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From PhD to Life

Your own priorities, values, and strengths matter most of all


Being part of a supportive community of people is extremely important to my wellbeing. Not having that during the latter years of my PhD is one reason it proved nearly impossible for me to imagine myself as a professor. And although I’m now in business for myself, I feel connected to a larger group of people, including clients, competitors, and like-minded others both in and outside academia and higher education in general. It’s wonderful to know that we are out to change the world for the better, together.

I write this as a reminder to myself to focus on the positive, and in particular on positives that are important to me. My core values include community and connection; honesty and genuineness; fairness and inclusivity; empathy and kindness; curiosity and open-mindedness. Independence, bravery, strategic risk-taking, and creativity are important, too. If I look at my life and work through the lens of my own values, I find much to celebrate. When I expend energy ruminating on those things that matter less to me, I feel drained and stressed. It’s true that my income doesn’t cover my living expenses, that I’m still single at 34 years old, that I live with a roommate in a rented apartment. But those truths don’t mean much to me. I earn an enormous emotional payoff from living a life that’s largely in alignment with my own values.

This reminder comes at a time when I’ve been feeling stressed about divisions in the post-academic community. But here’s my pep talk to myself: There’s nothing I can do about what people think about me and my colleagues. Nothing. What I can control — the only thing any one of us can control — is how we act in the world. There is no point in me worrying about anything else. The best thing I can do is refocus on my values, and get clear about my priorities, and go forward using my strengths.

So! Here’s to who I am and what I’m doing, and here’s the same to you. Good luck to us all!

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. deb / March 17, 2014 at 14:50

    Hey Jen,
    I agree – here’s to you! 🙂

    • Jennifer Polk / March 18, 2014 at 15:08

      Thanks Deb!! 🙂

  2. Andrea / March 19, 2014 at 16:11

    Thank you for this Jennifer – your words are exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you for reminding me that it’s ok to be me!

    • Jennifer Polk / March 21, 2014 at 13:29

      I’m glad!

  3. Woon Chin / June 22, 2016 at 10:00

    hey Jen, I am at least 2 years late to commenting on this post.

    Timely read for me. THANK YOU!