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From PhD to Life

Be vulnerable, be brave


Earlier this week I spoke on the phone with Ysette Guevara, a fellow PhD and post-academic who runs her own business helping young people transition to adulthood. Our business values line up well, and so do our stories of career transition after our doctorates. You know how much I love meeting new people (aka networking), and this conversation was both fun and inspiring.

I asked Ysette about her biggest learning from her years since earning a PhD. “Be vulnerable,” she told me, citing Brene Brown. “Have no shame. Be fearless about sharing ideas.”

I couldn’t agree more. Be brave and bold, I say.

This is easier said than done.

When I created my blog and website, From PhD to Life, in December 2012, I had to pause to think about whether I should attach my real name to the site. I wasn’t intending to bash an employer or complain endlessly about my lot in life, so anonymity wasn’t absolutely required. But those of us in the academic world understand why this would even be an issue. We’ve all been cautioned about our online identities, and the damage they can do us on the job market.

After a few moments consideration, I chose to go public, including not just my name and the city I lived in, but soon my email address and phone number, too. Heck, I figured, if this blog will cause me problems in academic circles, so be it. I was here for myself and all the other PhDs out there creating lives for themselves beyond the tenure track.

That decision, and the choices I made thereafter with each new blog post, set the tone for my post-academic career. I was finally in charge of my own life, and taking charge of my working life came next. I didn’t think of it like this until a friend and professor pointed it out to me after she read my article for Academic Matters. She said was she was struck by how in control I sounded.

You know what? I am in control. Yes, as a business owner I have to make sure my services meet market demand and all that. But I own my failures and my successes, and I am at the mercy of no one person, institution, or company. While I enjoy many privileges, and understand that we all operate within systems (of oppression, market capitalism, etc.), I take responsibility for what comes, and what doesn’t. A friend I had lunch with on Tuesday who’s looking for work says it like this: “We make our own luck.” Right or wrong, I’d rather feel this way than be convinced of the opposite.

So here’s the take-away: be vulnerable, be brave, and put yourself in charge. Whatever comes of it, at least you’ll know you gave it your all, and that you honoured who you really are. You owe yourself that much. I’m rooting for you.

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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  1. Jeannette (@jeannettemelee) / February 13, 2014 at 22:12

    The culture of academia does encourage academics to not feel in control of their professional lives until they become associate or even full professors. I found that once I left academia, I felt more confident and in control of my professional life even though it is now a more vulnerable and brave space. My vision, my determination, my strategy, and my work will get me where I want to be (even as I am aware of structural issues and how they impact me). But I have to try!

    • Jennifer Polk / February 14, 2014 at 11:07

      Awesome! Here’s to trying… we just have to!