Unwinding after my Thesis Submission and the Next Steps

So, hello, how are you all?

I’ve been unwinding and relaxing after handing in my PhD Thesis and working out my next steps.

Handing in my thesis went without a hitch and I didn’t stop grinning for two days, I was so relieved! I also spent most of those two days asleep, which was sorely needed after running on adrenaline and caffeine and too little sleep for the better part of two weeks. After that, I went to have a “relaxing” week on board my tall ship – the Stavros S Niarchos, which is run by the Tall Ships Youth Trust. It was the maintenance period as opposed to a sailing week but that suited me fine. Wholesome meals, plenty of sleep, physical activity outdoors and a fixed routine, doing manual labour instead of staring at a computer screen was just what I needed. I spent the first few days in a daze, painting, painting, painting, slowly coming round out of my stupor. In fact I spent 7 days painting the outside of the ship in glorious sunshine with temps. just above freezing. It was lovely, if a bit boring by the end. I met some nice people too. 🙂

After that, Mum and I stayed overnight in a lovely spa in Essex. Fancy room with blue striped wallpaper and flouncy curtains, delicious food, a gym and large swimming pool complete with jacuzzi, and then the spa treatements themselves. I booked in for a back massage and a leg and feet massage. Oh my gosh, it was absolute bliss. The kind of relaxing where you nearly fall asleep. Mmmmmm.

I then had a few days pottering about at home, catching up with my friends that I hadn’t seen in months, and having a nice dinner out at Jamie Oliver’s Restaurant in London to celebrate handing in.

The only downside to all of this was that emotionally I was still a wreck. I cried/had hysterics once a day for over a fortnight. I.e. things were not that great. I was massively anxious and panicking about my future and all the things I have to do over the next several months. The list is as follows:

  1. Prepare for my Viva Voce exam
  2. Start claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)
  3. Job hunt for temp work while I prep for my viva
  4. Job hunt for permanent work, probably in the Med Comms industry
  5. Move in with Squishy in deepest darkest Kent, i.e. a long way away from where most of the Med Comms companies are, likely necessitating communting into London for work, the thing I said I’d never do.

So, no biggie, right? All small, minor obstacles that can easily be overcome, right?


Try major, stress-inducing issues, each with their own set of sub-tasks and problems. All at once, when I’m still physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted from finishing my thesis.

I do at least have a date set for my Viva now, which is the 8th of April, seven weeks away. I should explain about the viva, as most people haven’t come across it before, and it is pretty much unique to the UK PhD/grad school system. Basically, it’s a hang-over from medieval education and the Oxford/Cambridge examinations system. Before Oxbridge invented written exams, you were examined orally, in a verbal defense and academic debate of your learning. So the Viva exam is a private interview with two or three examiners who have read your written thesis in depth, cover to cover. It lasts anywhere between 1 and 5 hours, usually about 3-4 h, and in that time you discuss your work with experts in your field (or a closely related one, who are sympathetic to your methods). My examiners are the Head of a Physiology Department and a Cambridge Professor of Immunology. They’re both meant to be nice people but that doesn’t mean it will be a walk in the park. To say that’s quite a lot of pressure would be an understatement.

Claiming JSA means entering the UK welfare system and claiming about £60/week for signing on and seeking work. You have to prove you are actively seeking work and applying for jobs and if you don’t, they can impose “sanctions” i.e. stopping your benefit claim for a certain number of weeks. They treat working class people like shit and have no idea how to cope with highly qualified professionals who are out of work. I have an advantage that I’m middle class and don’t have the Dagenham accent, am well educated and can stand up for myself, but those priviledges should not be necessary to be treated like a human being in need. And even so, my advisor was appallingly rude. Turning to her co-worker at the next desk (it’s an open plan office) and saying “oh I don’t like this lady, she is making my head hurt” and “how do you spell molecular? I haven’t had to spell the word ‘biology’ in years”, and “it’s after lunch, and I’m tired…why should I have to concentrate?”, is terrible customer service. You only need to spend 10 minutes googling “Job Centre experiences” to see how badly most people are treated.

*Rage smash!*

The job hunting has two fronts. Firstly, finding some temp office work, probably doing data entry, just so I can bring in some cash without having to be on JSA to tide me over whilst I prepare for my viva and sort out moving in with Squishy. Secondly, focusing on my long-term goal of getting a career in Med Comms, preferably someplace that doesn’t mean I have to commute into London from the depths of Kent. I fear this will be unlikely however, given the distribution of most Med Comms companies.

As for Med Comms itself, it’s an industry which contracts to the Pharmaceutical industry, providing writing and communications services. Medical writers produce research papers for drugs trials, marketing and training copy for health care professionals i.e. doctors and nurses etc. They may also organise medical conferences, and produce presentations for clients. They specifically hire life sciences PhDs and there is a clear career progression structure, excellent wages, maternity provision and other things that make them a good choice for me personally.

Also, I should mention that Squishy and I have been in a relationship for over three years. That is terrifying, in the best way! We have done all that time long-distance. We’ve never been closer than an hour’s travel, although we did live in the same shared house in our final undergraduate year long before we even considered dating. So, ummm, moving in together is a big step for us. There’s all the contingent things to sort out, how we’ll pay rent and bills and share the chores of food shopping, prep and clean up and all the other things involved in keeping house. There’s the communting time for both of us, as he mostly works in London when they’re on site, even though the office is based in Kent. It’s going to be interesting, and there will definitely be things to discuss, stridently. Neither of us are particularly clean and tidy but I care about it far more than he does. We shall see.

So, the long and the short of it is that there is a lot of imminent change rapidly approaching, and it has been a bit much to cope with thinking about. Given all the crying and the anxiety, which while better than it was before I started taking Citalopram, was still not great, I went back to my GP last week and got the dose upped to 40 mg. I had enough of my 20 mg pills to increase it to 30 mg for four days and that seems to have helped. We’ll see how the new, higher dose helps with the anxiety in the long term.

Anyway, it’s good to be back. I still don’t know exactly what I’ll be blogging about, but job hunting trials will certainly feature. Take care darlings.


2 thoughts on “Unwinding after my Thesis Submission and the Next Steps

  1. Oh, dear friend, I’m sorry that it seems hard right now.

    the husband is currently on Jobseeker’s Allowance due to the Great Funding Gap, and it’s really upsetting and sad. He comes back with stories that would make your hair curl. You’re not alone, you really aren’t!

    Would you be interested in my end of the country at all?

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