Life After the PhD

This is a guest post by Rachel K. Cheng. Rachel was a PGR in History from October 2013 to November 2016 working with Professors Callum Brown and Alex Shepard. Here, she tells us what has happened to her after the viva and her graduation and shares her advice for life after the PhD.

Rachel K. Cheng at her PhD graduation in November 2016. Image supplied.

At the end of the PhD, everybody’s circumstances are different. In my case, I completed my viva with minor corrections in September 2016. I was lucky that my corrections were clear and straightforward. It was even fun completing them! My thesis was accepted and successfully deposited by the beginning of November 2016, and I was able to graduate later that month. During this time, I moved back to California and I began job hunting. Other than the initial move, which occurred three days after I had my viva, job hunting occupied my post-PhD life for the next two months once my thesis was accepted.


Looking for a job

Magnifying glass, loupe, search by OpenClipart-Vectors (CCO) via

The job search following the PhD tends to be the most troubling concern for many people. As many of the personal development courses offered by the UofG remind us, not everyone goes directly into a job following their PhD. In my case, due to moving country and job hunting during the holiday season, it has taken me some time to find full-time employment. I am now gainfully employed, but the experience taught me that the best things to do are to be patient, to plan ahead, and, most of all, to be flexible.

I approached job hunting with a three-part plan that had clear goals but was easily adjustable for changing circumstances. My ultimate goal is to pursue a postdoctoral position. These applications take time, and each one is different. Good resources for academic jobs based in the United Kingdom and internationally, include, H-Net Humanities and Social Studies Online and Vitae. Nearly all applications request a cover letter, a C.V., a tailored research statement, two to three references and a writing sample or portfolio. It is necessary to set aside time not only to prepare the application packet but to give your referees ample time to write up their letters. More than four weeks is best, especially if you would like tailored references.

Because the start dates for a successful postdoctoral application are for the following school year, I have also been applying to lecturing positions. These applications vary in their requirements depending on the type of institution you are applying to. As I have moved country, I have had to get my Masters and PhD certified for teaching in the United States. In other countries, this may also include a certified translation of degree documents into the local language. The best way to figure out if this is necessary is to contact the institution being applied to in order to find out if they have a preferred system.

Where I have found success, however, is in freelance editorial work and a new position at a local non-profit organisation. Both of these positions require me to be extremely proactive in making new connections in my local area. Updating and creating new social networks enables me to be up to date on what is happening locally as well as nationally and internationally in my field and in related subjects. It isn’t just attending the event or talking to people you trust; it is necessary to be out there, and often this means being outside of your comfort zone. Proactive communication and willingness to build new networks is the best way to land a job whether you are looking to remain in academia or pursue a different direction.

And breathe…

Spend time doing what you enjoy after the PhD: a snapshot from mushroom hunting in my spare time. Image supplied.

I was extremely lucky to be able to attend my graduation this past November. It gave me a satisfying sense of accomplishment to a very busy three years at the UofG. This also served to rejuvenate me in my plans for the future, especially since November in the United States was somewhat tumultuous. Now, with full-time employment and continuing to work on postdoctoral applications, it’s a matter of continuing to foster the old and new connections I have made and hopefully get my manuscript accepted by a publisher as a book.

Overall, life after the PhD is busy and exciting. No matter what, there will be a transition period of some sort. It’s important to take time for yourself in between applications, book proposal writing and everything else. In my case, I’ve taken up a more active outdoors lifestyle in the generally better weather of California, and I am planning on a trip with my sister to learn about our family’s roots in Japan. There is a lot to look forward to and much to do, and, rest assured, you will never be bored!

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