Back to Uncertainty (this time in life)

Back to Uncertainty (this time in life)

As I am about to finish my PhD – or more accurately, my PhD grant is about to expire – I find myself thinking a lot about the future. I have been in a long-distance relationship for almost 3 years now, which is quite common in international research. My life is established in Bristol, and I have enjoyed job security for two and a half years now.

The date approaches, and I remember that uneasy feeling that was so familiar to me a few years back: uncertainty. But unlike the one in my wastewater models, I can’t shake it off with some sensitivity and Monte Carlo analysis.

I am quite lucky though, my hosting institution, Atkins, has asked me to stay! That means job security, good salary (I hope), etc. However, will I be able to finish in time? Probably not. Unless some miracle happens, I will have to juggle consultancy work during day with the remains of PhD at nights. If I play my cards right it shouldn’t be a nightmare, but still, I tremble at the thought. Sure, I could take a couple of sabbatical months… but then what? Will I be able to stay in Bristol? What if it doesn’t work out? What I have realized is that I always try to remain as free as possible. My housing contracts are short, my belongings scarce. Ready to move, ready to change plans.

Truth is, I love to make long-term life plans, but my plans are always 10% certainties, 90% improvisation. Recently, I tried to make a medium-term life plan with my girlfriend. It was far from perfect. Today, career development is synonym with flexibility. You need to chase the options, and these might very well be in a different country. However, it is unlikely that the same options will be there for your partner. And of course, even if you manage to settle down, things can always change course.

I realised for the first time how difficult it was for two people to develop their careers to the fullest together, and settle together; and it had a strong effect on me. So much so, I have had to rethink what I think about many life changing decisions such as having children. Also, working from home seems more important to me now that having a good salary. I always choose commitment to build a life with your loved one before work. Yet it is not an easy decision, and you may have to sacrifice a lot, and risk even more in the way there.

I am sorry I don’t have a take-home message for this week blog entry. My only realisation is that life can be scary, and that the decisions our parents took 30 years ago, and even those of our close friends in more recent times, might not be valid for you. We all have our own path to follow, and it will unravel in front of us, one way or the other.