3 tips for new PhD graduates
There is nothing like the graduation high. If I close my eyes hard enough, I can still tap into that post defense energy. A fine mixture of terrible exhaustion and freedom. Completing a thesis is one of the most intellectually demanding and sometimes physical exercices a young academic goes though. Once that’s done, the sky is the limit and it may almost be overwhelming. Our most valuable and very limited ressources are time and energy, yet often we take them for granted. Here are three tips to help you navigate this phase:
Learn the craft & finish things. In the majority of the cases a PhD is a very guided exercice. The supervisor might not know the «final result » but presumably they have a vision for you. After the PhD, remember that you can continue and perfect what you have started to learn, yet you do not need permission to learn new things. You can explore and see what works and does not work for you. You can think as yourself as a palette of colors. Take the time to refine what you crave intellectually and where you wish to challenge yourself. However never forget to finish things. If you have completed a PhD you have learned maybe the hard way that lesson already. We may debate the validity of academic metrics, but the truth is one or two completed projects count a hell lot more than fifty half done ones.
Study your peers. Figure out what you love about people who do their job well and those you look up too. Simultaneously and just as important figure out what wish to avoid at all cost in the approach of other. You can observe, inquire and ask questions but most importantly make sure you « deconvolve » what you hear and see. If you are in luck, a person who is telling you about themselves or giving you advice has the awareness that whatever they will share is folded with their personal history, environment and paths. But this is not always the case and it’s your responsibility to get to the core of things. An other important aspect is geography. The route to get an academic job in the UK is very different than the one is France, Germany or China. And these routes will change will times and political environments. The color palette you are making for yourself does not exist in vacuum.
Learn to say no. Now this is a tricky one yet maybe the most important one. A young postdoc, especially a good one, is one of the most valuable assets an organisation can have. While a good PI or manager will treat post docs with the care and respect that they deserve to allow them to expend and thrive. The reality is that they can also be treated as fresh blood for the grinder. Regardless of the PI, chances are that people will often ask you to do things. This can be simple tasks, more substantial responsabilises or projects. Learning to say no is the best way to have a chance to say a big juicy yes to what really matters to you. Naturally what generates anxiety is that you have no certainty that your big “Yes” is three “No”s away. Navigating this uncertainty is terribly difficult. Yet perhaps on a bigger picture this discomfort is « «less bad » than being stuck in a situation you will resent yourself for.