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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Holkenbrink-Monk

What's Next?

As a PhD student, I talked a lot about how isolating it can be. I would be invited back to my master’s program to discuss the pros and cons of a doctorate program, I would discuss with cohort members how the PhD prevented us from living our lives the ways we wanted to, and every night I would stare at my kids, wondering if I was missing out on their childhood despite my struggle to balance it and my focus on prioritizing them.

This is still all true, and it is something that I stand by.

But because I did pursue a PhD and have been in academia for some time, I’ve realized that I lost myself, or maybe I never really knew myself.

Now that I am done with the PhD, I am facing the existential questioning of the century. What's next?

Folks don’t adequately prepare you to face the reality that you just completed one of the biggest professional journeys of your life and that the dreadful question of, “What’s next?” will eat away at you far more than wondering what career you will pursue. I have dedicated my entire life to school, so what’s next? I put elements of my life on hold, so now what? My life crumbled while in the program, and I had to keep going, but now what?

All the feelings and emotions that I put on hold are resurfacing. The heartbreak, the anguish, the moments of beauty I didn’t get to celebrate quite as much as I should have - those are all there, or they always were, but now they’re at the surface.

These are my efforts to pursue the joyful and nourishing interests I’ve never had the opportunity to do. So, welcome to my Substack, where I will discuss critical reflections within education, share my photography, discuss my travel, and vulnerably write excerpts from fiction pieces I plan to publish, something I’ve wanted to achieve since I was 11.

Welcome to my life after the PhD, and my answer to “What’s next?”

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