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The Quitting dilemma, plus a few other questions

Hi there,

sorry to hear about this. I spent three years in a job I hated after I graduated from my MA because I could not find a suitable PhD program straight away and doubted whether academia was a good career choice. Instead, I was miserable in supposedly grown-up, well paid jobs. Talking to a lot of people and a book called 'What colour is your parachute' eventually helped me to figure out that I actually was meant to be in academia, whether it paid crap or not. I have almost finished my PhD now and although every job will obviously have days you like it less, I love most of it and could not imagine doing anything else anymore.

So here's my advice, for what it's worth: if you don't have the money to see a career counsellor or coach, invest in a book such as 'What colour is your parachute'. Although some of the more job market specific advice is aimed at the US and the illustrations are downright cheesy, I found the exercises that help you figure out you core values and what kind of jobs matches them really helpful.

I would not invest in a profi CV writer as long as you don't know what you're looking for. After that, it might be worth it, but only if you're trying to find the kind of job where a well-tweaked CV is what you need to get them (in some fields word of mouth is much more important is my experience). If you're interested in a certain kind of job, like the fire and rescue services, you could also try to contact someone who already does that. I found that people are surprisingly willing to tell you about their work, sometimes will even let you come along for the day. That really gives you a good impression of what the work is like and whether you would want to pursue it.

Last but not least: you say that you'd rather work outside than in an office. If that's really true (and not just a hyperreaction to you recent negative experiences), why don't you give yourself a year or so to try different kinds of outdoor jobs and see what you like and dislike about them? You could think of working on an (organic) farm, on a camping site, as an outdoor sports instructor, as a handyman et cetera. Although a lot of those jobs might be not so well-paid, I guess it's better to do something you enjoy for little money than to be well-paid and miserable. You could also apply for outdoor jobs abroad, such as ski instructor or something. That way not only can you do something you enjoy, you'll get to know new people and see new places too!

Hope this helps a little, good luck!

Highs and lows

Hello everyone,

I must say, it is kind of comforting to know that there are more people having the same experience! Thank you for sharing everyone. I can totally identify with Ady and Corinne; one day I feel like I have finally found what I am meant to do, the other I fear everyone around me will find out I am no good at this... this is not helped by the fact that I work within a larger research project where I have a colleague at the same stage of her PhD who never seems to doubt anything she does or says, nor does she ever show any signs of doubt regarding her own abilities or the feasibilty of her project. Although I don't think that's healthy either, I must admit I'm jealous of that kind of happy-go-lucky people.

Maybe a helpful tale on how NOT to deal with it and what does work for me: Last autumn I had a complete nervous breakdown when I was trying to juggle teaching a full course which I had entirely redeveloped, writing a draft chapter, preparing a conference paper and preparing for a three month research stay abroad, while both an aunt and uncle of mine had just been diagnosed with cancer. After three sleepless nights (try putting things into perspective then :-( ) I ended up with palpitations at my GP's who prescribed me three sleeping pills and a week of work. I was terrified to break the news of throwing a sickie to my supervisor, but he actually responded very understanding and even covered my class for that week! I took a lot of walks in the park and did a lot of thinking that week - some of it with the help of a little book called 'Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies', which really helped my putting things back in perspective and regulating negative though mostly irrational thoughts - a bit like Phdmecheng's STOP but a bit more sophisticated :-)

The book actually has a number of useful exercises in it, liking writing down negative thoughts, seeking factual proof for them (often very hard) and writing down positive counterproof in another column. Another one I liked was writing all your positive characteristics and qualities -not just work related ones- on stickies and putting them on the wall over your computer (admittedly it would be weird to do this in the office, but at home it's fine) - it sounds childish but it can be a helpful reminder of the fact that you're overall an OK person, defined by more than the PhD. This last point is something I also try to live up to since my breakdown by actually restricting research and teaching to 40 hours a week (which is also in my contract), talking a lot to people who are not in academia, devoting free time to things which have absolutely nothing to do with my research, like volunteering, travelling and cooking. Doing sports (I run) also helps, it reminds you that you also have a body, not just brains.

I still have my low moments, still can drive myself nuts, but I can deal with it better now and know it's just temporary (i.e. by looking at my list of irrationalist thoughts or putting up the stickies again, or just by the occasional day of). Being passionate about your research is a good thing, being obsessed is not healthy!

Looking for accommodation in London!

Hi Alleycat,

I spent a year in London doing a research MA and are now back for another three months to work on my PhD (the rest of the project is done in another country). The MA year I spent at Claredale House (easily found via google), which was good in terms of comfort and cost, though the area was at the time not the best - but this is five years ago, so it might have improved meanwhile. What was nice was that they put people together who were in the same situation and had the same preferences, so I was sharing a flat with three other post-grad non-smoking females, without having to look for flatmates myself.

Right now I am staying at a sort of B&B which I guess is only feasible for a short period, although this one's extremely cheap and nice (found it through AirBNB, which is linked to Facebook). You could always use something like that to get started. Where I am staying now there are a lot of people who spend a couple of weeks there while checking out more permanent places to stay. 

So if you're looking for a place to spend the full length of your program, there are basically two options: student housing or taking part in a flat share. The latter can be found through places like Gumtree. Keep in mind that it's often much cheaper to stay somewhere outside zone 1/2, even with the increased transport costs added. Also, check the area before you decide to move somewhere. My experience of London is that even within one neighbourhood, a certain street or block can be ever so nice, but around the next corner it can be very run down or even gang land - very inconvenient if you have to walk through that at night from the tube on your own, especially if you're a girl.

Hope this helps!