Sunday, February 12, 2012

Now what?

With less than a month to go before the final deadline to submit my master's thesis, people have been asking me what I plan to do after I graduate. Initially, I told them the truth: I don't know. I figured I'd figure it out after April.

But the best-laid plans often go awry, especially when your plan is to have no plan at all. Former supervisors sent job postings my way, encouraging me to apply, while my professors pressured me to stay on for a PhD. So now my problem is not a lack of choices; my problem is too many choices. I have three different options to choose from, all of them equally enticing.

Option 1: Work at the UNFCCC in Bonn

I have a job interview with the UNFCCC tomorrow night. The job title is long (Associate Programme Officer, Capacity-building and Outreach Unit, Financial, Technology and Capacity-building Programme) and the contract is short (six months). But it's a great opportunity to work on an issue I care about, learn something new, and broaden my skill set. I'm not sure what my chances of actually getting the job are; I have a feeling the competition will be fierce.

I did a four-month internship with the UNFCCC in 2010 and I took on a six-week consulting position in 2011. So I know what I'm getting into. The job will be stressful and the workload will be heavy. But the people are great, Bonn is lovely, and the work is interesting. An added bonus is that Sergey has an EU passport, which means he can live and work in Bonn. There are lots of positives. But I don't see myself being in Germany for the long haul. It's a nice place to visit but I don't want to settle down there. My heart belongs to Canada's open spaces and wild places.

Option 2: Stay at Kyoto University and do a PhD

I took the PhD entrance exam for the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies yesterday. I'll find out on February 20th if I've been accepted and I'll find out on March 1st if my scholarship has been extended. If my scholarship isn't extended, I won't stay on for the PhD. I don't want it badly enough to pay for it.

Unfortunately, the entrance exam was a bit of a disaster. It left me feeling demoralized and questioning whether I'm really suited to do a PhD. Not only did I get ripped apart for my lack of training in quantitative research but I got zero points for my English ability, which could put my overall score near the bottom of the list.

The reason why I got zero points for English is because I didn't take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in time. All prospective students are required to take the TOEFL but I figured there would be an exemption for native English speakers. Of course, I should have known rational thinking was no match against the Japanese system of institutionalized inflexibility and blind adherence to the rules, no matter how stupid or illogical the rules may be.

I'm still not sure why a native English speaker would be required to fork over $250 to take a test that measures their ability of English as a foreign language. Especially when that person grew up in an English-speaking household in an English-speaking country, attended English-speaking schools, worked as a journalist for an English-language newspaper, and worked as a communications specialist for an English-speaking NGO. (The fact that I was given zero points for my English ability is so absurd as to be humorous. But this is neither here nor there. It's my own fault for leaving the English test too late. I've lived in Japan long enough to know that the rules are too rigid to bend.)

It's stuff like this that makes me question whether I can handle another three years in Japan. But, despite the occasional setback, my experience here has been overwhelmingly positive. Loving Japan is no different than loving anything else: there are days it will irritate the hell out of you, and there are days it will make you so happy your heart feels like it will burst.

I like the idea of continuing the research I started with my master's thesis. Doing a PhD means I'll get to attend conferences and write research papers. I'll learn a lot and I'll get to set my own hours while doing it. Another three years here could be nice. Or it could be horrible.

Option 3: None of the above

If I don't get the job with the UNFCCC and if I don't pass the PhD exam or if my scholarship isn't extended, then I'm going to take six months off and just enjoy life. (Every time I tell people about Option 3, I get the same reaction: "Oooooh! I like this option the best!")

I'll go back to Canada in April and spend a month with my family in Toronto. Then I'll cross the country, visiting my sisters in Halifax, Yellowknife and Nelson. I'll catch up with friends in Vancouver, Montreal and St. John's. Finally, I'll head to Bulgaria for three months to spend time with Sergey. If our relationship is still going strong after that, we'll probably move to Canada together. If not, I'll be heading home alone. No job, no boyfriend, and no regrets.

It scares me to think that I will have a definitive answer to the question "what are going to do after you graduate?" within a few weeks. I don't know why but knowing what I'm going to do after I graduate is more terrifying than not knowing what I'm going to do.


Pandora Holliday said...

It’s true that a lot of grad student do find it hard to what to do next after graduating. I think it would be a good idea to think of a good thesis ideas that you can work with that you think would be useful to someone that can research on. Anyway, I do hope it would be a much easier for people to know what they wanted if they know it at the first place when they entered grad school.

Anonymous said...

Now that you did an interview with UNFCCC,would you be kind enough to share your experience with us. What so of questions are asked. I may be facing a similar situation soon.