Your life A.D. (after dissertation)
A motivational truism proclaims that the most dangerous time is when you’ve reached a goal. This is why many doctoral candidates experience Post-Parting Depression (PPD). Consciously and unconsciously you’ve been pushing hard for so very long. Preoccupied with the intensity and innumerable details of the work itself, you may have lost sight of the larger purpose of the dissertation and degree. After graduation, you no longer have to spend every moment you’re not eating or bathing on the dissertation.
In my dissertation coaching and editing practice, most clients I’ve helped graduate experience this void. For a year or usually more, they say, they’ve wished for nothing but to finish the durn thing. Now that they have . . . inexplicably they miss it—and get depressed.
If you’re a new doctor and want to avoid PPD, here are several strategies that can help you make the transition to what may approximate a normal life again and at the same time resume your career.
Take a Break
Certainly well-deserved, a break can be a day, a few days, a week, a few weeks. Some new doctors go on long-postponed vacations with their families. Others catch up on the perilously neglected essentials of life: cleaning the house, the refrigerator, the car, your desk. Loading up on paper goods at the local discount warehouse. Liberating the dining room table and surrounding floor from all the books, articles, note cards, and old takeout cartons.
Set a Date, Revisit Your Dream, and Make a List
Then decide on the day or date you’ll resume. Don’t take too long or you’ll lose your momentum. The secret now is to remind yourself why you chased the doctorate in the first place: perfect position, perfect business, perfect office, perfect clients, perfect colleagues, perfect compensation . . . .
Next, make a master list of what you need to do now to reach that dream.
For example, many of us get doctorates to go into or stay and advance in academia. Treat the project like a serious project—it is. A helpful book is Kelsky’s (2015) The Professor Is In.
So now, instead of mining the literature reviews, you may want to mine the want ads for furniture for your home office. Spruce up your vita. To locate teaching jobs, mine the Internet in universities you’re interested in. Subscribe to the newsletters of associations in your field—they often have listings of job openings. Plan to attend several professional conferences; most have employment prospects sections.
Ask your chair and committee members (don’t forget former professors) for leads. Request letters of recommendation. Set up appointments and interviews. Talk to current faculty members or employees at your desired institutions. Draft introductory letters to department chairs or administrators. Notify everyone else you know and tell them you’re interested. Talk to colleagues you know who are teaching. As a start, consider part-time campus or online adjuncting.
And of course, sneak up on that article that’s lurking in your dissertation. Publication is still the road to academic advancement, and you deserve recognition as well as additional benefits from all you’ve invested. Your chair or a committee member may have already suggested publication. Make a little plan for working on your article. Sometimes joining a writing group is beneficial. See Michael Harris’s (2017) reasons for joining an academic writing group and the highly recommended book by Wendy L. Belcher (2009), Write Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. Also browse in the Textbook & Academic Authors Association’s blog, Abstract, for pieces on article writing.
Depending on your career goals and the length of your master list, choose the targets and actions that make the most sense. If one of your doctorate goals is promotion in your present company or institution, you won’t need much time for job-hunting or resume sprucing. But you may want to concentrate on your article. If your postdoc goal is establishing an online business, you’ll want to devote more of your time to the steps to get it off the virtual ground.
Look At Your “Later List”
As my doctoral candidates come to the bald realization that the dissertation is going to consume them, I advise them to make a “Later List.” During the dissertation, the list assuages you about all the projects and events and chores you’ve wanted to do (or should), and now, more than ever, know you will not get to for at least a year and probably more. The Later List is a convenient compendium for getting all those nags out of your head.
A.D., though, you have the relative “leisure” to peek at your List. Look at it and see whether your priorities and desires have changed. Maybe you already gave away your old gym clothes or no longer feel the need to write your memoir. Maybe new priorities have surfaced.
When Lucas, a client who had just graduated, looked up from his desk, he realized his three kids were suddenly teenagers. At the top of his Later List, he wrote, “Now. Spend more time with them!” Other clients have resumed weekly dates with their families, poetry writing, bookshelf building, volunteering, camping, aesthetic welding.
Post-dissertation too, guard against feeling you must mow down the whole Later List in a frenzy of activities. As you may already know, the sun always rises and to-do lists never end. We’re also supposed to enjoy our activities (at least some of them). If you haven’t already, add some purely fun things to your Later List you’ve deprived yourself of for so long—arrange a perpetually rescheduled fancy lunch with a friend, poke around the new fake quaint mall, cheer at drag races, go to the multiplex for four first-run movies in succession and munch incessantly from one of those huge horrible popcorn buckets.
A.D. is the time—again—for your most meaningful choices. So, go forward armed with your dreams and goals and lists. Bask in your doctorhood and look forward to the new present and to your life A.D.
Belcher, W. L. (2009). Write Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Harris, M. (2017, June 19). “Five Advantages to Write More With a Writing Group.” Higher Ed Professor. http://higheredprofessor.com/2017/06/19/five-advantages-write-writing-group/
Kelsey, K. (2015). The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Textbook & Academic Authors Association. http://www.taaonline.net/
Adapted from Noelle Sterne, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015).
© 2017 Noelle Sterne
For reprinting, please contact Noelle Sterne through her site: www.trustyourlifenow.com
Dissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and emotional counselor, Noelle has published over 400 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, Inspire Me Today, Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com
The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.