So, you’ve passed one of the biggest milestones in your life so far (or at least in your academic life!). You’ll have spent at least 7 years at university on a journey that’s taken you from sitting in your first lecture as an undergraduate student to finally handing in your PhD thesis and making it through the viva. This is a time for celebration and of excitement of what the future holds. But it can also be a time of uncertainty, where you’re presented with so many options for your immediate next steps that you’re not sure where to start. Here are some thoughts we’ve put together to help you in your decision making in case you are wondering what to you with your PhD.
A common option used by fresh PhD graduates is to stay on within their lab environment for the first month or two but this time in a part- or full-time teaching capacity. This will ensure you have some money coming in now that the stipend payments have finished and can be a good way to build up some teaching experience (although you’re likely to have done this throughout the course of your time as a PhD student). If your department or institution has teaching opportunities available, then it should be a fairly straightforward transition to this new role; you’ll already be familiar with the environment and know the team well.
Keep in mind though that whilst you may gain experience working within your old lab or department, you might gain more from taking up a teaching post within a new setup that you’re not familiar with. This could be a good way to widen your network and learn more about how things are done in different departments, even within the same university. The key thing is to view this teaching role as a temporary position while you explore your options for the next big step in your career development.
A natural progression for someone just having completed their PhD (and in particular someone keen on developing their career in academia) is to take on a post-doctoral role either within your current lab or a different one. Post-docs positions usually last between one and three years and most researchers tend to gain experience by completing several positions at different institutions. The roles are funded, offering a generous step-up from your PhD stipend and are a good way to start developing your own ideas and thoughts as to which direction you want to take your research in.
Post-docs tend to publish quite a bit and present at conferences; this is also a good opportunity to work more collaboratively with senior academics within your field. Be aware that securing a post-doc job can become very competitive, particularly in the leading universities within your area of research. This is definitely a time where building a strong network can start to pay dividends – a strong CV with a developing track record of publications is also valuable.
Life Outside of Research
You may be one of a growing number of people that decide at the completion of their PhD that a career based in research and at a university is not for you. You can have a great sense of freedom when you know what you want out of life. However, just because you decide on a path outside of academia, does not mean that your years of study have been for nothing. In fact, the opposite is true – in completing your PhD, you’ll have built a set of skills and knowledge that are highly sought after by many employers. Your CV will show that you’re self-motivated, able to work well both within a team and individually, keep to big and small deadlines and have the ability to present complex ideas in a simple manner. Highly educated, skilled people are in high demand by the commercial sector; you should have no trouble tailoring your CV to something very appealing to them.