Pondering life after the PhD

My time left as a PhD student is in the series of months now. Months! Not years! Months! I don’t know where the time has gone. It feels like only yesterday that I was only half way through and still had 2 years’ worth of research to go. But as well as finishing up in the lab and the small matter of writing my PhD thesis, I also have to think about life after the PhD. What is next? A question that I hate answering and a question that is popping up more and more often now.

One of my supervisors told me this week that I was remarkably calm for someone who was finishing soon. But I can assure you I’m not. I’m a bit like a duck really. Calm and serene on the outside, but underneath my mind is whirring like crazy with questions and panic.

Questions that are flying around in my head recently:

When should I leave the lab?

How quickly can I write my thesis?

When should I start applying for jobs?

What if I don’t get a job?

If I do, when should I start?

How will I get any money?

What about all the bills I need to pay?

Should I just get any old job for now?

Where can I get a job?

How far am I willing to travel each day?


But the most prominent is:

What do I even want to do?


Finally leaving my eternal ‘student’ status behind and actually having to apply for proper grown up jobs at the moment is scaring me. Mainly because I still don’t know what to do. I don’t think I’ve progressed any further since one of my previous post. I still love being in the lab and piecing together my research puzzle but there are so many more career opportunities that I am aware of now that I want to find out more about or even try out, but I don’t know if they are too risky or where my experience lies. I also don’t want to give up science communication. So, surely staying in the lab is the best option for that right? As you can see I clearly have no clue what I want to do and it’s worrying me just a little.


My plan is still to finish in the lab with all my experiments in June – as early as possible really despite my inner workaholic wanting to really push the time to get more and more data. Once that’s done, I just want to lock myself in a room and write a complete first draft of my PhD thesis. The part of the next six months of my life that is stressing me the least, if at all! In my head, it is probably going to be the most convenient time to start job applications when I’m at home writing and not in the lab pushing to get those last results. But a recent thread on Twitter shifted my panic gauge up again recently. This thread included a poll asking when most people finishing their PhDs starting applying for their post-PhD jobs. The majority answer. 6-12 months before they submitted. Well – that ship has sailed for me and had got me thinking about whether I need to be making that a priority. If I want to stay in the lab then landing a postdoc position where I don’t have to start until September/October, I believe would be a slightly easier option as they tend to have more flexible start dates. If I want to leave the lab and do something else, say a communications manager for a society such as Cancer Research UK for example, those job adverts that are out now will surely be wanting me to start sooner. While me being me would make it work doing a full time job and writing a PhD thesis – I’m not really sure how much of a good idea that would be.

And then there is the money side of things. The PhD program I am on means I get paid every 3 months and I also have to submit my thesis by a certain date otherwise I’m in trouble. So that means that I will get my last chunk of money in July, submit my thesis at the end of September, and then the day after when I should be paid the next lump in October I won’t get anything as I would have finished my PhD. And there will be little left over from the last sum as a PhD student budget isn’t that great! So, I don’t want to be stuck having to pay a load of bills with no money to pay them.


So, I think you can all clearly see that I’m confused, panicked and going a little crazy on the inside even if I’m not showing that on the outside as I ponder my life after the PhD.


So, what am I going to do about it?

I guess my best bet is to actually start applying for some jobs. Apply for jobs in any position that I might be interested in and see their flexibility when it comes to start dates and whether indeed I have the relevant experience for a non-lab based position. All whilst finishing in the lab and writing a PhD thesis. Simple!


Apologies for my blurting out of thoughts onto paper. But I’m still stuck and I’m hoping that someone out there might be able to share some advice with me. Can anyone help or advise with anything? Writing a thesis? Post PhD job decisions? Job application tips? Career decisions? Or perhaps you resonate with this and we can support each other through this. This is the beginning of my transition from PhD to… to…. well, to some post-PhD career. Hopefully I will learn lots of things that I can share with those going through the same struggles in future blog posts and for those who have this all to come.


Science love.


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8 thoughts on “Pondering life after the PhD

  1. Something my committee told me is to do a postdoc while you figure it out and you can still explore the other options while staying at the bench. I didn’t like that answer but I found an industry postdoc which was more to my liking and I can still explore. I didn’t look for jobs until maybe 3-6 months before I wanted to defend my thesis, and I was doing it on the side not so stressed out, so don’t feel bad about not applying to anything yet. Sometimes you get a job quickly, other people sometimes it take a while. I would time it tho to match up with your pay because I had the same issue. Have a backup plan too, if I didn’t find a job in time my advisor said I could have done some lecturing for a course until I found something! You got this! How exciting! Xo andrea


  2. I wasn’t really looking for a job when I saw one advertised that was pretty much my dream. I applied even though I was nowhere near finishing writing up my thesis. Fortunately they were flexible and I managed to start part time. Writing while working is hard. I found it difficult to shift between work and thesis brain. In the end it took me about a year to write up, far longer than I had originally scheduled! I managed to submit just before my 4 year window. I think there is a fine balance between starting a job too early and starting a job too late! If you have any leeway I would say focus on your write up first, you’ll probably end up job-hunting during your breaks anyway 🙂


  3. I’m coming from the other side. I started in non-research and did a masters now finishing up my post-grad and working on my thesis. My job before research definitely didnt understand and I tried to do both part-time. My employer mostly thought I spent my day watching tv and definitely didn’t understand. I even missed out on conferences because they wouldnt approve leave despite having leave available. Definitely finish the thesis first, you’ve got this far and there will be plenty of other job opportunities.


  4. Another job you may want to consider is scientific editing may be? It is definitely a little off from the exciting lab-based work we are used to. However, there are many journals that are willing to take on individuals with a scientific background and the best part, a lot of them actually have the provision to work from home! That way you are good both from the money and time front as you get your time to apply for post docs etc., and earn some extra cash on the side as well. Probably something you may want to look into!
    Cheers xx


  5. Congratulations! You are almost there! I am also reaching the end of my PhD even though I have at least half of it to write. I agree that you should apply to as many jobs as you can even if they don’t involve lab work. Apart from needing to support yourself, I think the best way to figure out what to do is to try everything. Best of luck with the thesis!


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