≡ Menu

PhD recovery plan

While lots of people tend to focus on the positive side of finishing a PhD (which is, of course, a great achievement 🙂 I feel more like the one who is just released from a prison. Finally you are free to make choices, but, after spending for so long in a solitary confinement you don’t really know who you are, what you can do, what is out there to choose from and where to start with.

It seems to play at two levels: identity and routines.


Working on the dissertation forced convergence and focus, but as a result I find it difficult to find a new professional identity. Who am I (next to being an ex-prisoner someone who just completed a PhD)? Where do I belong (next to academia, where I don’t really belong even if I am a researcher)? What are the issues that I want to work on? I didn’t want to believe others when they said that I wouldn’t want to do anything with the topic of my dissertation. Not that I don’t want to talk about blogging anymore, but I definitely don’t want to talk primarily about blogging and especially being known as “the one who knows something about blogging”. [Mark, you were right, I’m working on finding a new story to tell :)]

What I’m trying to do to deal with with one:

  • Do things I left for “after the PhD life”, diving into topics and communities that provide complimentary, but fresh perspective on my professional worldview. Ideally as a more or less structured learning experience (I’m starting from Cognitive Edge accreditation course, CPsquare foundations workshop and KM4Dev workshop).
  • Find what makes me happy by doing interesting things with interesting people. On a small scale, without worrying too much how would they fit in a bigger professional picture.
  • Ask people I trust where they see my experiences and expertise fit.
  • All that trying to make sure that I don’t get into too many commitments of what could fit next to regular things at work and in life.


This is actually the one that’s more challenging: I’m stuck in unproductive routines, being stressed by the amount artefacts, digital and otherwise, that have accumulated in wrong spaces while I tried to focus on the core activities of getting the PhD done and making sure my family survives in the process. There are backlogs everywhere and reading that “high stress environments can cause the brain to rewire itself in ways that reinforce and contribute to ongoing stress” makes it look like vicious circle.

I don’t have a recipe here, but the things that work for me are much closer to FlyLady approach than to GTD, taking baby steps instead of sorting through everything before establishing new strategies and routines:

Your home did not get dirty in one day and it will not get clean in a day either. You have been living in clutter and CHAOS for many years, you are not going to get your home clean in a day. I do not want you to crash and burn. This is why I teach you to take baby steps. If you try to do this all at once, you are going to be mad at me, because this will be like every other “get-organized” method you have tried. I want you to take your time. As you establish one habit, you will very easily be able to add another one to your routines. – FlyLady

While FlyLady approach is aimed primarily at SHEs (Side Tracked Home Executives :), I am looking how the ideas behind it might work where most of my problems are – in a digital / professional sphere. Let’s see…

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • João Paulo de Paiva September 17, 2009, 15:11

    Good insights Lilia,

    I am about to start my PhD and I have 2 kids. Hope I can handle it.
    Keep doing the good work and being inspiring. 🙂


  • PhDRobin July 17, 2013, 01:32

    Great post! I turned in my dissertation 2 months ago, and have a pretty good idea where I will work when I actually start networking, but right now I feel afloat, as well as emotionally and mentally exhausted. Trying to deal with the whole transition, by acknowledging the END of my academic career, and the BEGINNING of “Being a PhD” as an identity. A lot more work to get my mental and emotional house in order than I anticipated. Decompression bites.

  • steve moran March 7, 2014, 00:29

    Hi I was awarded my phd august 2013. I must agree. Decompression does cause loss of direction. Temporarily I’m glad to say. For quite a while you’re on a new plateau looking in all directions at the new horizons. Weird! Chill out and relax.Your head needs a damn good rest.

    As for doing a phd and having other commitments set a fixed time schedule and stick to it. Make sure you get a regular dose of me time to recharge and clear your head.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.