Some of you might remember me from two previous postings covering: (a) my desire to leave my PhD program; and (b) the anxiety I had regarding notifying my supervisor of this. Here I am again.
Its now June, eight months into my (3+1) PhD program. At my university, it is expected that funded students undergo their upgrade within 12-18 months of their start date. My supervisor has discussed taking the upgrade in May next year, thus allowing more time for my project to become more specific and coherent. Whilst this provides generous breathing room, I feel like I'm leading a double life: on one hand, I'm chipping away at the project I'm engaged in with a view to undergoing the upgrade next spring; on the other I'm applying for jobs.
This neatly segues to my next issue: applications. So far, I've racked up around 140 since January, generating a pathetic 4 interviews. I consistently find myself ticking all the boxes on person specifications (i.e., qualifications, knowledge, skills) until I get to the big E: experience. May I add, I have an MA in a social science and I've worked constantly since 2004. I just lack the relevant experience that these, primarily administrative, roles require. Despite spending a year working reception in mental healthcare.
So, basically, I'm in a position where jobs are hard to come by and the upgrade looms. I've even considered (not that I want to) the possibility of ending up on the dole as a result of all of this. The reception job was not great, £16k - £19.5k (I had night shifts too), but it provided a good base from which to seek additional opportunities, such as a research job interview I had earlier this year in healthcare (£26k - £30k). I just feel so lost at the moment; stuck in a hole with no way out. This is why I state that the PhD is the worst career decision I have EVER made (up till this point, of course).
I'm not sure how to respond, other than stressing that you're not alone in your predicament. (That's not too reassuring, I know, and I'm not trying to be the voice of doom.)
I'm currently finishing minor corrections. Once these are done I'll be looking for a job, and the prospects aren't great, in or outside of academia.
My chances of landing a senior lecturer position are negligible without several years on low paid temporary contracts and a more substantial research profile. (Even then it would be difficult to secure stable academic employment.) I would also be unable to get a mortgage or comfortably sustain myself. Post-docs in my subject are extremely rare, too.
I worked for more than a decade before returning to academia, and while I couldn't stand my job, it paid relatively well and was secure. I think I'd struggle to land the same job again, and I lack the requisite experience for anything else. I'm also not so young now, which may count against me (unofficially, of course) if seeking to a non-academic job.
I'm telling myself that I'll be OK if I can find a job that loosely fits my earlier work experience and I foreground "transferable skills" on job applications, CVs, and in interview (assuming I get to the interview stage). However, I'm concerned about my job prospects. And I wonder if I'd have been better off sticking with my earlier, admittedly soul crushing job.
If it makes you feel any better, I'm also not entitled to benefits of any description, due to DWP small print that's too long and dull to explicate here. And I've tried to find temporary work and low paid jobs as stop-gaps, but employers have been dismissive, too. My family are far from wealthy, and I'm currently depending on family for bed and board. This situation isn't tenable in the long run.
In short, I'm extremely anxious and unsure what the future holds.
MoC don't know what to say. You hate the PhD so get out because you wont make a very good or convincing PhD candidate / Academic if you hate what you are doing. It sure is rough out there but thats the breaks unfortunately. Its grind and improve yourself until you get an opportunity. Being in SoSci, you should really check out charities, trusts, consulting firms and international development (UN et al) They pay well, probably will require you to move however.
Nick1 don't despair brother, do what everyone does. Pick up a shitty teaching fellowship at a uni, and use that time to apply to post-docs AND publish!!!! With the new round of REF starting between 2017-2020 uni's will be keen on picking up ref-ready academics just before then (i.e. 3-4 good publications, teaching experience, and a post-doc will sure help too). So keep at it. Nothing is worse that a soul crushing job: Wake up, waste oxygen at work, come home and find release in some vice, fall asleep, rinse repeat.
I prefer waking up trying to figure out how to convince people I have the best ideas ever.
You may have posted this elsewhere, but have you sought any advice from the uni careers service on your applications. Perhaps your job search could be targetted differently, or your CV tweaked in some way? They may also have some thoughts on interim paths that you might not have considered.
Fled, thanks for your comments.
And HazyJane, thanks also (I'm not sure if you were responding to the original post, my post, or perhaps both; in any case, your observations seen relevant to my situation).
My circumstances are quite complicated, as I have responsibilities as a carer that would prohibit any move. If I was offered teaching work in another part of the UK, or indeed abroad, I'd have to regretfully decline. Because I'm limited to job hunting in cities within commutable distance, the odds of landing a full time (or even part time) academic position are even less favourable. To add to this difficulty, I'm also a relatively mature student. I'd dearly like to live in my own house again. This becomes impossible if I'm on a temporary contract, as there's no way I'd be offered a mortgage.
At the same time, it'll be tough to sell my humanities PhD to non-academic employers, even if I emphasise prior work experience and transferable skills.
I think I need to take things one step at a time. Finish minor corrections first (I'm nearly there!) and make big decisions once I've cleared the decks and can give them my full attention.
MoC, any progress or further thoughts from your end?
I can only echo what other people have said before - you are most defnitely not alone. The only thing I can say is that if you really feel academia/your phd is not for you, quite now rather than sticking with it. I am saying this because I am in a similar predicament - I realized early on in my funded studentship that I was neither interested in nor suited to the project I took on, I felt ostracized at the office and generally miserable. The difficult thing is, everyone tells you to just stick with it, rough patch, what not. I made the mistake of listening - 3 years later, my funding runs out tomorrow, and although I have managed to even publish some stuff, there is just no way I can get a thesis written/pass a viva.
Also, bear in mind that a PhD will only really help you if you want a career in academia - and you can only really have a career in academia if you feel 'vocational' about it, as in, you just would never be happy doing anything else and you are willing to do anything to get there.
as for job interviews, well, that's pretty much standard these days. Even with a PhD, you won't get any more interviews/offers - most employers in industry aren't to keen on PhDs. In terms of experience, well, I actually worked in industry before I did my PhD and did some voluntary work experience while doing the Phd - still, very scarce on the interview/offer front.
So if you are sure you aren't enjoying it, quit now or you'll regret it in 3 years' time.
Surely you're entitled to some sort of benefits if you have no resources of you're own?
Post up in a new thread whatever information you can (without compromising you're privacy, obviously) and someone on here may be able to help you. I know roughly of someone in your situation who did eventually find call centre work and was able at least to pay the bills.
As regards your PhD hindering your job hunting, I've been there too so know only too well who you're going through and I had a science PhD.
I don't know what camp you're in as regards hiding your PhD for non-academic jobs. Some opt to hide in order not to put people off employing them whilst others regard this as gross dishonesty (though this latter view seems to be a cultural thing, especially in N. America). I guess if someone was desperate enough to find employment they might resort to this and I personally wouldn't hold it against them.
Hi folks, sorry for the lateness of my reply ...
HazyJane ... At one point, I was going to book an appointment with the careers service regarding my applications and the possible pathways I could take with my degree(s). The issue here is, I'm already fully aware of my options. I have a BA in Sociology and a MA in Social Research. With these qualifications, most career pathways require further study (i.e., probation officers, counsellors, social workers), a PhD (higher education lecturers), or simply leave me in a position where I just have the "wrong" degree for going into a particular career (i.e., no teaching posts want sociology!). So, I'm a bit screwed. At this stage, my options are fourfold:
(1) Gain another master's (at the cost of another £4,000) in a more vocational area that appeals to me (i.e., such as counselling or social work).
(2) Go back to university and do another undergraduate degree in something more vocational that appeals (i.e., nursing) and where jobs are readily available.
(3) Throw myself into the fire of the graduate job environment (I have gone for some graduate schemes); and
(4) Get myself a job in something and build a career the "old fashioned way," if you will.
The catch in all of this is the fact that, ideally, I have to have something in place before I can leave my PhD. Look, £1,134 per month is not a great wage by any account, but it is what it is: an income. I regularly ask myself, would I leave a job that paid me this much with no alternative to go to? Probably not.
Thanks for your comments,
Thank you for your astute comments! You certainly pull no punches. I totally understand and respect where you are coming from. If I'm 100% honest with myself and the people who have read and/or contributed to this post (after all, it is an online social environment!), all I am is a good essay writer. I write well. In fact, I write really well. But that, along with my forward-thinking ideas and concepts, is about as far as I go concerning my ability to be a model academic. So, yes, I don't think I would make a very good/convincing PhD scholar, nor academic for that matter. Plus, its something I can honestly say I don't want to do.
Thank you for the heads up on some opportunities for a social science graduate like myself.
What you say in your reply bears resemblance to the "sunken costs" theory, whereby your basically cutting your losses early on. From my understanding, the experiences that you explain are not uncommon for PhD students. After all, the withdrawal rate hovers around 50% for the lions share' of universities. Some of the primary reasons for this do include a lack of funding and individuals who don't finish their PhDs in the allotted timeframes, thus running over by substantial periods of time and becoming less and less engaged in their work.
I agree with you regarding the PhD and its versatility in the employment market. I guess its different for more vocational PhDs, such as biochemistry or psychology, where you can leave the program with a freshly minted doctoral degree and actually pursue becoming a "biochemist" or a "psychologist." The big issue with sociology is that no one employs "sociologists;" those who define themselves as a "sociologist" have usually gone down the academic route of becoming a senior lecturer. And to be honest, the majority of social research organisation's and company's that find PhDs desirable for certain roles usually only offer fixed-term contracts for which you must combine your PhD with 2-5 years experience in the field.
Can I ask, what did you do in your PhD? Was it a social science?
Thanks for your comments!
Thank you for your replies. Can I ask, what is your PhD in, and how many publications, conference talks and papers do you have at this point? One of the biggest issues I've seen with the academic world is that PhDs are considered to be the bare minimum that an individual should have. And because PhDs are not classified once completed (i.e., 1st/2:1/2:2/3rd), its not the individual with the best written piece of work that gets ahead; its the individual who has produced the most publications (i.e., "publish or perish") and made the most connections at conferences. To be honest, I dislike the culture too. Its full of people constantly initiating bullshit conversations and, when they do talk about something relevant, its either (a) all about them and their research, or (b) spoken in riddles for them to constantly re-emphasize their own academic prowess. I must state, these are MY OPINIONS. They are NOT objective, universal facts!
I'm sorry to hear of your situation, and I hope it improves in the near future. May I ask, how do you manage to stay motivated? Did you enjoy your PhD when you were in the process of completing it? One of the problems we consistently suffer from in this society is "anti-intellectualism." Employers do not want people who are academically intelligent; many degrees are pushed aside as "mickey mouse" courses (I blame the media for this); and, I personally believe there is a high degree of envy swirling around company's and organisations, particularly from the managers we are most likely more qualified than!
Personally, I'm not a person who has no experience. I worked 6 years in hospitality as a bar supervisor, and 12 months as a lead receptionist in mental healthcare. So, I do have the experience! But employers can't look past my Master's degree. It feels so degrading that I now have to delete it from my CV and job applications
Here's the nursing diploma to which I was referring.
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