Life after grad school involves some very interesting things. Transitioning into the real world has been such an eventfully/stressful/exciting time. I have spent, I believe, about 24 years of my life in an academic setting and I was even taking classes while working full time a few years ago, so you can say I am a long term academic. I went as far as I could go in my education and it is time to make the change into being an adult. So today, I want to discuss the transition from college to full time work and give ways to make the transition easier. Hold on tight because I think this might be a longer one of my posts.
Eventfulness of life after grad school
Let us first start off with the eventfulness of this transition. For me, I defended my thesis, moved to Miami!!!! and started a new job, all within 2 weeks. Yes, you read that right…two weeks. For many people, not including myself, they would have probably taken a few weeks to a few months off of work to just go and be free for a bit. That was not me. In fact, I transitioned so quickly that I didn’t really have time to plan out the whole move, so I spent the following weekends coming back to Gainesville to finish packing
Stress of moving after grad school
So next, let’s discuss the stressfulness of the move and transition. As you can imagine, moving 6 hours to a new city, to start a job, is nerve racking. I really didn’t have any time to move stuff, say my goodbyes, and finish my doctorate in those 2 weeks, but I did my best. Given the time that I defended, I had a good month before I had to submit my thesis for the college. If I had to finish that during the time where I moved then I would have been in a ton of trouble. Luckily that wasn’t the case. It still added a ton of stress to the move though. also, just starting a new job, finding where it’s at, meeting new people, and even driving there was super stressful. I am still fairly stressed out, but not nearly as much as when I first started 3 months ago.
It’s exciting after grad school
Lastly, exciting. New beginnings are always filled with so many emotions. I was sad, happy, depressed, but mostly, excited. I was starting something that was brand spanking new! And on top of starting something new, I had a cool new title of Dr. to go along with it. That is super freaking exciting and I definitely was. First off, Miami is just an exciting place. As someone who grew up in small cities, moving to a very large one was a bit overwhelming but mostly exiting.
There are millions of things to do just around my apartment. I literally can walk a few blocks and go see a Miami Heat game, then go to Wynwood and see the murals on the building, then I can just go walk to Miami Beach. Luckily, I am in prime location for everything. I am also meeting brand new people, working on exciting projects, and most importantly, I get to see my girlfriend and cat when I come home at the end of the day.
What to Expect Moving from Academia
Moving on from academia and into the real world will be very exciting at first. You will actually be more excited than anything. You’ll start a new job somewhere, possibly move away to a new state or even country, and start your life. There will be new people to meet, paychecks that are higher than any that you have ever seen in your life, and a whole bunch of free time where you don’t have to do homework. You will be overwhelmed with the excitement for at least a few weeks.
You’ll start having weird feelings
Next, you’ll start to miss grad school. You will miss is a lot! This usually comes about a month to a month and a half in to your new job. You are going to start missing the late nights in the lab, the stress of getting experiments done, and you might even miss writing papers for publication. If you are in an academic profession out of grad school then you may not feel this way as you are just continuing with what you did in grad school lol. But if you are industry, you’ll definitely feel this way. Grad school has been your life for so long and it’s practically your identity. You were/are a researcher and not you are an employee, possibly just a number. So, it is completely fine to feel a bit lost and sad that you are not in grad school anymore.
It won’t last long
Luckily, this only lasts a few months, then you are right back to feeling ok and not as sad that you are gone. Usually the sad feeling goes away 2 to 3 months after you finish. For some, it is much shorter of a time, for others, much longer. You are starting something new so feelings of regret and sadness will come and go. In the show How I Met Your Mother, they refer to it as “graduation goggles“. The feeling is of nostalgia, even if your time was miserable. It goes away, don’t worry.
You might feel a bit depressed towards the 2 month mark when leaving academia. I think this is mostly due to post graduation depression or post PhD depression, which I have written about in my blob post (here). I, unfortunately, am in this stage right now, but I believe there is hope that I will transition out of this. If you are in this phase, please, please, please, see a therapist or talk with someone. Every single grad student that I know has experienced this after graduating and starting a job. Most of my friends are getting help and I absolute love that. I also need to get help, which will happen, I promise.
What to expect when starting a job
Let me tell you that you are going to be a sorts of confused when starting a real job. It is exciting, and there is a ton of opportunity to grow and learn, but the beginning will be rough. I started an engineering position and I feel so dumb. Like beyond dumb! I literally have a PhD in engineering and biogeochemistry and feel dumb when someone asks me a question. I am back to the bottom of the totem pole, but that’s just how it is and I think that all PhDs will have this. Getting a doctorate means you are extremely knowledgeable in one subject, not all of them, so you won’t really know much at first. The best part of a PhD, however, is being able to pick up on things very quickly. We learned how to learn quickly and grasp very difficult concepts. So, if you are in the position where you feel dumb, just know you wont feel this way too long.
Feeling lost after grad school
Another thing that you will feel is very lost. You likely were hired for a large firm with a ton of employees(>1000). You probably came from a lab or research group of like 4 to 10 people. Yeah, you might be a little lost and have no clue who to go to for help. It happens and it is all part of the process. in fact, you probably won’t be beneficial to the company for at least 6 months, and that’s about as long as it takes to just understand what the heck you’re supposed to do. Just go with the flow, put in some work, and ask questions!!!!
For me, I have a really hard time asking people questions. I have a hard time just talking to people (possible social anxiety?) but I am putting myself in a position where I need to ask questions instead of just finding out myself because that would take too much time. Grad students are often not very good at asking questions because we are afraid we will look dumb (this could just be me, who knows). You have to do it though. It may take some time to be comfortable with asking questions, but I promise you will eventually get there.
Free time after grad school
Another thing that I noticed was I don’t think about my work when get home, unlike in grad school. Work took over my life, because it had to, and also because I loved doing it. Now, when I get off work, I completely shut off my brain to all things work. I leave work at work and go home to live my life. This is really great because it helps to create a balance that grad school really didn’t have. It is a blessing and a curse at first.
If you start a job right away, you won’t really know what to do with the spare time and may find yourself trying to do more stuff to occupy the free time you have. I would advise against that and focus on just relaxing or doing new things. Life after grad school is not a race and occupying all the time with something may cause problems later on.
You’ll need to gain soft skills after grad school
The last thing that you may experience is having to learn how to be a person again. You may have lost a ton of social skills by working in a lab or office by yourself for years. It may be difficult to talk to people and do stuff on your own. These soft skills will come back but you may need to give it some time. I lost a ton of social skills while in grad school that I am frantically trying to get back. Luckily grad school prepares you to learn quickly so you will learn these skills much faster.
I think limiting this post abut life after grad school to less than 2k words is a good idea. I can go on and on about life outside of grad school and what you will experience. It has been quite a transition, but it is one that needed to be done. If you are in this position, let me know what your experience has been like since graduation? Do you agree with me or is my experience much different than yours? Let me know in the comments.