One year ago today was one of the most challenging and terrifying days I have ever had to experience. On the 5th May 2016, I walked into the Viva of my PhD convinced that my examiners were going to tell me I had wasted three years of my life. I had no reason to think that I had failed my PhD. On the contrary, my supervisors had encouraged me, prepared and told me I was most likely going to do well. Nothing had come up in previous annual reviews that would suggest a fail at the final hurdle.
But the mind is a powerful thing and despite all the positives, I was convinced that these were lies constructed by everyone around me. Complete detrimental nonsense that made me stressed, upset and unwell for the 3 months leading to the viva and then for a long while afterwards. I have been open about my difficulties during this time in posts before, but I feel it is important for other students facing exams at any level to know that those detrimental thoughts that say ‘you are not good enough’ are powerful and need to be battled.
Now one year on from the viva, I am taking the time to reflect on the positives. I have been extremely lucky since obtaining my PhD. I have completed two short term fellowships, put on a successful conference that led to a network grant. I am working as an RA on a couple of projects and I have plenty of ideas for future projects. But I believe my reason for this is because I pushed myself hard to try to gain some amount of control over my life once I was released into the big bad working world.
I still have a long way to go in academia in terms of getting full time, permanent employment, but I love doing research and I love academia. It is the place where I most feel at home and where I am able to exercise the creative side of my brain, even at my lowest point. I think this is the reason the viva was such a difficult day. I could see how quickly all that I had worked for and all I loved doing could be snatched away.
Academia has its difficulties, the same as any career and it is extremely competitive. That being said, while I know that this middle period -as I search for a permanent post- will be hard, at last I know what I want to do. If I can get through viva day, I hope I can endure the job market and finally achieve my dream.