Sometimes a PhD feels like being stuck on a train with faulty brakes, parked on a steep slope. Initially there is no movement, then gradually the train starts inching forwards, so slowly, leaving you wishing it would just hurry up and get you through this degree. After a painfully long time things are moving at a nice speed and progress is good. This period of bliss lasts about 3 seconds. Then suddenly things are moving too fast, hurtling out of control towards a completely unknown future. Perhaps there will be beautiful scenery at the bottom, or an uphill to catch you… or perhaps there will be a dead-end, or worse a cliff launching you into a void.
At my most recent committee meeting my supervisor sprung the question on me. “So, what do you want to do once you finish?”
Quick, think on your feet. I have no idea. But you must say something intelligent and thoughtful sounding, your committee members are watching closely. Gulp.
I decided this moment was as good as any to tell him that I’m done with academia.
Now I’m not one of those disgruntled, bitter grad students who feels like they were tricked into a degree with the promise of being a fancy professor, relaxing into the safety of a comfy tenure position. I simply am no longer interested in participating in the struggle simply for the “greater good” of scientific progress at my own expense. Does that make me selfish? Maybe.
I still love science. Nothing compares to the thrill of finding some (little) piece of information in an experiment and realizing you’re probably the only person in the world who knows this. Nothing compares. However, I believe I can still have this and contribute towards the “greater good” without sacrificing my own life and personal happiness.
What does this job look like you may ask? I don’t know. But I do know it doesn’t look like academia.
In the meanwhile the end is still hurtling towards me, with only a few more experiments standing between myself and writing up. It’s a very funny predicament where one minute I can’t wait for those experiments to be out of the way and forever gone from my life, while the next I desperately hope there will be technical delays or further experiments required to slow my launch into the foreign post-graduation world.
Sure, I’ve gone to all sorts of career preparation events. I have a nice professionally prepared CV, packed with extracurriculars and accomplishments. I’ve taken a look at various job postings. I’ve talked to people in various fields. But I still can’t put a finger on exactly what I want to do. Or if it will even require a PhD.
So, for now I will just have to content myself with the unknown and have faith that if I do hit the end of the track I will somehow catch myself. Until now I’ve always landed on my feet, hopefully that won’t change.