3rd ISOS PhD Retreat: Life after a PhD?

March 4, 2009

First impressions of the 3rd ISOS PhD Retreat


“The ISOS retreat on the "life after a PhD" made me face questions that I usually successfully avoid, and provided means to start answering them.”

“ [the Retreat] ..reminded me of …being aware of where I am and where I want to go in terms of profession and personal life ….”

“It remained a positive take home message - as the speakers life suggested that it is possible to take your life in your own hands and form it so that you can enjoy your time.”

This is some of the feedback from the 40 PhD candidates attending the 3rd ISOS Retreat with the motto “Career Paths: Life after a PhD”. With the somewhat provocative assumption that attaining a PhD is not the goal but a stepping stone to it, doctoral candidates from a large range of disciplines got together to discuss what life after a doctorate might bring.

Asked to review a career path of someone they knew about, a wide variety of attributes were seen to be important to aspire to. Excellence, dedication to science and the ability to be excited and to excite others were seen to be worth striving for, but equally often the role model was seen to be doing something meaningful – for society, the public, in an NGO. The “non-straight” career path, changing by aptitude and passion, held particular attraction, as was the mention of less measurable but equally important aspects such as creativity, a moral basis, happiness.

By far the most exciting part of the retreat were the round table discussions with invited guests from science, industry, a private company, governmental authority, science administration and medical/pharmaceutical collaborations (see the programme here). Asked in advance to reflect on how they chose their careers (or the careers them!), each expert came ready to contribute their thoughts, experience and expertise and answer questions as they came. A recurrent theme was the long working hours spent on a scientific career and how or even whether this can be reconciled with leading a satisfying personal and family life. As one participant wrote: "A little alarming for me was that it seems to be very difficult (and in many cases impossible) to build up an intact family life as long as one stays within sciences..."

As one participant summed up..” Although the retreat left me with questions concerning my "life after my PhD" rather than answers, I feel confident I'll be able to find satisfying solutions in my own time.”