Your supervisor can profoundly influence the progress of your PhD, as well as your own personal wellbeing. A supportive, helpful, and welcoming supervisor can make all the difference and help fuel your passion for academia. Conquering your PhD will not be easy, but having a supportive mentor to guide you through this difficult journey will make everything more enjoyable.
You can’t risk losing your enthusiasm. Lack of support and high expectations towards your progression can damage your mental health and lead you, in the most extreme cases, to give up your dream of achieving a PhD. I was very lucky. Not only did I have an extremely competent, professional, and capable supervisor, but also a valuable, helpful, and understanding person who never made me feel alone by offering advice, friendship, and support. Here's what I learned from him.
I never met anyone who grew up wanting to be a careers adviser. I meet plenty of people with an ‘I had a terrible careers adviser who said I should be a fork-lift truck driver/ flower arranger/ circus performer’ story, but as for anyone who came straight out of school or university with their heart set on a career in careers… we’re yet to cross paths.
In fact, it took me a bit of time to find my way into this line of work. I was towards the end of the first year of my PhD when a bit of part-time work in my university’s student recruitment office and a spot of volunteering for an art gallery started to show me what post-PhD life could look like beyond academia. By the time my thesis submission came around, I was fully reconciled with the feeling that I’d taken academic research as far as I wanted to, and it was time to turn my hand (and my researcher brain) to something else. I didn’t even apply for academic jobs, even though a little voice still gnawed away in the back of my mind that this was something I ‘ought to do’. I was preparing to leave academia, not through the burn-out and disillusion that follows so many academic job hunts; instead, I had this deep-seated belief that academic research and teaching just weren’t the greatest uses of my ‘best bits,’ and I was eager to see what else I could throw myself into.
I was halfway through the third year of my PhD, and I was in a rut. I would not go as far as to say I was unhappy but bored and unfulfilled. It took some introspection, but I recognized that isolation and lack of variety were the foundation to my boredom.
Although challenging, my bench work was repetitive and solo, no longer punctuated by teamwork, mentoring, and classes as it had been previously. Settled into my niche, I was no longer literature searching to learn about new areas of research. I also wasn’t writing, a part of the scientific process I inexplicably enjoy.
Recently, I was asked to reflect on what life had to offer after PhD for a not so young, yet still an Early Career Researcher. I have to say, in all honesty, that this was certainly not the avenue I presumed. Although I had done the PhD for my personal benefit, I thought I would fall effortlessly into a position within my home university, with my own office space. Well, how misguided those thoughts were! I came to realise that I was living in the past, when having a PhD automatically secured you a post. Just to clarify, I am a historian of Ancient Greece and Rome and dead languages, and the not so ancient, the long nineteenth-century, need I say more.
After a few forays into the academic job market such as the very, very short-term research post and extremely fixed-term lecturing post, I began to look elsewhere. A fellow PhD’er who knew I was looking for a new challenge invited me to a presentation that was being given by The Brilliant Club. Her exact words were, ‘Why not come along, you may be pleasantly surprised, there are opportunities for someone just like you, brilliant, enthusiastic’. I must say that I had never heard of this club, but my colleague was enthusing profusely over them. Now, suitably intrigued, I thought I would go along and see what it was all about. To be fair, I had nothing to lose, and who knew, The Brilliant Club may be just what I was seeking. My colleague was correct, and let’s just say the rest is history.
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