Towards the end of your PhD there’s a lot going on. Scrambling to finish your thesis, finalising any last-minute publications you have, and most importantly – considering your career options. Throughout this blog, the importance of your transferable skills is emphasised. It’s a running theme and is actually central to transitioning outside of academia. Identifying your transferable skills enables you to identify your skills and figure out what you do and don’t want to do. However, this exercise is only half of the equation. Alongside figuring out your transferable skills you also want to really challenge and shift your way of thinking and have a growth mindset.
In previous posts we’ve looked at how deciding to leave academia can leave you unsure of your self-identify and who you are. As you take the blinkers off to the possibilities of what you could do long term, it’s really easy to avoid a growth mindset and move more towards what’s comfortable and remain in academia. The amount of options can be overwhelming. This coupled with job search stress might back you down into a corner where these alternative career paths seem whimsical or impossible. Therefore, it’s imperative that you approach this milestone, the end of your PhD, with a growth mindset.
Firstly, a growth mindset is different from a fixed one. A fixed mindset can be defined in lots of different ways, but the core component of a fixed mindset is that the things you are good and bad at are static. In essence, they cannot be changed. Similarly, you might believe you’re an academic, a researcher, or that your career is and will always be in research. This lack of cognitive flexibility subsequently means you don’t try to change or even explore anything new. The patter reinforces itself. The longer you stay in academia, avoid your weaknesses, or adopt the self-image of ‘researcher’ the harder and harder it is for you to see the world and yourself from a different perspective. Things stop evolving, you stay still. Stuck almost.
Conversely, a growth mindset is the opposite. Here, you might acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses but instead of accepting that they’re static, you have full comprehension that you can learn, grow, change and overcome these limitations. Therefore, instead of seeing yourself as always being in academia or in research you move more towards the things you want. If research no longer interests you, you would happily change course. You accept that you might not know anything else, but that wouldn’t stop you from learning and adapting. It’s a lot better to see yourself as someone ‘who does’ research as opposed to a ‘researcher’. As you age and develop it becomes easier to divorce this idea of research without leaving you with a loss to your sense of self.
This growth mindset then is what you should be striving to achieve all the time, or at least in the months towards the end of your PhD. Typically, to embark on a PhD you would have had a growth mindset. The idea of taking a step back, a pay cut, reduced opportunity (because once you’re in a PhD you’re not going anywhere) in your career so you can grow and develop is exactly what led you hear. Except now you’re close to completing it. At this stage you’ve got everything figured out, you know exactly how and what a post-doc career would entail. Will you be able to learn anything new? In fact, will it be a conducive environment for you to grow further or learn more?
I’m a strong advocate for not doing a post-doc for a range of reasons. More importantly however, I’m against a post-doc because it is the easy way out. Remaining in academia because you’re unsure of what you can do with your PhD, unsure of what you would like to do, or unsure that you might not like anything else is the absolute definition of a fixed mindset. That famous quote about insanity by Albert Einstein springs to mind.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
Instead you should be approaching this with a growth mindset. Ask yourself what you want from your career, how much money you want to earn (it’s important), how many days holiday do you want, what kind of work like balance do you want, what do you actually want to do on a day-to-day and so on. These provide you with goals and a destination. It goes without saying that a post-doc career will likely fail to meet your needs across multiple domains (if in fact a post-doc aligns with everything you want in life then maybe it is for you). With a fixed mindset you’re likely to just do a post-doc because it’s what ‘everyone else does’ or it’s ‘the logical next step’, or maybe even because you have ‘no idea what else I would do’. It might give you short term security and satisfaction, but do you want to live that way for the next 10, 20, maybe even 30 years of your life?
Try to approach this problem with a growth mindset. Changing career to find something that aligns with your values, pays you respectively for your ability, and ultimately gives you satisfaction and the opportunity to grow as a person. Very few people in the world have the ability to complete a PhD. You’re of the minority. With these skills and ability to adapt and learn means you can literally do anything you want. You might have to re-train, learn some new things, or overcome some obstacles that are in the way – but essentially the sky is the limit (maybe not even that). With completing a PhD, you hit a natural crossroad, where you can decide to either stay on auto-pilot, being swept by the tide of research or opt to craft and create a life that you want to live. You might have to pivot and adjust your approach to your career, but that’s what growing is all about. Learning, adapting, and moving forward (sometimes a few steps backwards even).
PhD students, including you, have the most potential. Adopt a growth mindset so you can figure out a way to unleash it.
Donate to show your support:
Make sure you never miss a new post!