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