7 Essential Steps to Take After Finishing Graduate School
After working hard for years on finishing your dissertation or master’s thesis, you’ve finally graduated, or see graduation on the horizon (if not, stop procrastinating and get back to work). Congratulations!
Many people find that they feel lost after graduation. After typing their fingers down to the bone, revising more pages than are contained in the encyclopedia britannica, and downing entire pots of coffee over the course of a night to stay up working, it’s hard to know to do with yourself. What do normal people do again?
This article is designed to help you transition back into normal life after finishing your dissertation. If you don’t have a holistic dissertation coach or a good counselor to help you through the transition, allow this article to serve as a substitute.
This is the advice I usually give, based on my experience coaching many people through this exciting (and sometimes scary) time.
You did it! Take some time now to celebrate. This doesn’t necessarily mean downing an inordinate number of mixed drinks with other postdocs (though nothing against that if that’s your thing). It can mean going to the lake with your family (remember those people?) or sharing a meal with friends (look it up in the dictionary if you forgot what that word means).
As part of celebrating, thank those who helped you get here. Take yourself and those who were part of the journey out for a celebratory meal. Let your pride show. Taking the time to thank those who helped you in your journey to becoming a PhD is a demonstration of respect and gratitude, and it provides a healthy ending to your journey.
You have been hard at work on this degree for years. Take a chance to breathe. Look around you (literally and figuratively) to see what things look like now. Learn to take time to do nothing.
This is vital as part of your transition into the life of a sane human being. After years of always feeling like you should be doing something (and being right about that), it’s incredibly important to re-learn how to do nothing. How to leave space.
Having relaxing time free of focus and structure actually boosts creativity. It’s a natural part of our psychological functioning that’s essential for everything to work properly.
I don’t mean vegetating in front of the television. Rather, I mean taking a walk, napping under a tree, drinking tea and looking out the window, meditating, petting your cat, and other relaxing-but-healthy activities.
Find Yourself Again
Remember how you used to like to _______ [insert your favorite activities here]? Now you can go back and find these things again and maybe get involved in new things. No need to feel guilty any longer for taking time for yourself.
Go hiking, play music, make art, build model planes, read historical romances, write a novel, go on a bike ride, cook a meal for your friends. Remember those things that used to be a part of who you are and start doing them again. Or find something new! People change during the doctoral journey, perhaps you’ll be called to doing other things with your time.
Either way, find the things that make you feel fulfilled and do them again.
Did you notice that the first three points had nothing to do with your career? That was intentional. It’s vital to start to focus on personal things again before jumping straight into your career.
But at some point, it is important to focus on your career once again.
While working on your degree, you probably came across a number of interesting ideas that you had to put aside to reach your goal. You have achieved your goal now you can explore. Dig into those topics that piqued your interest. Use those academic chops, flex your research muscles, and start acting like a real scholar.
You wrote a dissertation, let people know what you found. Make your document into at least one publication. You worked hard, make the most of it by publishing your findings. This is more than just posterity–it will help you launch your academic career and add legitimacy to your qualifications as a newly-minted scholar. You could even consider publishing your dissertation as a book.
Get Back to Work
Now that you have finished you get to define yourself as a “Dr,.” and now that you’ve found yourself as a person again, it’s time to get back to work. Look for an academic job, let your employer know that you have finished, be proud of who you are and who you will become. Finishing a doctorate is not the end, it is the beginning of many new opportunities.
You have been through a lot. Late nights, a few tears, and lots of work. Now you have finished and have completed your doctorate. Congratulate yourself and thank those who helped you. During your journey you planted many seeds, now it is time to let all of them grow.