Planning Your Academic Year

This is possibly a little late (hello March) but I figure it’s better late than never.

Year 1 as an undergrad I had a paper diary. Studiously, I would put due dates in at the beginning of the semester. During the week I would add important events to the following week (e.g., shifts at work, birthday parties etc) but my field of vision was limited to this week and maybe next week. Occasionally I would turn a page in the diary and to my horror see a due date for a very important assignment that I hadn’t started yet. But this was relatively rare. I was good at keeping all those dates for the semester in my head. The longest I had to plan ahead was a few weeks.

However, as you progress through academia, this system just won’t work. Firstly, because you might not be making the best use of your time and secondly, because I know I just couldn’t keep everything in my head any more. I needed that cognitive space for other things.

So at the beginning of the year, I pull up my Outlook calendar (but some people still love their giant paper wall calendars so I recommend using whatever works) and put in important dates:

  • The weeks of each semester (I typically put each week in as a week-long event from Monday to Friday called “Week 8” or “Week 9” etc.)
  • Due dates for assignments that I will be marking as well as the date the grades will be returned to the students. I will make an event between those two dates called “Marking Assignment X”, so I know it’s an ongoing event at that time
  • The class times and locations that I will be teaching
  • Due dates for ethics applications (at my institution the ethics committee only meet once a month, so it’s handy to know when that is happening)
  • Dates my supervisor is away (to a conference, on leave etc)
  • Conference dates (including submission due dates and actual conference dates)
  • Any regular meeting dates (e.g., I have a regular fortnightly meeting with my supervisor) or once-off meetings I already know that will happen this year (e.g., annual lesson planning meetings)
  • Adding in any public holidays (e.g., Good Friday, Easter Monday etc)
  • The days my timesheets are due (I never want to miss out on being paid because I forgot to submit a timesheet #casuallyemployed)
  • Any important milestones the university my set for me in my program (e.g., Annual Progress Report)
  • Important personal events such as holidays, parties, weddings, birthdays etc. 

For some of the events in my calendar, I don’t want reminders (e.g., telling me what week of semester it is), however for some I may want:

  • a week’s notice (ethics applications due date)
  • 3 days notice (assignment due dates – students will be emailing me a lot then)
  • Just 15 minute’s notice (classes I’m about to teach). 

So I make sure I have all those reminders set up as I’m entering each event into my calendar.

I call this process setting up the skeleton of my life. 

Research can be quite flexible. It can be done at home (e.g., reading papers, writing etc) or in the lab. As a result, it can consume your life or it can be easily ignored when administrative details, marking assignments, and attending meetings take over. 

So, once I have my skeleton set up, I have a better idea of the spaces I can reserve for research. I can start putting flesh on my skeleton. Once I have my year set up, I focus on what my research goals for the year are and start to plan out my semester using a gantt chart… But I’ll save this process for another post.

Have you finished setting up your calendar for the year? Do you have a different approach to planning your year?

– Alessa Teunisse

The First Time I Lectured

The prep was crazy

So, I was asked to cover for a lecturer. I knew the content back to front and was a confident speaker. I could do this. Then it hit me “but the references needed updating”, “but there were a few minor bugs in the slides”, “but I want to have my own sense of identity as the lecturer”, “but this is someone else’s narrative. How will I weave it, what will I say?”. This meant that, even though the lecture was already built, I might as well have started out from scratch. It took me about a week to prepare. However, I have given that lecture a number of times now and things have become much easier since that first ordeal. I guess the takeaway is that the prep was crazy for my first lecture. Whenever I prepare for a lecture, the first time I prepare is always the most intense.

The nervousness was unusually high

As a tutor, I have been guarded by “oh but we have to follow the lecturer”. But this time I was the lecturer. I thought if I said something wrong then the students would know or would pull me up or would ask hard questions. The Imposter Syndrome ran wild as I stood in the room waiting to begin. Now, normally, I am very comfortable talking about research and psychology in front of large audiences. I actually enjoy it. But this first time was a little different. However, my anxiety went away the moment I started. The rush of adrenaline and state of flow that I am so used to in public speaking came flooding back.

Managing questions

What I have not revealed is that this first lecture was a 4th year psychology unit. Moreover, this was a lectorial style lecture with class discussions as a core component of all lectures. All up this meant that I had a class of highly inquisitive kids that really wanted to know the nuts and bolts of the topic. But, in my initial state of anxiety of being questioned, I interpreted the questions as personal hits against my ability to teach. In hindsight it was a strong ability to teach that encouraged the students to begin to tease the lecture content apart and ask the bigger questions. Once I realised this, it changed how I handled class questions. They went from hits of criticisms to signs that I was doing my job right – the students were engaging with and thinking deeply about the lecture content.

All’s well that ends well

The student feedback for that one lecture was fantastic. I was invited back to give the lecture again, and eventually, became a core part of the lecturing team. So, I think this first shot at lecturing was definitely a success story! It had its moments, but I learnt so much from those moments. Use the comments below to share your experiences with your first time lecturing.

~ Chris Kilby

Well-Rounded Academic or Publishing Machine?

“Look at academics. Most of them have a 40/40/20 role. That is, they spend 40% of their time on research, 40% on teaching, and 20% on service. So, if you want an academic position after you graduate, try and develop your skills or get experience in all three areas.”

When I started my PhD, this is the advice I was given. It seemed like very sound advice. So, I did my best to essentially carve out a 40/40/20 role for myself. Each semester I taught one or two units to develop my teaching skills. I volunteered to be the postgraduate student representative on a number of committees. I helped to organise the department’s 3 Minute Thesis competition two years in a row. If someone needed a PhD student to help with something, I was there.

Towards the end of my PhD, as I was drafting up my CV, I was really proud of myself. I had managed to tick the boxes in each category. In terms of publications, I had written one encyclopedia entry and had one publication. The publication had five studies in it (and was the culmination of years of work and most of my PhD) but on paper it was only one publication. But, I assumed that anyone would look at my CV and see that I could successfully manage my time and straddle various responsibilities and still publish research. After all, this is what most academics do.

However, two months away from finishing my PhD I attended a seminar for those of us about to graduate. The “Post-PhD” seminar had various senior academics discussing what they look for when hiring post-doctoral students. The main piece of advice that I gleaned from that particular seminar was:

“When looking at a CV the first thing the hiring committee does is look at your publications. Everything else doesn’t really matter.” 

What have I done? Cue spiral of doom.

Did I waste my time volunteering for committees, organising events, and teaching?

Perhaps I should have been a hermit who only conducted studies and focused on publications.

I have now essentially finished my PhD and I’m applying for jobs. While doing this, I’m trying to publish two pieces of research to increase my employability. The jobs and postdoctoral positions in my field seem scarce. Every day I go backwards and forwards between “I should have more publications, teaching was a waste of time” and “I am a well-rounded academic who has a variety of fundamental and desirable skills”.

I think I learned valuable skills teaching classes (see my earlier post on this). Also, by volunteering, I met so many people in our department that I normally wouldn’t. This increased my network dramatically and having a good network can help with finding employment opportunities (see Chris’ post on this).

But, I still wish I had more publications.

What are your thoughts on this? As a PhD student, should you be a publication machine or developing well-rounded academic skills?

– Alessa Teunisse

Identifying Employment Opportunities in Academia

Academic hiring is changing

As I neared the end of my PhD I was provided with the opportunity to talk to someone in academia over coffee about how I find jobs in academia. I was told to look at newspapers as they often have an academic job listing. Unfortunately, as I found out, this is no longer a thing. Academia has moved with the times and has shifted from newspaper advertising to, primarily, online hiring.

Finding jobs on university websites

Almost every university has a hiring portal on their website. A place where you can create a job search strategy, save the search, and receive emailed notifications of new jobs. This is fantastic and should definitely be your first port of call. However, if my experience is any flavour of normal, then this is not quite the best way to find work.

At the time of writing this, I am spending my first morning in Melbourne after relocating from Sydney for my first full time academic job. However, I did not find this job advertised on the employers website. Rather, it was advertised only on LinkedIn.

Finding jobs on recruitment websites

OK, so LinkedIn technically isn’t a recruitment website, but it does offer that kind of functionality. There are a lot of academic jobs on websites such as Seek, Jora, Indeed (or whatever online work recruitment websites your country uses), as well as the infamous LinkedIn. Just like university websites, you can set up a search strategy and have new results emailed to you. One of the major advantages of this is that you get access to university, institutional, and industry job offerings that you might not have found in job listings on university websites. The catch, however, is that not all jobs in academia make it to these websites, some are kept exclusively on the institution’s website. Never put all your eggs in one basket.

Most jobs are not advertised – Network at conferences and social events

Having said all of this, I was once told that (averaged across all work forces) 80% of jobs are not advertised at all, and that they are found through networking and communicating. Conferences and academic social events (such as departmental meetings) can serve as a great way to scope out if anyone you know might be looking for work and to jump in and grab it before it is advertised. However, some jobs (particularly permanent full-time jobs) often have to be advertised as a matter of university policy.

~ Chris Kilby

What I learned from marking assignments

Or how I stopped worrying and started to embrace grading

I was lucky enough to begin teaching during my Masters. So I started my PhD with one year of teaching experience. I loved being in the classroom and helping my students understand group polarisation, implicit relationship rules, and theories of personality.

However, I was worried about marking essays. Firstly, marking seemed like it would take up an enormous amount of my time. As a PhD student, I felt compelled to spend every second on my PhD or things that would add value to my resume, so this would be a huge distraction from that. Secondly, I was worried that I wouldn’t be good at marking. How on earth can I fairly assign a grade to each essay? My imposter syndrome was rearing its ugly head.

Marking helped my imposter syndrome

As a PhD student, you are constantly surrounded by other brilliant people and academics. This can make you forget your own skills. Throughout your undergraduate career you only ever read your own work (which had to be of an above average quality, otherwise you wouldn’t be here) which gives you a biased view of what is good writing. But, when you mark assignments, you see work from students of all different abilities. Due to the nature of normal distributions, most people are average and get average marks. Just seeing the range of assignments made me feel a little better, like I belonged in my PhD program. Occasionally, I come across an undergrad student who writes better than I do. Although it kills me a little (and my imposter syndrome flares up again), it also makes me proud that I taught them.

Marking made me a better writer

Spending many many hours reading undergraduate work let me see the same mistakes being made again and again. You can lead a student to essay tips handouts but you can’t make them use them. However, I got a better idea of structures, sentences, and quirks of writing that really annoy me as a reader. Becoming an expert marker of undergraduate writing made me a better writer and “marker” of my own writing.

Marking helped me be less emotional about my own writing

When I first started marking I was very precious over every comment I made on these essays. I kept imagining that each assignment was my own and each comment was judgement on my ability as a scholar. The more I marked, the better I became at giving good feedback but I also viewed a piece of writing as just a piece of writing. It is not a symbol of your ability to succeed. Now, whenever I receive feedback from my supervisor it is easier to know that he is just trying to help me improve that particular piece of writing. It is not a judgement on whether or not I belonged in academia.

So overall, marking assignments was not a waste of time but instead helped me to grow as a researcher and writer.

What have you learned from marking assignments?

– Alessa Teunisse

The Silver Platter of Work Experience: The Power of Word of Mouth

The phrase “to be offered on a silver platter” means to have something offered to you, often in a way that is very easy to acquire. Much of my work experience was offered on a silver platter. Employers and clients came to me requesting my time. I now have a rather eclectic range of work experience. So how did I manage this?

Use Your Network’s Network

Firstly, the silver platter is not so much a silver platter as it is about working my network. People offered me work because they knew I was looking for work or they knew someone who knew me and recommended me. For example, I have had work offers from researchers who somehow knew students of mine, researchers who knew colleagues, teaching staff who knew others I had taught for, and students who knew other students of mine. This highlights that your network is wider than you think; it includes the networks of each person in your own network.

 Be Everywhere And Talk To Everyone

So how did I get people talking about you? Be everywhere and talk to everyone. Conferences, departmental meetings, university symposia, and committees of professional societies are all access points potential networks. I used the time before/after events to talk to these people. People were much more likely to approach me in the future if they had at least briefly met me before.

Small talk

How did I talk to a complete stranger without looking desperate or awkward? Small talk. I was recommended not to talk to people in the “I want to use you” sense, but in the “I want more friends in academia” sense. But, if someone started talking work I showed great interest in their work and shared their passion. I spoke to everyone. Researchers, teachers, students, industry, and people outside all of it. Everyone has their own network and knowing them could be the key to meeting others.

Do Things And Do Them Well For Those In Your Network

It was not enough for me to just have a strong network. I had to do things, and do them well, for those in my network. For example, someone said “I really struggle with X” and I have gone “Oh, I can do that! Would you like my help?”. Much of this doesn’t end up on my CV, but it builds reputation encourages open dialogue between me and that person. Being generous with time and demonstrating a broad skillset meant people in my network came back repeatedly with work offers and told others in their network about what I had done.

In short, I gained access to the silver platter of work experience by networking, helping others, and fostering friendship rather than exclusively professional relations. This has been a major success for me as, throughout my Honours, Masters, and PhD this has ensured a steady in-flow of casual jobs to keep me afloat and to allow me to develop new skills.

~ Chris Kilby

The Post-PhD Blues

The day was finally here. I was done. I had done all the checks, the proofs, and I couldn’t face reading my thesis any more. It had taken three and a half years, eleven studies, and 2,233 participants. I was done. I logged onto my university’s submission page, attached a PDF of my thesis, and then clicked submit.

There is nothing quite as anticlimactic as attaching a PDF to an online submission form. I was ready to celebrate but I felt more like a deflated balloon. But it was the next few weeks that really shocked me. I was sad, but also too tired to be sad. I felt empty. I slept for too many hours at night and I was exhausted during the day. I found it hard to focus and had no motivation to do anything. I couldn’t read, didn’t want to write, and just wanted to get away from everything. However, I had many many assignments I needed to mark before I could really be free. Plus, there is an expectation that immediately after you submit, you continue to work to further your experience, publish more papers, and network to find a job.

Those six weeks after handing in my thesis were very tough. I had heard of people feeling like this during a PhD, but after handing it in? I thought I was weird. But then I looked it up. Some call it the “PhD Comedown“, the “Post-PhD blues“, or “Post-Dissertation slump“.

So, I decided to go to twitter and conduct an informal poll. This was my tweet:

Did you experience post-PhD blues? Or a “PhD hangover”? I found it difficult to read or focus on anything (like grading that needed to be done) and sleeping too much but still being tired. What did you experience post-Phd?

518 people voted in the poll, with 82% of them voting for “Yes”.

It was a relief to know that this post-PhD deflation was a very normal feeling. I noticed some themes or patterns in the comments on that post (bear with me, I’m not a qualitative person but I’m giving it a go):

Suddenly having no direction:

“…Going from having the PhD as a goal, to no clear future, was tough” 

“I passed my viva at the beginning of the month and have since felt totally lost! Before then it had been “I’ll sort my life out after the viva” but now it’s over and I’m (shrugging girl emoji) I hated so much of my PhD but now I really miss it!”

Having been goal-oriented for so long, with a single end point in mind, it was very tough suddenly losing that singular focus.

Having to be a real adult, all on your own:

“I had a mild panic attack when I got to my new office and realized my advisor wasn’t there anymore to tell me what to do. In fact, no one was telling me anything. I didn’t know where to start.”

I have spent so long identifying as a “student” or “PhD candidate,” it became my identity. “I think X, but I may be wrong, I’m only a student”. I was using the concept of “student” to offer me protection in case I made a mistake.

Phantom “I should be writing guilt”:

“Phantom PhD syndrome!!! (When you still feel this sense of anxiety that PhD work still needs doing – even though you’re finished!)”

“I was part of a support group during my PhD and every single one of us went through it after completing our degrees. It was hard to get my brain out of the “I should be writing” pattern”

Although the last few months felt like a sprint to the finish line, overall I had been nursing this PhD for a long time. From the moment I woke up in the morning until I went to sleep at night (and sometimes in my dreams), the PhD was always occupying mental space. I guess it will take time for that part of my mind to be repurposed for something else. Perhaps “I should be applying for jobs” guilt instead?

I’ve found many blog posts discussing this topic if you want to dig deeper:

So, this was yet another blog post about my experiences with this emotional journey. Have you experienced this? Does anyone have any interesting data on this? Please share in the comments. We need to turn these anecdotes into data.

– Alessa Teunisse

Phase 1. PhD | Phase 2. | Phase 3. Post-Doc

“Once you have your PhD, what next?” I almost always get the same reply to this question “Well, you use your Post-Doc experience to get a job”. But this misses the huge space between post-PhD and securing a Post-Doc. This post highlights the struggles I have experienced in the few months following my PhD and the upcoming struggles I am bracing for. I do not have the answers, but want to highlight that these are issues.

Low Income

Once your PhD is accepted, not all universities will allow you to continue teaching due to increased pay rates – “why hire a PhD when there are plenty of cheaper students available” was the rationale I was told. But Post-Doc positions go to people with “more experience”. So be prepared to be overqualified for the work you are doing and underqualified for the work you should be doing. 

Lacking Experience Despite Being Experienced

In my few months in post-PhD land I have made serious attempts at applying for six jobs. Of them, I scored three interviews. In these two of these three interviews I was a desirable candidate but “lacked experience” (I am still waiting to hear back from the third). It would seem that there is this expectation that you can continue building your CV in the space between your PhD and a Post-Doc. So ‘lacking experience’ seems to be specific to this grey period between post-PhD and pre-Post-Doc.

Publish Papers

Post-PhD is the perfect time to be working on writing up as many publications out of your PhD as possible. It is also the time to be applying for ECR grants and developing your collaboration network. This will also feed into your experience. Word of mouth and networking are powerful in academia. But, personally, I have been so busy applying for jobs and trying to figure out how to gain this sorely needed experience that I have barely had time to sit and write.

Facing Relocation

So, of the six positions I have applied for so far, four required interstate relocation. I have also started to consider international positions, sometimes in countries where I do not currently speak the native language. Securing Post-PhD work may mean relocating. This is hard if you have a partner who works.

Being the Family Stressor

My last point for this post. Family are a blessing in your post-PhD period because they can offer you emotional and financial support while you are making the move. But this places pressure on them as well, so how do you manage this dynamic? On top of this, how do you manage the need to move if your partner is well established in their workplace or runs a business? Should they up and leave as well, or should you live separately for a while? Can your relationship last long-distance?

These are not the only issues post-PhD and everyone will have a unique experience. But these are challenges I am facing. In this blog I will aim to document how I am managing (or not managing) these issues and would love to hear about issues you guys are facing. Let’s create a supportive community where we can normalise, destigmatise, and openly talk about what the post-PhD world looks like (the good and the bad) and how to navigate it.

~ Chris Kilby

How’s the academic job market?

So, how’s the academic job market?

This is the first question I asked the minute the end of my PhD was in sight. The process of finding a job in the Ivory Towers of the world seemed to be cloaked in mystery. Just as I was asking this question, serendipitously this study “Insights from a survey-based analysis of the academic job market” came up on my twitter feed. Below I will summarise the main findings, but I thoroughly recommend checking out the paper.

Fernandes and colleagues collected data from 317 early career researchers in the STEM fields (51% were male) most of which (82%) were applying for jobs in the United States. They define early career researchers as “anyone engaged in research who is not recognized as an independent leader/investigator of a research group. This includes graduate and postdoctoral researchers; junior research assistants, associates, and staff scientists.”

  • Men reported significantly more first author papers, more publications, and more citations than women as well as having a significantly higher h-index. All of these increased the chances of receiving an offer.
  • Women had significantly more fellowship funding than men. Qualitatively, the impact of funding on research career success was recognised both by applicants and members of hiring committees.
  • Collectively, the 317 participants had submitted a total of 7,644 job applications (an average of 24 per person [median of 15]). 
  • 42% of the sample had received no offers, 33% received one offer, 14% received two offers, 6% received three offers, and 6% received more than three offers
  • Typically, candidates who received offers had submitted more applications than those who did not receive an offer.
  • Hiring committee members noted that it was easy to identify good candidates from their submitted applications but that there were simply too many good candidates or that they often underperformed in the interview.
  • Nearly half of the sample had posted preprints online of research with several people suggesting that it provided evidence of productivity outside of the formal publication process.
  • All the participants in the study were highly qualified according to the metrics yet they reported high stress and frustration with the job application process. Many perceived poor mentorship as a major obstacle to their applications.

Overall, the paper concludes that the faculty job search process is not clear. Of all the people they surveyed, there wasn’t a single positive comment about the process.

“Our findings suggest that there is no single clear path to a faculty job offer and that metrics such as career transition awards and publications in high impact factor journals were neither necessary nor sufficient for landing a faculty position. The applicants perceived the process as unnecessarily stressful, time-consuming, and largely lacking in feedback, irrespective of a successful outcome.”

In short, the results confirm what we all know to be true. There is no one clear path after the PhD. The path is covered in obstacles and may be biased against some of us for a multitude of reasons. But this also gives me hope. There seems to be flexibility and room for creativity in terms of carving out a career in academia. Let’s see how this goes.

– Alessa Teunisse

Welcome to PhD and Beyond!

Welcome to the blog!

We are Alessa and Chris and welcome to our blog. We are both at the end of our PhDs in psychology and have started to venture out into the post-PhD world. 

Except, we have no idea what we are doing. We both have different expertise, different career goals, and had different experiences throughout our PhD, yet our experience of post-PhD life is very similar. Post-PhD talks we have attended have all said: “after your PhD, once you finish your post-doc, then…” but nobody has really explained how you secure a post-doctoral position or that first position of any kind or anything that happens between completing a PhD and starting a post-doc (such as how you manage finances, how you find post-doc positions, what is a normal post-PhD trajectory and what isn’t etc.).

In this blog, we will reflect on our experiences during our PhDs and will journal our current experiences to highlight our successes, our struggles, and the strategies we have learned throughout our journey. Hopefully, this will become a resource for future PhD candidates to draw on to help them navigate this complex and not so well documented time.

In this blog we will aim to have three different types of posts: #struggles, #successes, and #strategies. There will also be a few #supplemental posts, as well.

  • The #struggles posts will describe various roadblocks or frustrations we have encountered 
  • The #successes posts will revolve around successes and what we learned from them
  • The #strategies posts will outline tips and actionable steps that we have found useful
  • The #supplemental posts are anything that doesn’t fit into any of the categories

The main feed will have the most recent posts, but if you want to trawl through a specific category of posts, you can select the category type from the menu.

We would love to hear from you! Please feel free to use the contact form to send through your comments, feedback, or requests for new topics!

To the PhD and beyond!

~ Alessa and Chris