Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Job* Versus The PhD**

Having a 9-to-5 job is better than doing a PhD because:

- Having a job seems a bit better for your mental health. As someone who until recently was a semi-employed freelancer type, I can confirm that having a job has significantly decreased the amount of time available to me in which I can obsess about stuff, think bad thoughts, and let the said bad thoughts spin round and round in my brain until they seem to take on a life of their own. (You know that thing where you find yourself obsessively preoccupied with the annoying thing which a friend/ sibling/ co-worker did, about three years ago?... That one. It doesn’t happen so much now that I work in an office and have colleagues to talk to, and other people’s work to do.)

- You get to have Colleagues. Someone comes up to you and offers to make you tea. Someone else looks you up and down and compliments your choice of outfit. (In my office, I also have a colleague who comes by my desk on certain days of the week and asks ‘[Cloud Nine], are you coming to Mindfulness today?’ – just to make sure I don’t miss out. I LOVE IT.) (By the way, I understand that not every office has 'Mindfulness' in it, but that's another story.)

- When you have a 9-to-5 job, you get weekends. And you get evenings. You get to go home when your working day has finished, and you get to forget all about it until the next morning. Once the clock hits 5 pm on a Friday, you get a vast expanse of time stretching out ahead of you, time during which you can do whatever you want – get drunk, do yoga, potter around in your pyjamas. Two whole days. And then you go back to work again.

- Earning money is amazing. After the arid, cash-strapped days of post-PhD, to get something resembling a regular salary is wonderful. (Of course, most of it went on Christmas presents, a mountain of chocolate, and overpriced lamb, but hey. It’s Christmas!)

- Your boss says things like ‘By the way, don’t feel like you should stay in the office after hours. Make sure you go home on time!’ … Amazing, unheard-of luxury. Is this how the other half live?... Pack up your handbag and just walk out at 5 on the dot?... What, no marking to take home or anything?...

- No need to be in charge of planning own time/ feel intense guilt at complete inability to plan own time. When you have a 9-to-5, you get given several tasks to do – say, you might get three things which you need to accomplish. And you’re sitting there and you’re like, ‘wow, look at that. I’ve done my three things. And now it is 4:30. Just time for a cup of tea and then I’m going home!’…

Whereas if you’re doing a PhD, and you manage to do three things during the day, you’re like ‘Oh, NO. Where has the day gone?... I’ve only achieved three things!... But I meant to also go for a run, and a swim, and finish my chapter, and start that small business, and sign up for some volunteering, and [there follows a list of all the things you might have done with your flexi-time day, had you been somehow more organized]’.

- Having a 9-to-5 job is humbling. You know those swings of grandiosity and worthlessness you’ve been experiencing as an academic?... Those ‘I get to say “I’m doing a PhD!” or “Oh, I’m a lecturer” whenever someone asks me what I do; that feels good’ – followed by ‘I am the most useless human being on this planet. I can’t even finish my PhD…’ Those things still come back to haunt you. Presumably one reason why you did a PhD was to try and get somewhere in life. Taking a 9-to-5, as opposed to an academic job, may feel like dropping out. You’ll have those ‘What the hell am I doing with my life?... Why am I doing this rubbish job?...’- type thoughts. It’s OK to feel this way. In fact, I have a feeling that it’s even good for you, this idea that you can take a not-very-glamorous job and still be you. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it feels good to take a job and realise that your career doesn’t need to define you.

Occasionally, you sense of worthlessness will overwhelm you (as will the unglamorous nature of your 9-to-5), and you will see an advert for an academic job, freak out, and feel compelled to apply. You will spend many evenings painstakingly drafting the application (instead of enjoying the free evenings that are rightfully yours), then panic again and work flat out when you find that you got invited to the interview. You will not get the job (because they had someone 'better'...) and will wonder why you bothered wasting all that time, instead of just enjoying everything your new lifestyle has to offer. It's OK to freak out, and miss academia, and panic-apply for academic jobs. It will remind you why you decided to opt for Plan B in the first place. (To see how filling your time with a shit thing helps you appreciate the thing you've already got, cf. my earlier post 'Get a Goat'...)

It’s official: there are lots of reasons why having a job is better for you than doing a PhD.

Is less good, however, because:

- ... How I miss a good nap in the middle of the afternoon.


*(Definition of ‘Job’: office, colleagues, someone makes you tea, people chat to you. Spend your day doing things that other people have decided are a good idea. Have to come in every day whether you feel like it or not. Go home at 5 pm.)

**(Definition of ‘PhD’: work from home, plan own time; oh, and have to actually write a PhD at some point. Can drink as much tea as you want, eat poached eggs in your pyjamas and have naps mid-afternoon. Brain kicks into gear about 4:30 pm ahead of deadline the next morning. Existential angst and panic aplenty.)

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