By Louise Morgan |


It is that time of year where your social media feeds begin to fill with news of people taking their next steps after the summer. Whether they are getting ready for Fresher’s weeks at their new universities and degree programmes, or talking about the great graduate job they can’t wait to start, the slightly braggy posts can cause a world of stress. Whilst I am always happy to celebrate the successes of my friends, the third post from someone you spoke to once at a networking event talking about their fully funded PhD can sting a little.


As someone who took an unexpected year out between both my undergraduate and Master’s degree, I consider myself somewhat experienced in the art of dealing with dusting yourself off and getting on with it. After a tough final year of my undergraduate year I moved back home and applied for grad schemes, customer service jobs, and anything that would take me back to my university city. I ended up spending a year in my hometown working in tourism and focusing on applying to my Master’s courses. Post-Master’s degree I struggled to get funding for the PhD places I secured, leaving me back in the same position I was in the prior year. Picking yourself up from any disappointment is tough, especially having thrown yourself into applications in the field you are passionate about.


Allow yourself to be upset

If taking a year out wasn’t your first choice, it is perfectly normal and rational to be upset or disappointed. Allow yourself to go through the five stages of grief for your plans. Have a cry, watch some trashy reality TV, eat a pint of ice cream like you’re the star of an early 00s rom-com, as you scroll through job listings.


Realise there is no ideal path

Once you’ve dried your tears, start reframing your thinking. Looking at the careers of my lecturers at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, very few of them went directly from degree to degree on their way to an academic career. They had taken multiple years out and detours via different careers and fields before settling on academia. These paths had made them interesting, dynamic people with a variety of experiences that arguably made them better at advising and supporting students, as well as honing their interest in a particular field.


Don’t fret about finding a ‘relevant’ job

If you manage to find a paid internship in an archive you want to use in your PhD studies then more power to you – that’s amazing! However, those positions are few and far between and are often dependent on you being able to front the costs of moving to a new location, or in some cases fund unpaid work. Working in an unrelated role in order to pay the bills is just as valid a decision. Getting some space from your research might help you to think about it in a new light! Having experience in a different field could help you find a new career path you love, or refocus you onto your original goal. Either way, every job can offer you some of those mysterious transferrable skills that humanities degrees are marketed on. Working in tourism, for example, allowed me to gain experience in talking about history to the general public – experience which I will hopefully be able to draw on in a later lecturing role.


Throw yourself into whatever you end up doing

Before I moved cities for my undergraduate degree, a teacher gave me a valuable bit of advice – “you only get out what you put in, especially in social situations.” As a painfully shy 17-year-old, this was promptly ignored as I struggled through my first months away from home. However, the more I uproot and move to new places the more I take this advice to heart. Even if you don’t plan to stay in your role or in your location for more than one year, making an effort to make friends and settle down will make the time much more enjoyable.


Slate Quarry Swimming Pool on Isle of Easdale

Natural Swimming Pool on Easdale

Enjoy the time out

My years out were the first time I had time, access to a car, and a disposable income. Being based on the West coast of Scotland for the past year let me spend my weekends island hopping, walking along the coastline, and visiting as many castles as possible. As a student, I had job commitments on the weekends and didn’t have the cash lying around to be able to afford this. Thanks to my job requiring a lot of travel, my year out allowed me to do things I would never have thought to do. During the summer, I was swimming in abandoned slate quarries, and the winter saw me travelling to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Having plain old fun helped me feel thankful for the opportunities I had been given, instead of mourning the temporary loss of my PhD dreams.



Louise Morgan will start her PhD at the University of Warwick this year. Her research focuses on the history of orthorexia nervosa and clean eating. She can be found on Twitter.


All images: Louise Morgan