This post marks the third instalment in an occasional series on the underbelly of the PhD. This week: Developing your exit strategy.
So you’ve submitted your PhD. Congratulations. OMG, you did it. Two gold-embossed hardbound copies handed over. Maybe some tears. Now you simply have to extricate yourself from postgraduate life and reconnect with the real world, your friends, your family and get some hobbies and exercise.
Of course, things do not stop, or even start properly here. There are administrative tasks that you will have to undertake following submission, for which there may be little information available. So let’s come to the point; this post is not about moving on, job hunting or developing your research career: it is about sorting out your university email. Thrilling, I know – but bear with me.
First thing’s first. Your email account has been an academically sanctioned identity for three or more years. And, unless you have a particularly benevolent institution that guarantees email for life, your account is about to end. Full stop. You may receive a letter asking you to ‘forward all important emails to an external account’ before your account is sedated (suspended) and put out of its misery (erased). If, like me, you have come to rely on your university email, you need an exit strategy, fast.
First you need to recognise how important your email account is. My university email had been honed over the years; I’ve backed up chapters of my PhD and numerous other documents by emailing them to myself. My Outlook address book was incomplete – but the Outlook search function gave me access to details of hundreds of connections. The account also automatically sifted listserv messages from groups I’ve subscribed to, filing them for me to read, or search for specific keywords when I had time. These included:
- The Society for Disability Studies (SDS) mailing list: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) mailing list
- Disabilityemail@example.com A free network dedicated to disability research with a distinguished and global membership.
- Dis-Forum firstname.lastname@example.org A network of disabled students and disability support staff in higher education, primarily focussed on the UK
In addition, all the projects I’ve worked on, applications I’ve made, files I’ve sent and received, funders I’ve communicated with, institutions I’ve visited – everything is recorded in my inbox. In short, email represented a resource too important to lose, especially given the fact that networks and contacts are essential to next steps in academia. Now, two essential factors come into play. They’re so important; so you can quote me.
- Your email is not yours. It belongs to your university.
- Your university email address constitutes and validates your academic identity. This signifier is about to expire.
These two facts have various implications. Each requires action.
Step 1: Check the conditions of closure for your university email. At Nottingham, the process of suspension and closure was scheduled over a period of three-six months from my final submission date. My account was due to be suspended three months after submission (ceasing to function) and then deleted three months after that. Note: If you are at Nottingham, you still need to check this. Don’t blame me if conditions have changed.
Step 2: If you haven’t already got an alternative email account, you need to set one up. If you are considering changing your personal email, now is a good time. In addition, you need to update any mailing lists, social networks, webpages and blogs so they point to your new address.
Step 3: Next set up a notice on your email account (using the Out of Office function) as soon as possible, to let everyone who emails you know, automatically, that your email address will be closing on a given date. This message should include a new email address where you can be reached, along with any other contact details as you see fit. Encourage people to update their address books and start using your new email to instigate communications and respond to messages.
Tip: If your University uses Outlook, you can set your Out of Office function up so anyone emailing you will only receive your closure notice once. If you are giving three months’ notice, you might like to reset this message each month to ensure no one slips through the net. Adapt this rule as necessary.
Step 3: To reiterate: Your email is not yours. It belongs to your university. If you want to export your email, you have to take action. I was anxious to export my mailbox, so I contacted my institution’s IT Support Team. They indicated that I could export my email as an Outlook Data File (ODF). However, this would require their intervention, and advance permission from the University Registrar. I then contacted the postgraduate administrators in my Department to establish what was required for making this request formally. There were forms to complete, permissions to be gathered, and an appointment to be made with IT Support whilst I still had access to my PhD office desktop. The final steps at my institution were fairly smooth, and I received my email (all 200MBs of it) directly to my portable harddrive, in person. As soon as the file was made, however, my email stopped, so be aware that you need to schedule your email export carefully.
Warning: To access the emails and files contained in my ODF file, I required a new version of Outlook Express, at some expense.
Step 4: Alongside action to export your email, make sure you also forward your most important emails, contacts and documents from your university inbox to your external address. This is essential, as there is no guarantee that your university will release your email to you, in a format that you can access, at a time that suits you.
Step 5: People will continue to try your old email address after it expires. So at this point, you should consider your online profile. If someone receives a ‘message undelivered’ notice and subsequently types your name into a search engine looking for a point of contact, can they find you easily? You need to make sure that your academic identity remains publically intact as you move on (either within, or without) your Alma Mata. LinkedIn is perhaps the least social of the social networks, but I have found it functions well as an address book for academics on the move. Academia.Edu will also allow you to present yourself, your work and connections. These are two amongst a plethora of options.
Step 5: Recognise that many of your colleagues will not be taking the steps outlined above. Staying in touch with other students (now distinguished PhDs) from your class is important, but not always easy. Again, in my experience, unless your department routinely gives notice of who has completed their viva, corrections and submitted, colleagues can disappear from your wider peer group without a trace. Facebook has proven to be where I have kept up with the majority of my class, particularly international PhDs, who graduated before and after me, and who are now spread all over the world. However, it’s important not to assume that everyone will be on Facebook, or want to be on Facebook.
So these are my 5 steps to email freedom. Any comments are welcome.