Where To Go Next? Uncertainty, The Journey So Far, and What To Do After The PhD

I officially have 8 months left of PhD funding, and for the past 6 months, I’ve been (rightly or wrongly) agonising over what I will do after the PhD – COVID-19 interruptions notwithstanding. For some context, I come from a staunchly working-class Glaswegian background. I was the first in my family to complete school and go onto University. I fought and gained scholarships and grants to undertake master’s after my B.A in Psychology. I successfully interviewed and gained a funded PhD project I could make my own by the ESRC in 2017. It sounds easy when written out like that, but it’s been a long and winding road. I’ve spent nearly 10 years in University alone, and coming to the end of the PhD I’m feeling the pressure, as no doubt many of us are, to make the ‘right’ choice and make the best decision to make the best use of what we’ve gained.

This I am finding it difficult.

I am no stranger to existential crisis. In fact, it’s a running joke. I have agonised over ‘next steps’ for years. For me personally coming from a strong psychology background this has looked like; “should I try for that masters, or that assistant psychologist role” commence the rounds and rounds of unsuccessful interviews, unsuccessful scholarship applications, missed grants, the absolute draining feeling when you try and don’t succeed. And then there’s a glimmer of light at the end of that tunnel – you got that job, you got that scholarship, that masters place. Let’s do this, let’s get this finished! No worrying about the future for the next 6 months. Then it’s the end again and you’re (certainly I am) thinking; “should I take a break, or apply for applied training, or a masters that qualifies me for PhD funding”. It starts again, applications, emails, scholarships, daring to hope you’d get invited for applied training interviews, the absolute heartbreak when you don’t succeed.

You (I) finally get onto a PhD in an interesting (to me) area. You don’t have to worry, you’re getting paid, a roof over your head, doing something you enjoy (even if academia is something you butt heads with, feel strange in). Your personal life ebbs and flows, relationships end, relationships start, and end again. Some people don’t like the fact you’re doing a PhD. You’re constantly asked “when are you having children then?”, “Does the PhD provide maternity leave?”, “So, when are you leaving school to get a real job?”, “Don’t you think a PhD would put future partners off?”. I write articles, I get published, I pitch a book, I get published.

Now it’s April 1st and I’m 29, with 8 months funding left of a PhD, living with so many others with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lost access to the data I need to complete, having to rearrange the PhD to get the PhD. Worrying about funding. And above all, worrying about the future. Should I stay in academia? Should I go abroad, or stay home? I have built up a good academic record. Do I try for applied psychology doctoral training one last time (I need to call it a day at some point don’t I?). Do I go into the third sector? Do I get a dog? From the little to the big things, I don’t know. All this now superimposed on the newness of pandemic living, of still trying to get that PhD amongst the tiny decisions of living, and all I can think about it is – am I good enough? Am I making the right decision for the future?

I don’t know, but I can hope.