Help me figure out my life post-PhD
December 7, 2012 12:59 PM Subscribe
Having trouble figuring out what I want and committing to a career path and figuring out how to decide 'what I am', and crippled by perfectionism. About to finish a PhD and could use guidance on now to navigate the next step.
posted by anybodys to work & money (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My undergrad is in engineering but I didn't really like the idea of working as an engineer -- just not very exciting and didn't feel important to me -- so I went off an did a PhD in Environmental Studies. Now I'm maybe a year off from finishing and have to decide if I should seek a postdoc or find a job, and should probably be thinking about positioning myself appropriately, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what to do.
I don't quite know who I am right now. Not an economist, not an engineer, not an environmental scientist, not a political scientist, though I have aspects of all of these. I see very few faculty postings that would suit me as they usually want strong disciplinarians who can, you know, teach undergrad courses and such. I have ideas for moving into energy economics and energy modelling during my possible postdoc which might position me better. But even so, while I thrive in academia and love the environment, I'm really on the fence about continuing on this path, because I want flexibility, and I want evenings and weekends free, and I want time to enjoy hobbies and relationships and such, and these things are hard as a prof.
Likewise I look at industry jobs and they also all seem really specialized. I can program but not enough to be a programmer; I know about policy and economics but I'm not a political scientist or an economist; I can analyse data sets and do stats but I'm not an analyst or a statistician; when I see job postings for such jobs they always want more specialization than I have. I think if I develop some of these skills a bit better and have a specific goal in mind I could be competitive, but how do I figure out which way to go? I would love to do research at a think tank or NGO or something, but jobs like this can be hard to find.
My ideal career has challenging rewarding work, important problems, good community, flexibility (i.e. good options to transition after a few years, ability to find work in different cities) -- and doesn't demand my soul in return, leaving me time to pursue my hobbies and relationships, or at least has the potential for that in the future. I don't care a lot about salary or prestige, yet still I feel like with these requirements I have made a non-overlapping Venn Diagram; there are no options that are perfect in every way. But I am a perfectionist, as I discovered in therapy recently, and the possible pitfalls of every path I see in front of me are paralyzing. What's more, I feel a lot of pressure to make the path I choose measure up to the potential that I supposedly have (a lifetime of being the smart kid, even now in my PhD where I am Golden Boy).
If I asked for career options from you, I feel that I would say 'no' to every option that you suggest, or would dismiss it by finding a way that it would be impossible to pursue. So the problem is not so much that I have no options or don't know what to do. It's that every option seems inferior or impossible in some way, and it's my own mindset that's holding me back right now. If you've been through something like this, how did you move past it?