The strange limbo-land of pre-submission is an odd experience. I literally just have a few page numbers to chase. I thought that I’d be writing and proofreading flat out until the deadline, but that hasn’t been the case – and now, I don’t really know what to do.
The strangest thing is looking back over the last three years and seeing how the PhD has affected me, and how much I’ve learned about myself through doing it. Most people doing PhDs seem to be introspective, contemplative people, and when we get together it’s clear that our experiences have largely been the same, in that the PhD has been about so much more than our research topic.
For example, I am incredibly impulsive at all the wrong moments. I tend to get very uptight and impatient when on the brink of doing something, so that I’m more likely to jump the gun in a moment of panic than to give myself the extra time available to check everything is really ready or properly finished. That’s probably one of the reasons I’m giving myself two weeks to do three page numbers.
The outside perspective, which seems to think I’ve just been writing something quite straightforward for the last three years and that a PhD is just like writing a report – “Haven’t you finished yet?” “When are you finishing?” “You’ve been at this a long time, haven’t you?” “Don’t you think you should be finished by now?” – really don’t help. No. A PhD is not that. It’s organic. You wake up one morning and the whole damn thing has changed on you overnight. One piece of evidence can throw your entire argument off and you have to start all over again. So, no. It’s a long time of working alone, and can be incredibly isolating. Just finishing is in itself an achievement. And then… what’s next?
Another enduring myth about academia, from an outside perspective, is that you finish your PhD, submit, and then get a lectureship in the same institution (or other of your choice). If I do, of course, according to the Daily Mail, it will be because I am a woman and perhaps have played the Welsh/Turkish ethnicity card rather than because I’m actually good at my job. That baffles me. I have never personally encountered any kind of sexism or racism within my discipline whatsoever, and I’ve never seen it, or heard of it. I can’t speak for Archaeology or any other discipline, of course, and I’m not sure what the situation is with Modern or Early Modern or Ancient History, but as far as I’m aware, you are pretty much a sexless being in the world of Medieval Studies, identified by the singular question: “What do you work on?”
If someone accidentally (or deliberately) zones out midway through the answer, it’s not because they’ve suddenly realized they are talking to someone without a penis or who is not Caucasian in appearance. It’s because they don’t work on anything remotely related to your topic. If someone gives you a hard time at a conference or talk, it’s not (usually) personal. It’s because they take issue with your premise, or a point you’ve made. The outside view may imaginatively blow it up into proportions worthy of Morse or Lewis, and imagine that while we are waiting to walk straight into that perfect full-time lectureship we are also sizing up our rivals to do in with a lead snake in the library. Perhaps that’s for another Daily Mail headline.
The fact is, I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do after the PhD is done. Apply, apply, apply, I guess. Since the viva won’t be until the summer or even September, quite possibly, (who knows?!) I have probably missed out on my chance to get a position starting in October. Which is all of them. Even if I could apply – I’ve got two postdoc applications at the moment – the competition is so fierce that I’m not even really expecting to get an interview. I need more publications, mainly. I also need more experience and perhaps I’ll get lucky and get on a project, or get funding for mine. Even then, though, these first Early Careers positions and fellowships only last for 1-3 years. Then you have to move on and find something else. There’s no guarantee that at the end of your last term there will be anything going, and with budget cuts and all sorts, who knows what the job market will even look like in three years time?
So – with the publications to get on with, and everything else to do, I look forward to having some sort of academic post in, say, 2016/17?! The PhD has also taught me to be awash with optimism.