Monday, September 11, 2017

Life after the PhD


Hello friends! It's been a while! I wanted to talk about something I've been dealing with for the last couple weeks. On August 10 I successfully defended my PhD in analytical chemistry. While this was amazing news (four years of incredibly hard work has finally paid off!), my reaction to it was not what I thought it would be.

First, let me tell you that I finally realize just how great it feels to be done. No more exams, no more teaching, no more classes, no more research, no more fixing broken instruments. But the week after I defended was rough. I have my PhD! I should be sipping a margarita and partying it up to celebrate! Instead I spent every day feeling lost and every evening in tears for nearly an entire week. It was all I could do to move from the bed to the couch. When people would ask what I wanted to do when I finished my degree I would always answer "I want to sleep" and they would think I was joking. But y'all. I was serious! I clocked an average of 11 hours of sleep for two weeks after I defended!

You would think that after working so hard for four years with very few breaks, being done would feel great. Instead I felt so lost and I didn't know what to do with myself. It's a very weird thing to describe so stick with me: It's like I was pushing the gas pedal to the floor for those four years, but I was doing it with a few tons of weight on my car. Once I defended, all of that weight was gone and all of a sudden I'm flying down the road. You can imagine that you likely wouldn't have much control of your car if that actually happened. That's exactly what my mind felt like. It was working so hard that it just lost control when it didn't have to work must past what I wanted for lunch. 

I was also mentally exhausted. Yes I was physically tired because the weeks leading up to my defense were filled with late nights and early mornings working. But the mental exhaustion was deeper than I realized. And that type of exhaustion isn't fixed in a single day. Fun fact about me: when I'm super tired, I cry. I was actually doing the dishes one night and the exhaustion hit me like a brick wall and I started crying. Bless Jake's heart because he took the scrub brush from my hands, put me in bed, and finished the dishes for me.

It took me a few days but I realized I had let non-existent expectations get to me. I had a PhD which meant I should have a job, but I didn't. I was at Jake's house during the day but I wasn't cleaning, cooking, etc so I was being a terrible girlfriend. I have all of this free time but I'm not diving into the many devotionals I have so I'm a lazy Christian.

After a long talk with Jake, I finally realized that was my problem. We talked it out, with lots of crying still on my end, and prayed about it. But it still took a few more days for me to let the Lord to really ease my stressed out heart.

Thankfully now, over three weeks later, I'm feeling much better and it's sinking in that I defended my PhD...and passed! Obviously I wish I still had a job, but that'll happen. It's something I've been praying constantly about and there's just a peace in me that right now is not my time to have a job. I've needed a break for a long time and now is my time to enjoy it!

So just a quick piece of advice if you know someone just finishing up their PhD (or any degree for that matter!): Give them time and space to process it. It's a huge change to go from being a career student to not having school anymore. If they aren't jumping with joy, give them time! They'll get there!

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2 comments:

  1. I'm in the same position as you having just finished my PhD and currently jobless and in a new country as well! Hang in there and good luck!!

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    Replies
    1. Isn't it rough? I'm really just trying to enjoy all of this down time but it's definitely hard! Good luck to you too!!

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