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From PhD to Life

Are you hoping instead of acting?


The other day I read a story of waiting and hoping. It was the story of a woman, a PhD and an adjunct professor, who works at an institution she hopes would one day grant her a permanent professorship. I found myself getting mad. But mad at whom, mad at what? At her, the institution, the entire system of higher ed hiring?

I wondered, after my anger subsided, whether I am doing the same thing. Am I waiting and hoping that my business would prove sustainable in the long term? The short answer is “yes, maybe,” but the longer answer is that I am aware that this may not happen. I am aware that my ”

I don’t know whether the woman whose story I read is similarly aware. But I know in general that my friends and acquaintances who are hoping for an academic position (for example) know they may not be successful. One place they stumble is exploring their options while continuing to work toward their primary goal and do the work they are currently being paid to carry out.

The advice I’d give them is the same as the advice I give myself: keep talking to people (do informational interviews) and keep reflecting on your own priorities and goals; values and strengths; and interests, skills, and experiences. The work here is to gather information from others and from yourself about what’s out there and how you fit in. Then the work is to translate who you are and what you do into words and sentences that people outside your immediate surroundings can understand and appreciate. This can only help you, even if you remain where you are.

This information gathering and translating can be a long, messy project. Hope, and it’s flip-side, fear, holds you back. Instead of hope what we need is acceptance of reality and commitment to moving forward. (Shout-out to ACT — acceptance and commitment therapy.) This week, I’m going to commit to reaching out to three people in hopes of setting up informational interviews. What about 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. Sharath / February 17, 2015 at 22:56

    Thanks! I am stuck in a similar place – after my Masters, in a development project of a big name in semicon. I am still not sure if this is where I want to settle, or if this technology would take of. Everyday my dream of doing a Ph.D in something I am passionate about keeps drifting away. But from outside, I have a job, gets a salary and its all so nice!