5 steps to take after your doctorate

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After the years of hard slog, surely the time after getting your doctorate is a time to relax and celebrate. But the period after successfully defending a PhD can be disorientating, especially if you don’t (yet!) have a job in hand. It may be tempting to think that you never want to look at your thesis again after having spent so long on it. Take some time off, of course, but don’t ignore what can be a very valuable resource for your future, whatever direction you decide to go in. Here are a few tips to help you through this time of limbo.

  1. Look at the big picture

Doing doctoral research can be so all-consuming that it is easy to lose sight of why you undertook the doctorate in the first place. But now is a perfect time to remind yourself what those initial reasons were, and to reassess them from your current position, asking yourself what your objectives are now and what any obstacles to achieving them might be. If your heart was set on an academic career at the start, consider what you have learnt in the course of your PhD about academia more broadly, and ask yourself whether you still have the same objectives.

  1. Seek out directed feedback

In the course of undertaking your doctorate, you should have received plenty of responses to your work from your supervisor. The viva itself and subsequent examiner reports should also have given you more feedback on your work. Your options for feedback do not end there: you can disseminate your ideas through informal blogging (although don’t get too drawn into this at the expense of peer-reviewed publication, if you want to pursue an academic career), occasional conference papers, and you may even find that your own former fellow doctoral candidates would willingly look at your work in exchange for some feedback on their own. If you intend to turn your thesis into a book, ask specifically for views on which parts of your work should be omitted or condensed, and which expanded upon (e.g. often the ‘literature/ state of the field’ survey in a thesis is not suitable for book publication in its full form).

  1. Approach publishers

Of course, the other way to receive feedback is to approach publishers – but do this only when you are as sure as you can be that your work is at a publishable level (i.e. is defensible, evidence-based, rigorously researched and clearly written). Once you have established your objectives you will have a clearer idea of what sort of publishers you wish to approach – academic publishers or publishers with a mass market approach? Consider journals and other forms of print publication as an alternative to book publishers in order to get your work into the public domain.

  1. Use your doctorate as a springboard to further research

Although it can be hard to believe this at the time, a doctoral thesis can be just the very start of an academic or other research/ writing-based career. Sometimes a doctoral thesis will form the invisible foundational work of future research. Give yourself some time to consider which aspects of your research you found particularly stimulating. Were there subjects or areas that you touched upon but did not have time to pursue? Try to take a step back from the detail of your research to consider how you might frame your research more broadly and see if that leads to other related areas you could pursue. Consider asking your informal network of peers for feedback on this.

  1. Use your doctoral research in different ways

Many, many people do doctorates and then go on to have successful and interesting careers in areas outside academia altogether. By undertaking a doctorate you have demonstrated to employers that you have advanced research, communication, and analytical skills, that you can marshal large and complex bodies of information and present them in a comprehensible way, and that you would be an asset on any team. Don’t overlook the impressive body of skills that your doctorate represents to potential employers.

Lastly, but most importantly, look after your wellbeing. A doctorate is a demanding and sometimes isolating process, so make sure you are attending to the other areas of your life and recreation that are just as important, and that will ensure the long-term wellbeing that is the foundation of all future productivity.

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