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From PhD to Life

Reflect back to move forward

Instead of making New Year's resolutions, Jennifer Polk reflects back on what she did and didn't do this past year.


Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to reflect back on what I did and didn’t do this past year, and explore how I feel about those things. Those reflections will highlight things that are important to me, and suggest future priorities and action steps. Here are some questions to help you do the same:

What are you most proud of from the past year?

What’s your biggest achievement from the past year?

What was your biggest disappointment?

What surprised you most about yourself this year?

What most energized you in 2014?

Who most inspired you?

What was the biggest risk you took?

What learning do you want to take away from your experiences?

Don’t feel you have to answer them all! Whether you do or you don’t, you may find yourself coming back to the same thing a few different times.

Here’s what comes up for me:

I’m proud of the speaking I did. This was also the biggest risk I took. Not all of my outings were rousing successes, but I’m proud of the space I took up in the world. Although I have plenty of experience leading tutorials and working with people 1-on-1, I don’t have very much formal public speaking experience. I stepped out this year, leaning lots along the way, and I know this is a skill I want to develop in future.

Achievement-wise, I’d say that I’ve come a long way in my coaching. I’m feeling much more comfortable working with clients, and I know I’m being more effective than I was a few months ago. I’m very pleased, and look forward to more improvement!

One thing I intended to do, but never made a priority, was writing. Not all intentions need be acted upon, but in this case, I did myself a disservice. I want to recommit to freewriting and start pitching pieces much more actively than in past.

I really do enjoy hosting and participating in group events, whether it’s my monthly “Versatile PhD” pub night, or panel discussions about careers for PhDs. Sharing my views, answering questions—and asking them!—and honest, open discussion are just so much fun for me. I think this is a surprise, though not because I’m new to doing these things. I think my self-identification as an introvert and the emphasis placed on / the valuing of solitary work in academia kept me from seeing this reality. Yes, I do prefer to spend most of my time at home, alone (with my cat nearby), but I do love a lively group discussion!

My answer to the “energized” question leads directly from what most surprised me this past year: I feel energized when I’m leading or otherwise playing a key role in a group discussion, online and in person. I’m also energized when I’m blogging (like right now) and when I’m working with clients individually. Those I already knew. I didn’t recognize just how much fun I have in a group setting, when I’m in a leadership position.

Right now, I’m feeling particularly inspired by people who manage their time really well. That’s definitely telling me something: I need to get a better handle on what I do, and how I do it.

Reflecting back on my 2014 is giving me important information about what I might do in future. It looks like time management, building my public speaking skills, and seeking out more venues to express myself, whether in writing or by speaking, are good things to focus on going forward. Good. Helpful exercise, eh?

Happy holidays!

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. Jano Klimas / January 12, 2015 at 17:45

    Hi Jennifer, nice post. I always enjoy reflecting back and reading about other people’s reflections. I can sympathize with your aim to recommit to writing. It’s my big passion too. This year is a year of higher quality writing for me. A confession from Hemingway to Fitzgerald inspired my reflections on the year 2015 in my recent blog post: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of sh…t, I try to put the sh…t in the wastebasket.” Eighty years after Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald 1934, I join his self-criticism and strive to write less, but better.

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