Once we get it, what do we do with it?


Hello fellow students

I'd appreciate some advice/thoughts about life after a PhD. I have a fairly well-paying job in the public service, and am on leave without pay for a few more months to write the thesis. I hope to have it done by March. There's the possibility that I can snag a research job in my field - won't pay as well as the public service, and will undoubtedly be a short-term contract, probably 18 months.

Half of me would love to chuck in the public service job - for all the reasons people can probably think of - and half of me is terrified of trying to live from contract to contract, in an area where there's not a whole lot of work. Like much of academia I suppose. I know of one person who has a contract position, and she has to write her own submissions to get funding so that she has a job...that sounds well grim to me! Teaching in my area isn't really for me - am a much better researcher than teacher, so that also limits my options.

So I'm wondering if I should take the big plunge. I need to decide in the medium term, as both sets of employers will want to know my plans. So - have others experienced life going from contract to contract? Is it a feasible way to live?

Thanks for any thoughts.


I'm in the process of applying for posdoc grants now so there will be a gap of at least 6 months between viva and working again - IF I'm successful. Then I expect to have to do at least one more contract before getting something permanent - but even then you have to keep applying for grants to fund your research. I will be relying on my long-suffering husband during the gaps but will also do some teaching. If I were single and/or didn't have a child I would work freelance in my former capacity and/or teach to cover the gaps - or basically just do anything (bar work etc) I had to to get by. That is the reality I'm afraid, although it is possible to go smoothly from contract to contract depending on your topic, flexibility and luck. Given my topic and total lack of flexibility I expect gaps.

People do live like this. I lived from contract to contract for many years before going back to university so I'm used to it and actually prefer it in some ways. I don't like to be indefinitley committed and with contracts you never need an excuse to move on. There is more variety and excitement - but of course, less security.

It's a leap of faith. How much would you like to try it and how hard would it be to go back to your old profession in a couple of years? How do you see your long-term future? Can you have a long-term future in your filed without lecturing?


IMO Contract to contract life sucks. I would love to have a steady lecturer's job where I know where I will be in 18 months time, not be on first name terms with the house hunting/ shifting industry. Its okay for me as I have no dependents, but part of me thinks that this lifestyle is the reason I am not in a position to have them.

What makes it more galling is that lots of the old timers here have MScs and have job stability, where we nowadays have to slog through multiple post docs and may still never get a job. Then again I have chosen this and I am still doing it, although I have started to question this more recently.


I guess it depends upon how you could cope with the constant searching for the next post, as of course, once you are in the post the clock is ticking towards the date you will be leaving and sometime down the line you will have to start thinking about where you are going next instead of concentrating on the here and now. On the other hand, if you want to leave your present post then you might want to look at a few other options before taking the plunge, to see if there is the possibility of anything permanent on the horizon. Ultimately it is the choice between something you want to do, but has an uncertain future and something you can rely on to pay the bills. I must admit to never having had this problem because luckily all my jobs have been interesting, not well paid, but you can't have it all - would I have given up a post if it was unfulfilling and taken another that had a limited lifespan? I'm not sure, but I did leave a training course that had more or less guaranteed security for life to seek something else when it became obvious that their ideals and my ideals were poles apart, so I would probably go for interest over security, otherwise you could spend your whole working life doing something you don't like, and regret not taking a chance.


Current situation in academic job market is very tough, at least it is my impression after looking for a next job since the beginning of this year. My current research contract expires next month but I havent got next job. I have made fifteen applications, but got only two interviews. I have PhD from the one of the top universities in the world, excellent CV and brilliant references, but no next job. Where is the problem? You wont believe but apparently for many positions I applied to the competition was 150-200 people per place! (I know that from the 'insiders'). Moreover, people who are too qualified are applying to temporary, short-term and similar jobs simply because there are not many permanent positions available for those who few years ago would get them.

In current situation, if I were you, I would stick to the job you got:) But you might think differently.


Thanks for the advice everyone. Yes, I know the job market is tough - at one of the places I'd like to work, they also received 140 applications for two positions. But then there is the issue of taking a risk, and not regretting missed opportunities....and as one of you has mentioned, I could still go back to the public service down the track, although would probably have to drop down a level...

...food for thought...


I think it is a question of how good you are and whether you have the confidence to believe that you can command a permanent academic post in the future. This is something were you need to talk frankly to your supervisor and other academic colleagues about. Unfortunately it is so competitive out there that if you are only "ok" then you are likely to be facing a lot of rolling contract work or a lot of teaching. Key indicators are whether you have any burning research questions that you want to answer and practical, well thought out ideas about how to investigate these questions. If you have those and both the passion and skills to do it then go for academia.


Hi Jewel

Thanks for your comments - you raise some good points. Yes, I've also wondered whether I have the stuff it takes - my capacity for hard work makes up for a lack of genius. I suspect I don't have the necessary attributes to snag a permanent position. And since I don't want to teach, I think I would be restricted to contract research positions. Colleagues think I should grab this research position, then do a post-doc...but I dunno...Today I think I'll go back to the public service, but the idea of having a working life of mediocrity appalls me!


Hi Sue2604,

can you not combine? I mean, would it be feasible to work in the public sector and aside that do some research? Perhaps it is possible to work part-time in your current job and to have a set number of days allocated for research? I recognise your point that you do not want a mediocre life but on the other hand you have doubts about searching for one contract after the other.

Personally I quite like the combination, I like my current job but also enjoy to do some more intellectual stuff, for example working on special projects, audits, teaching and also some research. I think you must be very brave not to opt for a regular income and to make the big jump.


Hi Rick

Yes, good suggestions, and that's what I've done for the last couple of years - worked part-time and studied. I've found though, that you never really get the best of either world doing this. If you work 3 or fewer days a week in the public service, you tend to get the less interesting, less urgent/sexy pieces of work, and are also effectively not on any sort of career track. And then that doesn't leave much time for research work either and also means you're not on campus as much as others, not networking as much as you should etc etc...My problem is I want to do to many things at once and am a restless soul anyway!