By Jacomijne Prins
Let me start out by telling you something about the final-count-down. Did it ever occur to you that when last year PhD’s are asked when their project is finished, the question is never “When will your project be finished?” but rather a daunting “How long do you have?”. As if the end of existence itself is eminent. The well-informed last year PhD student will not take this as a threat, but rather answer apologetically: “Well, my contract ends…”, prospectively implying that the research project by then will not be nearly finished. So that’s that: Your contract will end one day, whether you’re ready for it or not. The first signs of the final count-down will appear at the end of the third year when, at a social gathering, colleagues make an inventory of who is to defend their thesis next year. And at some point people start looking at you and you look surprised, until it hits you: It’s true. After that, people around you (most notably friends and family members) will slowly increase the frequency of their inquiries into your future extinction: the count-down has begun. “I have another year” you say confidently, and people react accordingly. “Oh, another nine months”, you say with a hint of a doubt, and “doesn’t time fly?”. People nod understandingly. “Six months, so there is time”, you say and people smell your fear. “Three months, so I really got to speed things up now”, and you know, and people around you know: you’re not going to make it.
But let’s imagine that you do make it: you did it! You’ve worked day and night for three months and you’ve managed to write all your empirical chapters and you’ve even included some introductory and concluding remarks. You send it to your supervisors and you start thinking about that holiday you’ve been planning. Very shortly. Since you’ve been working franticly on your project, you’ve not been thinking about what you’re going to do next. Uni has offered you some courses on carreer-planning, but hey, you’re already very much “in touch with yourself” and very “mindful” about things, so you skipped those. The crisis kicked in, so job opportunities within the faculty are inexistent. But then, you don’t even know if Academia is really your thing. You wouldn’t mind doing something outside academia, something with policy, yes, now that you think about it, that seems like exactly your thing. But there seem to be no jobs in policy planning either. And although your supervisors think that “you’ve done a wonderful job”, they inform you that, in case of a monograph, your theory is all over the place and, in case of articles, your dissertation needs some restructuring, because “all the theoretical and methodological sections look the same”. Life indeed seems a bit messy now that your contract is over.
But sure enough, depending on whether you’ve found a new job, you manage to re-write your dissertation and x weeks/ months later the reading committee approves your dissertation. The thought of a holiday crosses your mind. Again, shortly. Your dissertation is still a messy PDF, the reading committee has found some (major!) errors in your analyses, they suggested you re-edit the whole book (your English wasn’t as flawless as you expected) and you haven’t thought about the lay-out of your book, let alone what a professional editor and the printing will cost. Scattered memories of past conferences (San Diego, Paris, Johannesburg) cross your mind. And then the costs of the celebration! Your colleagues tell you not to spare expenses, that this will the best day of your life (considering you’re not married and don’t have any kids). You consider this for a while. You don’t have much savings (even despite the lack of holiday expenses this year) so you’ll keep it small. Although… you know that your female colleagues will not be really interested in what you have to say at your defense, but will look at what you’re wearing instead, so there can’t be any cutting costs on the dress. You’re a man: you’ll rent a suit. After the ceremony, everyone will want to congratulate you. Not that you care, but you have to arrange drinks. Snacks? Yeah, snacks too. And then? Will everybody come for dinner? You can’t help but invite those poor committee members who flew in all the way from Springfield, Illinois. And when’s the last time you’ve partied with friends? You look into your bank account. Seems that your life is almost over already.
So there you have it: that’s your Future Prospects right there.
But I’m guessing that that wasn’t quite what this year’s Fresh Perspectives committee had in mind. I’m guessing they were more interested in all that happens after our glamorous defense ceremonies (which they will inevitably be) or in all the successful postdocs, assistant professors and policy advisors I happened to have come across during the nearly four years that I’ve been here. All is well that ends well. But for now, my prospects are still grim, my inevitable extinction getting nearer each day…and counting.
Picture credit: creative commons/ wikipedia