There comes a time when your days of postgraduate come to an end and you might fly the nest and find the place where you will take your first steps as a postdoctoral researcher (if that’s what you’ve decided to do). With the tree of academic jobs bearing scant fruit, the likelihood is that your input into where you continue your research will be limited. Your geographical location will be decided according to where there’s funding/a job opportunity and where there’s a department or funding body that fits your research topics, experience, and expertise. If you had asked me two or three years ago, ‘where would you like to work?’ I would have replied, ‘anywhere apart from London’. And where am I now? Yes, London. If I could personify London, it would be as an irritating acquaintance, whom I like to have around sometimes for entertainment value, but ultimately I have limited tolerance for. Actually, I don’t have any acquaintances like that, but I like to imagine London in this way. She’s exciting, she hardly ever sleeps, but she smells, she burps smoke in my face, and she’s really, really, noisy. Things I really like include: trees, space, animals, and an almost-suffocating lack of anonymity. I like to recognise people that I see in the street and I like to be able to pester my friends within a twenty-minutes walking distance. But nobody is forcing me to live here. Even if I did not choose London, I chose to commit to a research project that happens to be here. In addition, I am fortunate to have a paid academic research post, I know that. But it doesn’t stop the smoke from getting up my nose.
The life of an early career researcher is unpredictable. If I choose to follow an academic path, I cannot honestly predict where I will be in the next five months, never mind the next five years. There is one thing, though, that I have realised over the time that I have had to think about London life, and this is it: life really is what you make of it, but you should not make yourself miserable in the process of trying to making it. After hours of walking and thinking, I have come to the following advice for myself and for any friend that asks me for it: Take risks and opportunities, even if they are not entirely what you had planned. However, be mindful, which means being aware of the present as well as the future.
So, though my research is going swimmingly, I’ve taken time to think about what I really want from life. For example, I’ve taken on some new hobbies and re-ignited some of the ones that I’d allowed to fizzle out. Because a temporary job, even a year-long one, should not merely be a stepping-stone to something greater at the expense of your current happiness.