Academia come-back


It’s been a tough road graduating from an MSc to starting a PhD. I knew, back when I graduated, that I wanted to take a year off from academia, just so that I could breathe again and take my mind off essay writings and other scholarly exercises that had been required of me to produce for four years in a row. I felt that taking a break from academia and experiencing the real world could give me some insight as to what I wanted to do for my thesis, and embellish my CV.

Instead, I ended up taking two years off, had three different non-academic related jobs and did a lot of extra non-paid academic work. I’ve learned a lot about myself, about other people, about work-life, and the ‘real world’. I’ve especially witnessed how much I missed academia and how much I wanted to do a PhD.

Things I’ve accomplished in the last two years:

  • 4 Conference papers
  • 2 Research assistantships
  • 1 Published article
  • 1 Article Reviewing
  • 1 Business blog post

Looking back at this it feels like I’ve worked my way up to academic life. But the reality is that the road was quite bumpy. I was what they call an ‘independent researcher’ and I totally loathed the designation. It’s what academia calls researchers who aren’t directly affiliated to a university (e.g. no uni email address, not currently enrolled in a uni program, etc.). It’s probably the most denigrating term one can be assigned to. It’s like you’re no one. Really.

I could write conference papers, but I could not go to the conferences due to a lack of funding – I wasn’t a student anymore so I wasn’t entitled to get any grants. I was lucky enough to write co-authored papers and have my co-author present our work in conferences.

The moment I finally got admitted to a PhD program and got a university email address, was probably one of the most triumphant moments yet of my new academic life. It meant that I could sign up for services that only academic researchers have access to, and to build my network on online platforms.

Current to-do list:

  • Re-write thesis proposal x1
  • Creative writing x2
  • Tutoring x1

And lots and lots of reading. I need to get going, time’s ticking.

Pre-doctoral thinking process

*Girl raises hand* “Excuse me, but how do you actually know you want to do a PhD? How can you tell?”

About a year ago I went to a career event from my alma mater on ‘Thinking about doing a PhD’. We were a bunch of graduates or graduants sitting in a semi-circle and listening to an academic talk about her experience doing a PhD. It was all very interesting and insightful, although I truly went there just to feel a bit comforted in my decision to start a PhD program the year after.

Everyone asked standard questions except for one girl who asked how one knew if they wanted to do a PhD. A few people sniggered in the room and the guest speaker painfully smiled back at the graduant. How can you answer that question? Either you know or you don’t.

A lot of people I meet think that doing a PhD means that you can just start a new ‘project’ for a few years. That it’s fun and you can stay a student eternally without worrying about the real world. If that’s why you want to do a PhD, forget it. What people never mention is how the PhD is just the beginning of a very long and tedious process to enter the academic world. Doing a PhD is just not enough these days.

*Guest speaker clears throat* “Umm…you need to figure that out for yourself?”

You either know or you don’t.