The comfy slippers

When I got my PhD, I had two focuses. To avoid falling off some sudden edge that would leave me jobless for life. And to avoid the comfy slippers.

Pretty much the first week after finishing my PhD it felt like someone had changed my world over night. Physically the things looked the same, but all the rules had changed. Someone had turn on a major head wind. And all my seniors had taken an extra meter of distance to me. It was bloody hard. That first 12-24 months post-PhD. I saw a councellor at the work health and well-being services to cope, it was so hard.

I seriously inquired about non-research jobs just to get away from it all. I was really struggling, but also too scared to go off sick because I did not think I would have had the strength to ever come back.

I kept thinking, and feeling the temptation, of the comfy slippers.

I had seen some colleagues sliding into them. And I could tell that once the slippers are on it’s really hard to get them off. “Yes, I think s/he deffo has the slippers on. And a pipe.” There was the give-away line of “my role is now to facilitate other people”. Code for “I’m done battling, am not aspiring onwards – am cruising by using the knowledge I’ve got”.

The years from post-PhD through mid-career to what-ever-oblivion-comes-after are hard. Bloody hard. There’s just no two ways about it. The support of the early years is largely gone but the skills, expertise, depth of perspective and credibility to have a voice are all still to come. We are meant to be independent yet we are utterly dependent – just trying to hide it.

Life is, for years and years and years… about trying to secure funds and about trying to publish papers. Just so that you get to keep your job. Basically – get the PhD, and on the other side waits a massive 10yrs+ competition, no rest allowed.

It’s maybe not a surprise that midcareer can tempt to comfy slippers many rising stars. It can seem that there just aren’t any options, or that it’s just all at too high of a personal, health or wellbeing cost. Especially since it takes so looooong…!!

When you get a PhD, the idea of becoming a Prof is so laughably far away that for most people it’s simply not possible to even contemplate it without rolling hysterically on a floor. But equally – what is there in between? Just temporary floats (post-docs, midcareer awards), nothing permanent.

I probably would have slipped too – I was just too single minded about avoiding the slippers, and I was very fortunate to get (and smart enough to use) good advice, and support, at those very crucial passages. These helped me just about sneak through. Onwards to the next float, without slipping or sinking.

For ages I have been thinking about closing down this blog, as I’ve not been sure this is needed anymore. There are more clinical academic NMAHPs than ever before, and the pathways to this career are now firmly open.

However, I think (I still say with hesitation!)… my dark midcareer days might be coming to a close… and that might give an opportunity for reflection. Reflection that might have value for others, about to start on their post-PhD journey.

There is very little said about lived experiences of clinical academic careers beyond PhD. People do give talks, but sharing these mid-career years as openly as the earlier career stages seems to be difficult. No one has ever taken up my invitation to write a post on what those years are, or feel, like. And certaintly I have felt less able to be quite as candid as I was earlier.

So maybe… Maybe there is some value in trying to open that curtain a little. Even if it’s just one person’s take.

I’ve got a few posts in draft. Stay tuned.

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