Written by Joanna Hughes

Completing your PhD may be one of the biggest things you have achieved you your life to date. It is so all-encompassing, in fact, that you might find yourself wrestling with one surprising question when you are finally done: 'what do I do with myself now?'

While you will eventually join the workforce in academia, industry, or government, if you find yourself in this position, here are five things you can do while you move toward whatever’s coming next.  

1.Take a well-deserved break.

The life of a PhD student is intense -- so intense that you may have spent the past eight or so years bouncing between the library, your apartment, and various coffee shops with your laptop and favorite coffee mug. Now you are done, it is time to kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. For some students this may mean spending time with family and friends; for others it might mean taking a trip somewhere they have always wanted to go. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is worthy of this rare life event.

2. Do something (a little bit) crazy.

'Wild' and 'crazy' aren’t exactly the first qualities that come to mind when most people hear the words 'PhD student'. While you don’t have anything to prove to anyone else, this is a great opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. Always wanted a tattoo? Some grads get them as a badge of honor upon completing their degree. Always wondered what it would like to go on a solo backpacking adventure in Europe? Now’s your time. From bungee jumping to parasailing to going to a nudist beach, this is the perfect chance to cross an item or two off of your bucket list.

3. Start a blog.

While taking a break makes good sense, checking out completely can be ill-advised -- particularly if you are still weighing up your job options. Starting a blog is one way to keep your foot in the door. Whether you are hoping to land a tenure-track job or to make a favorable impression with industry employers, a well-written academic blog can show of your credentials as well as your initiative.

Not sure of your angle? Consider a science outreach blog. NextScientist.com’s Julio Peironcely explains, “These blogs are closer to scientific journalism. They try to make science accessible to a wide audience that are not scientists per se. You can find blog posts that describe a scientific publication in simple words. Other posts try to educate readers on a topic using scientific publications as inspiration.”

4. Clean, clean, clean.

This might not be the sexiest item on this list, but it’s a necessary one for many PhD students who may have neglected this task in recent months. While basic house-cleaning tasks like dusting, vacuuming and scrubbing toilets are mess-busting must-dos, this is also a good time to do a deep cleaning -- particularly in terms of your papers. Letting go of the things you don’t need and organizing the things you do will help you be more productive and efficient. Plus, it's emotionally liberating. 

5. Think deeply about your options.

Today’s PhD grads have more options than ever when it comes to their career prospects. If you don’t already have a job lined up, spend some time thinking about your personal and professional goals. If your desire to discover is still going strong, a postdoc or contract research position may be the best way to find fulfillment.

Ready to step outside the research laboratory and thinking industry might be right for you? Now is a great time for PhDs in industry -- not only do they have the technical skills 21st-century employers prize, but they also have invaluable transferable soft skills, such as leadership and teamwork.

Link Higher managing director Daniel Colegate advises, “Life after a PhD can be whatever you make it - provided you are willing to learn how to articulate the skills your PhD helped you to develop. [...] You could get a job outside of academia or start your own business. A great place to start is to join the LinkedIn group, PhD careers outside of academia, to find out what others have gone on to.”

One last thing to keep in mind? While completing your PhD is an ending, it’s also the beginning to a story as yet to be written. These five things to do can help you celebrate the moment while simultaneously starting the next chapter.

Still on the fence about the future and wondering where you'll make the biggest contribution? Check out our article, Understanding the Value of PhDs: Academic V. Non-Academic Paths.

ArticleEducationStudent Tips
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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