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Is There Life After PhD Research?

Extract from: The Postgraduate Research Handbook: Succeed with your MA, MPhil, EdD and PhD (Palgrave Study Skills), by Gina Wisker

Depending on where you are in your research project, you will probably want or not want to consider what happens when you finish. Indeed, ‘Is there life after the research?’ is not such an ironic question. A research project that lasts the best part of a year (MA) to up to eight years (PhD – but preferably three years) quite simply takes over your life, or part of it. Once you have been successful in your submission and assessment and in your viva, and if necessary, resubmitted or revised, you will probably feel all or some of the following:

  • Elated – this is the major achievement
  • Ready to rejoin the human race – the family and your friends
  • Ready to do all those things you have been putting off
  • Bereaved.

You live with your research and your thesis for a long time, like a recalcitrant pet animal. For some people it is actually impossible to stop, give it up, hand it over, bring it to a close. There was no life after research for the nineteenthcentury British novelist George Eliot’s Casaubon in Middlemarch. He could not imagine completion and he never completed. But you have finished and the world awaits you.

If you are looking ahead to this article at the beginning of your research career, you will see that the planning and time-management issues stressed throughout should include some planning of work and ongoing activities that take you beyond the research. Research-based degrees are, after all, not an end in themselves. They are qualifications that recognise achievement, but also confer a kind of licence to practice. They are a training ground for, and an indication of, the future likelihood of further research. So, do think about staging your withdrawal, celebration and future development based on your research degree.

First of all, celebrate. Then, take a holiday, or at least an intellectual break, or you will become stale. Friends and family, expecting your return to normality, will have calculated tasks both physical and emotional for you to be engaged in, and/or you will find they are piling up for you by your own planning. Obviously, they include things such as painting the kitchen or cooking regular meals again. But they also should include developing elements of the research, following up avenues, picking bits out – and publishing, giving conference papers and seminars, and putting in for research method posts and research funding. You might find you need quite a long break before you get on with this last area of work but you might also find that, unless you do throw yourself into some projects (after a break), you will feel rather bereaved. After my own PhD, within 18 months I moved house, moved to a new job, started an advanced diploma, and had a first baby. Not everyone needs to be quite so obsessive, of course. For me, publication approached gradually and the entire thesis has never seen the light of day in publication, though its ideas have fed into much of what I do daily, and into my teaching. So, in terms of the work/research areas involved, do consider:

  • selecting elements of the thesis or dissertation to develop and rewrite for publication
  • selecting elements of the thesis for conference presentation (do these two quickly)
  • update your CV and gradually look for openings/seize immediate openings for job improvement (if that is your aim).

If none of these necessarily appears immediately:

  • update your CV
  • appear at conferences.

Then, when you are ready – but do not wait too long, even research into ancient history becomes superseded by newer research into ancient history – seek research funding, and – with or without it – carry on.

If you have been involved in Personal Development Planning during the course of your engagement with your research, and have identified ways in which you have developed various transferable skills and approaches that can be used beyond the PhD, you are ready now to market yourself in a career. Remember that while you have completed a single piece of research, you have developed a host of skills in problem solving, project mapping, balancing priorities, time management, project planning, communication, writing and presenting.

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