Some notes on the transcription…
I wanted to provide a transcript of The PhD Life Raft podcast episodes to make the material more accessible.
I have used an automated transcription service to produce this document. These, as we all know, are not 100% accurate. Please excuse the odd typos and grammatical mis-translations. I hope that you will find the documentation of this conversation useful.
You can find the full interview here: https://thephdliferaft.libsyn.com/
hey, I’m super excited for this discussion.
I was very relieved, because we weren’t talking to each other for so long. And it hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons. But here we are now and I am. It’s just so so lovely to have you here to be here be talking with you. Like we were just saying, we feel like we know each other because we’ve been in circling each other for a while. And I just I love, I love what you do. I love your work. And I’m just so delighted to be able to share this with some more people today. So welcome. Hurray, you’re here, don’t go anywhere for the next 20 minutes. Brilliant. So today, we have got a really juicy topic is about this kind of emotional aspects of coming out of the PhD. Which I think people always think, oh, it’s gonna be so amazing when I finished. And then that journey, that last bit, the journey can be really tough. And you’ve got some real wisdom to share. So I’m looking forward to to talking with you about that. But before we get to that, tell us about you tell us about your journey into through and out the other side of the PhD.
Yeah, cool. Thanks, Dan. Thanks for having me again. So my journey, so. Okay, big sigh. So I went straight through as folks say, at least in my part of the world, and I’m in Toronto, by the way, so you have a kind of visual for to imagine. So I’m in Toronto, I’m Jen. And I went straight through undergrad, you know, high school, undergrad, ma did a masters, and then straight into the PhD. And my PhD was in history. So shout out to any humanities folks listening. And I finished when I was a bit older than some other folks who go straight through his 32 as 32 When I finished and I hadn’t had like a full time job at outside, you know, university. And until that point, so it was it was a big moment of like, oh, no, what? No way that’s like that one quick way to tell the story.
Wow. Well, so I think this sense of, of being institutionalised, almost isn’t negotiating a whole way of being and then thinking about what’s on the other side of that, because I think you can be real kind of head down. Let me get through this. And then, and then as you’re coming towards the ends of it, somebody described it to me is like, the void in terms of like, what is on the other side? And so, you, you came out then of that? What did you do? What was beyond the voice?
Yeah, yeah. So for context of folks, so I finished in 2012. And now we’re talking it’s 2013. So it’s been a while I finished 11 years ago, and I now I’m, you know, pretty established, I would say after a decade, I’ve had a new career, excuse me in a business for a decade now. And I’ve done you know, a few different things, but it’s all revolved around what what happens after you do a PhD. So I lived through it, and now I help other people through and my business is called from PhD to life. And, and a big part of what I do is, and this is surprising sometimes to folks, but it really is going back. Okay, let me rephrase this, often people think that the work that you need to do after you finish your PhD is get a job, of course, I mean, that’s, you know, it depends on the person but like, get a job. And so what do you need to do to get a job? So often, the assumption is, well, I need to convert my academic CV into a non academic resume, you know, there’s different language for this in different parts of the world, but that’s like, Okay, I just do that. Or I’ll, I’ll go online, and I’ll look up jobs, jobs, right. I’ll go to the job boards. Maybe I’ll ask Google what jobs PhDs do. And they think that’s the work and that’s some of the work but my focus over the years has been on saying well hold up. Let’s go back to three four steps here. Who are you? Who are you what’s going on in your mind? You know, what, what thoughts are you have a about who you are and about your academic career and about what’s next. Because we gotta get that shit right first, and then you know, we can focus on what you want and then make You know, maybe you can start talking to folks, right. And eventually Sure, eventually, let’s talk about, you know, how to market yourself how to apply. But this is there’s a lot of work to do before that. And this is work that you can do during a grad programme during your PhD, but often it’s work that you have to do once you’re finished.
Well, I think this is this is what we talk about a lot here in terms of this transformational journey of the PhD that you become a different person, literally a different, you don’t finish the same person that you begin. And that can be glorious. But it can also be really disorientating. Carnot. And so I think this sense of often people end up then perhaps having different ideas of what they want, or what’s important for them at the end of the PhD process than when they started. And I think that that can be a really well interesting in a vertical. But absolutely, this sense of kind of finding out who you are, which is what the PhD is all about. And then how that translates into, into what you’re going to do next, where that leads you next. But it can also be a bit tricky, because that those processes, when you’re coming towards the end, and you’re trying to complete your work, and submit, but also think about what’s next. That’s, that can be really challenging. And I wonder if you Well, I know not I wonder I know you have lots of experience with this. So I wonder if you could share a little bit about the kind of typically what’s going on for people like that in that time.
Yeah, it’s really interesting. Thanks for Thanks for bringing this up. And my it’s really interesting, because in some ways, when you’re finishing your PhD, and your your, your proofing, you know, the final manuscript of your, your, your dissertation, your thesis, whatever you call it, you’re preparing for your defence or your viva, you’re putting together the presentation for that, you know, maybe you’re worrying about those, those final papers that you got to push out whatever in some ways you’re like, the most immersed in academic work, academic culture, that ever. You might be teaching courses you might be involved in, like all kinds of different research, collaborations, etc. So and you’re fully trained to use the lingo, right? You’re fully trained. And it can be like, super jarring. So you’re fully immerse, fully trained, and the Viva the defence, don’t promise this for anybody, but hopefully, and typically, it’s a really positive experience. It’s really great. It’s really celebratory for folks, and it’s wow, like, awesome, right? That’s fantastic. And then it’s like, Well, Now what and, and everyone’s different, every field is different. But I think across the board across the board, you know, in all of our countries, there are way more people qualified PhDs, who want jobs in academia, then there are openings for them in academia. So it’s just about, like a total different number, a total numbers gap here. And it’s, you know, that’s tough. That’s tough. You know, it’s tough on the bank account. It’s tough on the soul, right? stuff on the ego. stuff on the identity. My answer your question? Yeah.
Yeah. And I think this, this sense of coming to coming to the end of anything is tricky, isn’t it? And so the sense of, I love you the sense of this celebration that you have, and this kind of combination of your work. And people kind of really getting going, Yeah, this is good. When that you’ve probably spent three, four or five years going, Is this good enough? I don’t know. You kind of get a sense of like, yeah, done it. Yeah. And then and then now or, and then and then now what, now what happens, but I think the sense of, of the grieving and letting go that that needs to happen, in terms of, of what might have been as well. And what you might have looked at so there’s, I think there’s so much emotion in in that in those final phases, which I don’t think people are always ready for. And then I think then that have the real challenge of of what to do next, like you say in terms of where they might go. But what might be available as well what might be available for people.
Totally and if you can’t see folks, but and Iris has been nodding the whole time. Yeah, absolutely. Okay, what was I gonna say it’s escaping my mind Hear? Yeah. It’s what like, what do you do? What do you do? And so I’m going back to what we talked about earlier, so much of my work is saying, like, well hold up, you can’t actually really start applying for jobs, and frankly, like interviewing and being seen as a viable candidate, unless we sort out some things about your identity first. And so we I often when I work with folks, I mean, it depends on where they are. But typically, I would start with like, what do you value? What are your strengths? And what are your priorities? And sometimes folks are like agenda, what does this have to do with like, none of these assessments that you’re having me take are gonna, like, tell me what job I should have? And correct, they are not going to tell you what job you should get. But they’re gonna get you in touch with who you are in the world. And that, that’s going to be a new foundation, for your sense of self. So often, in an academic environment, you know, it’s imagined going around like a seminar room, and everybody introduces themselves in an academic context. It’s like, Well, my name is John and I, I focus on American Russian relations, and early 20th century, my dissertation was about, like, I published, whatever, right? Like, it’s, I’m laughing, that’s like, super typical, right? You know, I’m a fifth year, whatever. But the, and that’s cool. And I’m not saying you have to jettison that. But in the world of work. And especially if you haven’t identified exactly like what the viable job titles are, and the employers are for you, it’s like, I’m John, and I’m a community builder. You know, I’m someone who really cares about the value of education, I, you know, my approach to managing other folks is, whatever, blah, blah, blah, right. And that’s a totally different way of thinking about yourself, that doesn’t replace all that stuff you just said. But you got to add that in, you got to add that in. And you might you might actually replace, you might replace the academic knowledge, with more emphasis on your skills, your strengths, your values, etc, making sense.
It makes absolute sense. And I absolutely love it. Because I think this is key. It’s like I say that actually, it’s come back because I say it many times, because it’s true. It’s like this PhD as the personal development project, where you where you are coming into yourself, maybe a different way of being, but into yourself. And so really all that work that you have been doing alongside the research work, all that personal development work that you have been doing, whether you wanted to or not, because of this opportunity, then to check in with that and go, Okay, what sort of person am I? What values do I have? And how is this going to take me forward from here because I came into this programme for a reason. And things might have changed for me now. And now as I move out of this, what’s important, and that may be as you say, that may be continuing in an academic role, but knowing very clearly what’s important to me in that academic role, not just taking anything that’s going because I have a kind of fear. I’m just gonna gravitate, instead of being thoughtful about what might work for me. And if I’m not going into an academic role, then again, what, what sits underneath, like you say, what sits underneath the, my research work and the way in which I want to be in the world that then can help me decide where to utilise my skills. I suppose. I suppose though, what I’m what I’m thinking is I’m saying that because you and I just sit here and go, Oh, yes. People might be going bad. You know, what, how is this gonna get me a job? Where is this gonna take me? I don’t feel like I’m qualified to do anything else. Apart from or I don’t feel like I’m qualified to do anything that sometimes people, sadly, kind of have recently someone who’s saying, I just don’t even know why I did this. Why did I do this? So what would you say to that person?
Yeah, absolutely. And I hear this too. And I, you know, I hear I hear folks, and I’m not here to contradict anyone, although, you know, maybe, like, Okay, let’s take you at your word. So here’s what I teach folks to do. Let me let me talk about my my four step programme. So I got this is my PhD Career Clarity system. And it’s four steps. And the first step we talked about already, which I call prepare for action, and that’s when you want to check in with what’s going on in your mind. What are the narratives that you’ve been spinning in the stories that you’ve been telling. You know, what are your values and strengths. You know, who are you as a person removed from all the other junk that’s going on. So that’s sort of, you know, making sure that your own mind isn’t going to like, block you from moving forward. Step two is the self reflection piece. And I call this focus on yourself. And that’s, you know, yeah, what are your skills? How much money do you want to make? Where do you want to live? What do you know about you know, you don’t only know about that one thing. So, so focus on yourself. And then at that point, at the end of that process, I have my own clients, right, what I call a focus statement. And that is, you don’t have to show anybody else, although you can, because you might be proud of it. But it’s a few sentences, where you describe like what you’re looking for. And you don’t have to name job titles or employers or anything like that. You could. But it’s, it’s it’s getting that what you’re looking for next, and what your career is ultimately going to be about. And it’s a draft, right, everything is a draft, and then you go and research possibilities. So step three is identify possibilities, and the big part of the work and people will roll their eyes at me. But yeah, a big part of the work here is going to be doing informational interviews, and that’s networking. But it’s networking as learning. It’s not working as community building. It’s not networking as like, Hey, give me a job, because that’s not effective. And it’s also networking as self care. And I know that sounds a bit silly, but having conversations with folks that you get on with who are interested in hearing your story, who are sharing with you their insights, who are you know, offering to help, like, that’s really awesome. And that’s why, you know, often doing informational interviews can be a form of self care. So I’m really, I’m really hyping up these informational interviews. I think there’s lots of positive reasons to do that.
And I’m so sorry to interrupt you, but just in case we don’t know, because I’m not entirely clear. What’s an informational interview. Tell us how to do that.
Yeah, great question. That’s what you have a conversation with somebody, you know, let’s say 20 minutes about their job, their career, their employer, their industry, their sector, like whatever exactly. You want to learn from them. People that do research, it’s research. It’s qualitative research, right? You gotta go, you got some questions you want to ask, you see where the conversation goes. But that’s, yeah, and you also start to build your network, but really, the goal is learning. And at that point, you can, you know, talk to a handful of folks, let me give you an extreme example, one of my clients a couple years back, did 150, informational interviews, that’s a lot. You know, you don’t have to do that. But do 10, right, do five to 10. And then then you can identify some specific jobs, employers fields, what do you know, whatever it is, and then at that point, now you’re ready to start applying, you’re ready to under, you know, now you have an understanding of what applying looks like what you need, right? And then you can start applying. So this strategy, although it seems like it’s like so much longer, it actually prevents you from wasting a bunch of time and like feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing, because you’ve actually done the work in the right order. And you’ve got this like Job Search team that you’ve built up by talking to folks, you know, what you’re doing, and you can really hit the ground running with applying
this, what I love, what I love about your friend with 150 people? Is this the spirit of abundance? Because I think like you were just saying before in terms of coming to the undergoing, there’s not enough jobs, there’s not you know, there’s there’s there’s not there’s nothing out there for me, I don’t feel good. And all of those kinds of scarcity thoughts. If you split 150 People go, blimey, there’s 150 people doing 150 different jobs. But you know, I could see myself doing 20 of those. That’s 20 options. And I just I think the more we can be in abundance, the better isn’t it? Just I’d love it. And I love that your your system is about kind of opening up rather than shutting down his sense of opening up and seeing the possibilities that are out there. Because there are there are many, these kind of smart switched on passionate people coming out of PhD programmes. The world leads us in. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Yeah, yeah. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s fun, right? It’s fun. It’s life affirming. It’s great. Well, that’s the thing. I think making contact with people although I know that I know that that is a chat. linge for I know it’s a challenge for some people to reach out to people. So reach out. So you look at me trying to be sort of on your side of the pond, people often will just reach out. But have you got any tips then for people who kind of say actually, that? I feel really? I feel very British about this? I’m not I’m not sure about making contact with people. Yeah. How? Any tips to get started with that?
Yep. So the first thing I want folks to know is that, hey, you’re in good company. This is the number one sticking point for all my clients over the years, right? This is this is where they get. They hit a roadblock like Oh, John says, I gotta network. So welcome. Welcome to the roadblock. So first, I want you to, you know, take it from me, because I’m telling you the truth that you belong in conversation with these folks, you have value you have your worth, the world does need you What am I sad, and you deserve to be in conversation with these folks, I can’t promise you that any particular person is going to make time for you, you know, at this particular week, but in general, you deserve to be here. Right. So now we’ve dealt with that. The next thing you want to do is send a quick email is five sentences, six sentences, right? Subject line, just say information or interview or talk to you about your career, right? Like, don’t overthink it, just like describe what it is. Dear so and so do your doctor. so and so. You know, my name is and you know, I came across you and I’m interested in doing an informational interview. I’m particularly curious to learn more about this, I thought about you because of your work with blah, blah, blah. Do you have time for a 20 minute phone or Zoom Call in the next couple of weeks? Thank you so much. I look forward to hearing from you. And then okay, click Send, right? Go for a walk around the block. Have a nice day. Whatever it is, you do it again. You follow up a week later, you didn’t hear back, you follow up a week later because your job is not done until you follow it up. Now my advice is is is to do it over email almost everyone you can find them on email. Some people say well, can I use LinkedIn? You could but there’s a risk not everybody checks. LinkedIn. LinkedIn messaging is like it’s just kind of messier than email. So you know, I always say start with email. But hey, bonus, if you’re actively in communication with somebody on LinkedIn anyways, sure. Anyways, how do you feel? Am I?
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. And I also think this that sense, isn’t it of being a PhD researcher kind of really opened doors as well, people love to talk to people doing their, you know, on their PhD. It’s a it’s a magical time, it may not feel like it for you at the moment. I know. It is a magical time. And I think yeah, saying that, you know, I’m a PhD researcher, and I’m interested in this and this, people will be interested to talk to you.
Yeah, it’s cool. It’s cool. And you know, Pete, for the folks out there like, Yeah, but I don’t have a network, well hold up, hold up. Anyone who’s done a PhD or a graduate degree, anyone with experience in your particular field of academic work, anyone attached to the university that you’re at, in some capacity, anybody that graduated from the same institutions, plural as you, right, folks that live in the same town as you, like, you don’t have to know them personally already. But but you also probably do know people from years back, just get back in touch with them. My I did an informational interview with a guy I hadn’t seen in years, I’d met him like, twice briefly. I sent an email. So nervous, sweating, like, you probably don’t remember me, but and he was like, I totally remember you. We talked about, you know, X. Just just send the email. Okay,
and when I think it’s always it’s also thinking, you know, if somebody emailed you and said, I’d love to know more about your job. You’d go Oh, yes. All right. You might say I’m a bit busy at the moment, but I can talk to you in a week’s time or so. But very rarely people go no, go away.
Yeah. And here’s another tip. I mean, if you’re not really sure that that person is the right person to chat with, just be open about it and say, if there’s somebody else that you think is a better fit for me to learn from about X, please let me know. Right? That is an easy out for that person to say, Oh, great. Yeah, you should talk to my colleague, Ramona, you know, here’s her info are all passed along. You know, I’ll forward this to her. Easy.
I love this. I love this. And I know it is I know it’s a challenge for people. But I think the sense of what I love about what you’re doing and what you’re encouraging people to do is to think beyond the void. And I think that this can really help people in those in that field. Using stages, and it can really help to know there’s something that they’re moving on towards, it can help to finish off, get your PhD finished, because you know, there’s something else you’re moving on to. And it can help in that kind of post submission blues. Because you’re, you’ve got other irons in the fire, as well as actually practically helping you to get going on your career. So I just, I love it. Thank you for being out there helping people through that.
I’ll just say one last thing for the students in the room, the PhD candidates at all of this work I’m describing before you actually start applying to stuff all of that you can do. Yeah, before you start applying to stuff. So yeah, exactly. We said, I mean, you could do it and you’re still enrolled in a programme you don’t have to be. It’s not about applying for jobs. It’s about exploring, it’s about learning. It’s about community building. That is all work that is ideally done before it’s crunch time.
I love that well, and I’m gonna ask you to say something else now as well. So I’m gonna go yeah, in terms of you’ve given us loads of goals and stuff already. But I always ask people reductive question about a top tip or top tips, or do you have something for people to take away?
A top tip? Mm
hmm. Let’s see.
You could just repeat something you’ve already said if you want and just make that your top one.
Yeah. Yeah, let’s, let’s go with something I already said. I mean, there’s so many things to pull out from this. But I think this sense that you belong in this conversation, and it careers and jobs, it’s all a conversation over time, and you belong here, and other people want to be in conversation with you. And you just want to remind yourself of that every day, every hour if you need to as you go forward. And yeah, I’ll stop talking.#
Amazing. Amazing. Thank you so much for your time, Jen will have all the details in the show notes so that you could go find out if you are at that stage. And even before you get to that stage, I think that really is I don’t even start this too early. Really because it’s it’s it’s a journey. It’s a parallel journey alongside your research. Thank you so much for your time.
You’re welcome. My pleasure. It’s always it’s always fun to talk. Remember that when you’re doing networking people like to talk?
I love how you did that. I was that was probably that was I thank you all for listening. Thank