshop or seminar who are interested in your work or share similar research interest with you. It is equally important to have a financial plan to help your transit between the end of your PhD stipend and your first salary.
Difference between life as a PhD candidate and Postdoc
People often ask me if there is any difference between a PhD and Postdoc life; the answer is Yes/No.
Yes, because: you are no more an “apprentice”, countdown to expiration of funding is no more, you now operate in a higher cadre of confidence, and people tend to trust your expert judgement more-giving you the good feeling of a master. Besides, you now work in a more relaxed state of mind and off course, no more tuition and you will surely earn more!
However, the answer could be No, because: having graduated from “apprenticeship” and you are now regarded as master of your subject area, there is higher level of intellectual contribution and groundbreaking research ideas expected from you. Moreover, higher level of independence is what you have; with you probably being a leader of a team coupled with writing of grants proposals and giving talks. In some cases, you may even be involved in teaching and supervision. Also, in contrast to PhD research which is “your work”, you are probably going to being involved in a lot of collaborative projects, this is where your team playing skill will be tested. Beyond these, you also aim at completing and submitting unpublished manuscripts from your PhD and current researches in a bid to heighten your publication record to land your dream permanent tenure position in the nearest future. Don’t forget you are also time-bound; common practice in Hong Kong is one-year contract at first, extendable upon mutual agreement. With all these, you will agree with me that even though you aren’t pressured like a typical PhD student, the expectation on you is quite high, and your working time may remain as that of PhD researcher.
To conclude, life is not entirely different after your PhD in my opinion. The ecstasy and fun of accomplishment may not be physically apparent over a long time as you will begin to aim at achieving newly set goals for your life and career.
Fellows, the best time to enjoy yourself is now, don’t postpone the good life you want to live afterwards, take charge of your happiness, create time-out to explore Hong Kong, keep fit, enjoy your study life and don’t give up on your dream! Challenges are inevitable on our path to reaching greater heights. The assurance as (Nigerians), more importantly, with God on our side is that we are naturally equipped and empowered with problem-solving skills to surmount any challenge(s) that may want to hinder us. While I hope this piece has informed someone, I wish you all the very best of your PhD life and thereafter!
Tobi Eniolu Morakinyo