We know that to get an academic position you need to publish from your dissertation. It would be helpful to at least have a good idea of where your research program is going to go next. If you can get started on that next project, even better.
Competition is stiff. Even institutions that don’t have graduate programs want to increase their research profile. The balance between teaching and research may be different in different institutions but to get the job you will need to demonstrate that you have a program of scholarly research.*
*Note: this may be different in some US institutions. I do not claim expertise there. In Canada and the UK, your research is going to be an important part of the package that gets you an interview.
Prolonging your period as a student so that you can achieve some of those things before actually being awarded the PhD is a strategy some pursue. I don’t recommend it and it is not available to those in the UK in any case. Timely completion of the PhD is important both for how others see you and for how you see your own career.
It seems that in the current labour market it is unreasonable to expect to enter a secure position directly from the PhD. Continuing to believe that the “excellent” will do so and that anyone who doesn’t just mustn’t be good enough is dangerous mythology.
The key to success in the academic labour market is what you do with that precarious period.
What to do next
If you are in a relationship and your partner is willing to support you for a year, then take them up on the offer and make good use of that year. If you have to support yourself, find a job that leaves you the (intellectual) energy to actually do your most important academic work. If that is a minimum wage job at a coffee shop, so be it. This is not “the rest of your life”.*
Prepare material from your PhD research for publications. Submit articles and/or book manuscripts. Build your network. Seek out potential post-doctoral supervisors and secure their support for fellowship applications.
Most importantly, develop a habit of writing, even if that’s just 30-minutes a day. And develop a plan for where your research will go should you secure a more secure academic position.
*I’ve written before about the fact that sessional teaching does not actually contribute much to your CV. If earning a precarious living patching together part-time teaching jobs is preventing you from writing and researching then it is actively damaging your chances.
Take recovery and transition seriously
Getting that dissertation done and submitted probably meant some pretty bad work habits. You had to push to get it done. Pushing should not be normal.
Get lots of rest. Make sure you are eating well.
If you are feeling burnt out, take a real break. One of my clients did this and is now returning to her PhD to start submitting things for publication. She told me that she was surprised how easy it was to turn a chapter into a journal article. She also recognized that if she’d try to do it earlier it would not have been as easy.
Recognize that transition is always difficult. This is not how you are going to live the rest of your life. You are undertaking important transitional activities.
You are an academic
You are not a student. You have been awarded the PhD. You have been certified by your discipline as meeting the requirements of membership in the profession. The fact that you do not have a job is not really relevant to your identity.
Don’t let forces beyond your control determine your sense of who you are. Don’t apologize for your employment status (it’s no one’s business most of the time).
Attend interesting seminars. Go to conferences. Join the most relevant scholarly association. Maybe even volunteer for a committee.
Give yourself a time limit
Don’t let forces beyond your control dictate your life circumstances either. Give yourself a specified period of financial precarity. Determine criteria for evaluating whether to continue that period at the end.
You are not waiting for the labour market to improve. You are working to improve your competitiveness in what will remain a competitive market. Like an athlete who delays entering Olympic qualifying competitions until she’s confident she can perform well at that level.
I suggest 1 year. And at the end of that year you should have more publications on your CV (accepted, in press, or published). You should have expanded your network and be receiving positive support from at least some of those people.
It would be even better if you have secured a post-doctoral fellowship (that is not an underpaid teaching position dressed up in a fancy title), or a contractually limited position that pays comparably to secure academic positions and offers opportunities for relevant experience, support for your research (however minimal), etc.
Figure out what else you can do
All or nothing thinking is not helpful.
You have many skills and considerable knowledge. Your PhD does not define you though it is an important part of your life so far.
You don’t know what else you can do because, like most people, you don’t really have much idea of the variety of jobs that are out there. Have you even thought about whether an academic job is right for you?
The careers office at the university you graduated from may be able to help (alumni are often entitled to continue to use those services; ask). The book What Color is Your Parachute also might help (check your public library).
Do I like this situation? No. This is the situation we face. It is not ideal to tell smart creative people that they will have to have another year of financial precarity before they start a more secure career. That happens to be the reality right now.