Five Years After My Ph.D. Thesis Defense
April 2017 (perspective of an assistant professor)
I briefly recap the unexpected turns in my professional life throughout the five years after defending my Ph.D. thesis on April 23, 2012.
It's been exactly five years since I defended my Ph.D. thesis: Software Tools to Facilitate Research Programming.
Even prior to defending, I felt a bit burned out by my time in grad school and just wanted to get the green light to graduate. Of course, I was super grateful to my advisor and committee (along with five years of fellowship funding) for allowing me to finish a dissertation that was not directly on anyone's critical path. But I simply wanted to be done and out.
At the time, I had already accepted a software engineering job offer from Google to work on online education, which was totally unrelated to my Ph.D. work. Thus, like the vast majority of my grad school peers, I planned to go into industry after graduating and “retire” from the world of academic research.
If someone had told me back then that, five years down the line, I would be an assistant professor with half a dozen grad students of my own, there was no way I would ever believe them. Given my mediocre research record in grad school and nearly-zero time spent making meaningful academic connections, I couldn't see any way to navigate toward this career direction, so I didn't even try. I covered this topic in detail in Year Six of The Grind.
How did I get from there to where I am today? Since I'm still near the beginning of my post-Ph.D. career, I haven't fully processed everything yet, and I'm certainly not ready to make any deep reflections. That's why I'll keep this article short by just describing where I was each year after my Ph.D. defense in April 2012:
It's been a wild half-decade ride as my career has taken a series of unexpected and serendipitous turns that I would've never predicted back when I was defending my Ph.D. thesis five years ago. I still feel like I'm only just starting my post-Ph.D. career, since I've moved around so much and had to re-find my bearings at each new job. I could spend a ton of detail diving into the nuances behind each year and how everything fits together into my professional and personal goals, but I'll leave that for another time. For now, my parting (and unoriginal!) thought is that often there is no single straightforward path for one's career or life – the best we can do is to constantly stumble in the right direction.