Getting Past the Post-Ph.D. Slump

It’s been a little over three weeks since I turned in my dissertation (although the degree won’t be officially posted until the end of summer) and I’m still struggling to get my bearings. Graduating – especially after the intensity of Ph.D. work – kicked off a really stressful period of transition. In addition to trying to recover from the exhaustion of my final push, I also grappled with depression, insecurity, low motivation, and anxiety. I knew beforehand that this would probably happen, but I was also foolishly optimistic that I’d find a way to avoid this slump somehow.

My point here is not to ruminate on this difficult stage, but to explain how I started to get past it. Without a clear path to guide me (such as searching for a full time job in K-12 or higher education), I felt lost. I also felt insecure about wanting to pursue multiple interests – or not having “one thing.”  I became convinced that I’d always get passed over for jobs that would be instead given to specialists in a given area. I continued applying for various part-time jobs and continued having the majority of my applications go completely unacknowledged. I felt like I would be seen as either overqualified or under-specialized (or maybe a little of both) for most of the jobs. I also felt aimless, unfocused, and overwhelmed – without a clear plan or identity.

I finally had to examine why I was struggling so much. I realized that while I’ve been trying to create a more versatile, multifaceted career (based on my many different interests), I really missed the focus that the dissertation provided. I wanted to have one primary goal that took up the majority (although certainly not all) of my time. I craved the feeling of waking up, getting dressed, and knowing right away to start working on the dissertation. I needed something to fill that void.

I also realized that I had managed to make my dissertation work as multifaceted as possible. While it was focused on a specific topic (jazz musicians in Seattle and performance standards), I also found ways to incorporate education, popular music studies, comic-making, gender studies, and many other topics into my work. I realized that having a focal point like my dissertation wouldn’t necessarily mean being stuck with “one thing.”

I finally decided to focus my professional development and expansion on teaching bass. At the beginning of the year, I started giving lessons and found myself getting really excited by it. It incorporates a lot of my different interests: business, instructional design (a topic that was more prominent in earlier iterations of my website), jazz performance, popular music scholarship (to learn about history and styles in bass playing), and yoga (which I haven’t written much about, but has had a huge impact on my playing and teaching).

In order to cast as wide a net as possible, I want to pursue multiple formats for teaching bass, including: writing books on bass technique and practice; giving lessons through music schools or other venues; and, teaching classes and ensembles through schools or continuing education programs. In the long-term, I’d like to explore creating e-learning materials, teaching online lessons, and having my own private studio for in-person lessons. I plan to also keep pursuing more work as a freelance bassist and getting back to teaching academic courses (preferably at a community college).

In addition, I want to still have several side-projects. It’s important to me to have specific projects to work on, not mere hobbies, regardless of whether or not they produce income. Many of these side projects took shape while I was working on the dissertation. I’ve always said that I probably would’ve finished the dissertation a lot sooner if I hadn’t have had so many side-projects at the time. However, they helped keep me sane, balanced, and happy. To me, the extra time was worth it.

Right now, my list of side-projects for the near future is: getting back to being a bandleader, blogging, creating more dissertation comics, creating projects and a how-to guide for LP Stitch, and expanding my seminar on musical comedy into a course emphasizing college preparation.

Obviously, my situation is not applicable to others’. However, I think the possible takeaway here is that when you’re faced with a slump, you have to identify the problem and choose some course of action to correct it. While I know that my plans will most likely alter or change over time, just figuring out a working plan helped me get empowered and unstuck.

Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist and Instructor

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