I finally graduate on Monday… two days time. I have designed, researched, written, rewritten, printed, submitted, defended, corrected and completed my PhD thesis. Some 340 odd pages and 120k of words (I count the appendices!) Probably more like 500k words before seemingly endless revisions and the culling of pointless paragraphs and sentences, that ended up nowhere. As well as 2 journal papers, 2 book chapters, 4 ‘formal’ blogs, 7 conferences, 2 summer schools, 1 award and 1 lost suitcase.
Just about 4 years of my life, of hard work, of realising how little I ‘know’. Learning, painfully at times, how hard it is to write well (or even approaching something like ‘well’). And with it, I have developed an endlessly growing gratitude and respect for supervisory teams and other academics who think so carefully, precisely and meaningfully about questions, topics and issues. They spend so much of their precious time both formally and informally supporting students, reading and re-reading thesis chapters over and over, as well as providing as much encouragement as critique (and quite often contradictory feedback😉) and offering to both mock-examine and examine the final copy. [Thank you, you know who you are!]
I’m now sat here, on a drizzly English summer afternoon, wondering what to do with myself, so used to am I, at getting out the PhD laptop. Just to bash out a few more words here or there, or read a couple more papers or even just to rewrite a paragraph from the day before. I still have a bits to do, perhaps a couple more journal papers that could be submitted… maybe (if I can bear the thought of rejection and re-writing again?). Though now, almost without a university IT account, continued work for submission is harder, no easy library and journal access, no free citation software… and now back in the cut and thrust of managerial work, less time to think, reflect and consider potential submissions. For me, on reflection, this ‘thinking’ time, a chance to slow down and breathe is the luxury and privilege of the PhD. At first this time felt slow and frustrating, already now I am looking back on that protected time with some envy.
Now I have this great big PhD sized hole in my time, what am I going to do next? Well, I have the afore-mentioned potential journal papers and the graduation ceremony itself still to do and a rather neglected family to give some time back to. I also have returned to working in the NHS in England, working in one of the national regulatory agencies with an explicit remit to improve care. I feel pretty damn lucky to have a role working in the exact same field as my thesis and to have the potential opportunity to use and share my learning to benefit our work and ultimately patient care. A kind of non-post-doc, post-doc if you will, with my own variation of ethnography. With a role where I can focus on putting my learning and contribution into practice, rather than a focus on seeking further ‘contribution’ to knowledge. Perhaps it could even be described as the next stage for me, ensuring ‘Impact’ from my learning. For me, ensuring patient care would – eventually – benefit from my work, was always one of my main drivers and sources of motivation.
Am I glad I did it? Yes, yes, yes, despite the ups and downs of academic work, receiving disappointing critique, missing events because of the need to ‘write’ and temporarily losing ’employee’ identity, I have mostly loved it. I have gained so much more than I was worried about losing. I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people and travel all over the world, to learn and share my work. Now, I am able to return to what I love to do, help to improve services and care for patients, with so much more knowledge than I had before. What will I do differently now? Try to keep learning, remaining open to other ideas and trying to remain a somewhat more critical thinker than I was before my PhD. I also want try to stay connected with a research world interested in how and why services improve (or don’t), and help to connect more with a practitioner world that is constantly trying to improve services and yet has little time to actively reflect and consider those same questions. We all have much to learn and much to share from each other for the benefit of patient care.
Am I glad I have finished? Yes. Am I missing it? Well, I’m not missing literature searching, but everything else? Just a little.