So, first things first: submitting. You might remember that, in true obsessive style, I produced a colour-coded, week-by-week completion plan in April of 2016. I had even included gaps to allow for things like spending time with family, time to recover after completing a full draft, and so on. Then the excellent ScotsAntiquary (also known as my husband) went and threw a spanner in the works by getting a permanent lectureship at the University of Stirling, with a start date of September 1st. This meant moving house, the month previous to my anticipated submission date.
In the end, this proved less ridiculous than I had thought it would, although it is possible that I have just blanked most of the stress out from my memories. Packing boxes, cleaning our old house and repainting our new one proved to be pleasantly physical activities to intersperse between editing and polishing an 80,000-word thesis day in, day out.
And so it was that - in spite of the unexpected commute to get back to St Andrews to do so - I did indeed submit on the 30th of September, exactly as I had planned five months before. Submission day was pretty much everything I had hoped it would be. I went for a swim in the North Sea (basically an obligatory form of academic ritual in St Andrews), and drank an alcoholic milkshake for the sole reason that it was appropriately named 'the Matterhorn'. I spent quality time with excellent friends.
And then the thesis was... done, at least for a while. I tried to take a short break after submission, but was rewarded with a chest infection and, not long afterwards, a growing sense of stir craziness. I am not the kind of person who is good at sitting still.
So then I had to face the question which I had been putting off in the midst of writing up and moving house: what to do next, either in the short term or the long term? Before ScotsAntiquary's exciting news, I had nurtured various vague plans, all of which had been rooted in our Fife home: seek out casual teaching at St Andrews, promise my first-born child in return for a part-time job at Topping and Company, write a novel whilst enjoying the sea-view from our living room window in the East Neuk of Fife.
Somehow, although practically speaking most of these plans were transferrable, the sudden removal from their anticipated location gave me pretty significant pause. Certainly, moving away from my university strengthened what had previously been only a half-instinct: that I could do with taking a break, at least temporarily, from academia. I had been at university for eight years, and the academic job market was looking as challenging as ever. I decided that I wanted to see what else I could do with the raft of skills and experiences that I had honed in libraries and lecture theatres across the preceding decade of my life.
I initially toyed with applying for a 'real job', but in considering the prospect rapidly came to realise that one thing the PhD had done for me was to make me both very good at and very accustomed to working on my own. I had liked juggling dozens of different tasks - teaching, writing, organising conferences and seminars - and figuring out, independently, how best to complete everything efficiently. I also enjoyed the range of different types of tasks. I couldn't envisage a straightforward, salaried job - outside of academia - that would give me the same freedom and variety.
So then, in about the space of three days, I went from Googling 'freelance websites' to deciding I was actually going to set up work as a freelancer. I had previously worked on a very casual basis for a proofreading company that works with Chinese students applying to UK and US universities, and got my account with them set up once more. I started bidding on jobs on 'People Per Hour'. Thanks to the kind recommendation of a faculty member at St Andrews, I got involved with a (successful) grant application to provide research assistance to a newly-founded Scottish perfume company. I found myself engaged to run writing skills workshops as direct follow-ups to all of the organising and agitating which I had carried out during my PhD. I wrote an article based on my PhD for a popular magazine for which I was actually paid (an option which seemed unthinkable in academic contexts even in the midst of discussions around Open Access). I have been busy and have been using all of the skills of analysis, research, and public speaking which I developed during my PhD. It has been great fun.
And now, I have started dipping my toes back into the waters of academia with a postdoctoral job application, so maybe I'll be putting all of that back to use in a university context once again. Realistically, the reality is 'more likely not' and, in which case, I'm very happy to keep corresponding with awesome students from China, researching delightfully niche topics of history for unlikely purposes, and proselytising in skills workshops about the advantages of 'generative writing'. Odd though it seemed in the middle of it all, there really is life after the PhD...