Tomorrow, January 15 2015, I will defend my PhD. I expect to pass, with some revisions required to my dissertation. I had a committee meeting in late October at which the consensus was "looking good", I've written my presentation, and I'm not feeling particularly nervous. I assume tomorrow morning I'll be a bit more nervous, increasing up to the start of my talk, when I hope I'll get over it and get on with it.
I've practiced my talk a few times and I'm pretty happy with it - it's about the right length (around 25 minutes) and covers what I think are the main points of what I've been doing for the past 5 years (with the procrastination and spinning-wheels-frustration omitted, of course). I've received a few very nice emails and other messages from people wishing me good luck and bolstering my confidence, and overall I'm very optimistic. Obviously, there is a distinct possibility that I'm delusional in some way and tomorrow will not be the positive-but-hard event I'm anticipating, but there's little I can do regarding my own delusions on that front.
On the other hand, I have been spending some time today searching for the next thing: a post-doctoral position, somewhere. This presents a mix of emotions, but most of them are positive - I find the prospect of traveling to a new place, starting a new project, and learning new skills quite appealing. Getting paid to do that sounds pretty good, too.
Besides looking up advertisements for positions, I've been reading a fair bit about the current state of science, scientific research, and scientific careers. That's where some other possibly-delusions come in. Much of what I've read, not just lately but stretching back several years, have been articles and blog posts decrying the horrible prospects for fresh PhDs in the academic career field. Nearly all of these articles are based entirely on the situation in the United States; I've seen very little about Canadian post-docs and nothing about post-docs in Europe or Australia. I am looking at post-doc positions in the USA, so some of what has been said, such as discussions of cost-of-living and salaries, or academic culture, certainly applies to me. But I do not wish to become a professor in the States, because I do not wish to live there for longer than a few years; I like Canada and I like living here, though I would very much like to live a few years in other places.
It's frustrating because so many of these articles are essentially "only a delusional idiot would accept a job as a post-doc. The smart thing to do is to leave science because the whole enterprise is broken". I don't want to leave science. I love doing science, and I cannot see myself gaining real satisfaction from an occupation that didn't include the raw intellectual curiosity - the ability to pursue any avenue, regardless of its predicted utility - and celebration of intellectual achievements that I see in the modern practice of scientific research.
"Go to industry!" - sure, if there were a) actual jobs on offer in "industry" for someone with my skills* and b) those jobs included 1/10th the intellectual freedom offered to even a constrained PhD student.
"Consulting!" - this sounds like a reflex word, something said when all other options have been discarded. Surely a job as a consultant - without any description at all of what such a job might entail, short-term and long-term, day-to-day and paths of promotion - is an option? For somebody?
"Government!" - Um, you've seen the current state of Canadian government science, right? They're firing people (when they're not simply gagging them), not hiring. I could see myself happily employed by a branch of the federal or a provincial government, but not this month. Maybe not this year. Maybe next year, if the election this year leads to a major change in government science policy.
My current plan - OK, I'm just using that word, rather than looking for a better word to describe my mix of optimism, cynicism, and whatever-else-ism - is to find an interesting post-doc position that will provide me some useful new scientific skills and introduce me to new people and new ways of approaching fascinating questions. I'll start on that next week; most of the post-doc applications I've found ask for evidence of my completed PhD, and that should be easy to provide after I get those revisions done.
* My skills center around walking around outdoors and working out the characteristics of the environment I'm standing in. Seen here: