Despite what some people say, during a PhD you always have goals. They are of course to write a thesis, get published, present your work or do a poster for a conference. These goals drive you forward, keeps the work you do in context and set out 3/4 years of your life very distinctly.
Doing a Postdoc on the other hand is nothing like that. There are no goals other than maybe publishing the work you do in a periodical of some repute and bulking up your CV with an academic position so that you may someday get a “real job”. In fact, I’ve been to a number of PhD advice seminars and workshops where they say the hardest thing about doing a PhD is continually finding motivation. I can safely say, I’ve never had that problem. My motivation was to finish. Write up my PhD and leave, earn “real money”.
With a Postdoc, it’s the exact opposite, especially if your Postdoc contract is only 1 year. You come to work everyday hoping time has somehow pushed you back a day. Funnily enough you also want time to speed up so you can get closer to starting your next Postdoc (which of course will be so much better!). This odd mix of slow time/fast time leaves you in no mans land, a place lost in academic hell.
Finishing a PhD leaves you with the ultimate question: now what? Do I go into industry, academia, teaching, start a business, consulting or just work in a fast food outlet. I’ve discovered in the past year since I submitted my thesis that people don’t really care what research you actually did. People hire you because you did a PhD, regardless of what your PhD was about. The fact that you worked independently and self motivated yourself to complete an enormous body of work is the selling point of your CV, not your specific research achievements.
When I started my own business (during the end of my PhD), I was awarded a scholarship to attend an Entrepreneurship course based on the fact that I could self-motivate. The interviewers for the scholarship pointed out that motivation was essential in starting a business and is seen as highly favorable for investors. Unfortunately, although the business is still running in some respects and was extremely successful for a time, it wasn’t financially viable and didn’t even pay my rent!
I will do an entire blog post about starting your own company in the future, but for now here are some great links I’ve been reading about finishing a PhD and breaking into academia, as well as the pitfalls: