Tuesday, November 28, 2006

One year since completing the PhD

A year ago today I was a nervous wreck, about to start my oral presentation for my PhD defense at exactly this time. I have probably never been so nervous in my professional life, although I knew the dissertation had been accepted by the committee and my advisor had expressed his faith in me. I was not only stressed out about the seriousness of the defense and the professional outcome, but at the same time I was organizing a post-defense reception for department, friends and family, preparing an international move only five days later and worried sick about my non-existing finances.

I felt like a fairly incomplete scholar. I knew I had come a long way, but did not feel I was nearly at the place I wanted to be. I felt very unsure about whether the postdoc position waiting for me was the right kind of move, and whether it would bring me where I wanted to be. Today I still don't think I am exactly where I want to be professionally and I might need to switch institutions at some point to get there, but I am in a much more satisfying and fulfilling place - in my professional as well as my personal life - than a year ago. I am also being much more vocal about my expectations and wishes for the future, and that alone has provided me with some opportunities I'd never thought I'd have. This morning Fiancé said that he perceived my professional persona as a "dragon". I am not sure I want to be a dragon, although he emphasised that it was meant positively as someone who is respected and get's what she wants. I don't want to step on or run over people, and I don't believe in getting what you want by keeping other people down, but I DO believe in expressing my wishes and my ambitions and I DO think my life is heading in the right direction.

I am also surprised to no end by how fast things have happened over the past year and how much more confident and safe I feel now compared to then. I still worry about publication rates, how to get grants, how to handle the leader role or how we will get the money to buy a house and how to keep in touch with friends and family while living abroad, but generally I feel I have a safe and solid base to work from now.

Professionally I am in a good position. I have three more years of garantied work and income and a good shot at the position being made permanent. I have been given co-PI responsibility in a large internationally recognized project. I have applied for my first independent grant. I have made plans for my first two-three graduate students. I have been given leader responsibilty, teaching experience and done research aimed at future publications. I don't wish for much more in this part of my life right now. My ambitions for the next year are rather to consolidate what I have and do well at the tasks I have been given than to aim for something different.

Personally I have gotten engaged and we have found an amazing home for rent with a view, a garden, a fireplace and enough room for a baby...We are talking seriously about baby plans and there will be a wedding at some point in the future. The financial problems sorted themselves out when I started getting a decent salary, and although Fiancé is still finishing up his PhD, we have everything we need. Now we just need to move in together and create the home base we are dreaming of. While the last year has been very much about moving up the ladder professionally, I feel that my personal goals of having a good life in general are coming much higher up on the list now and that is very satisfying and an immense change. I finally feel like I am all grown up now (a bit late as a 32 year old I know, but as with everything else in my life, better late than never).

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