From PhD to Life and Money Coach

When we expand beyond our research and try something new, we learn useful skills, get valuable experiences and build powerful networks. Sometimes, it can even change our life.

In the second half of my PhD, I struggled with anxiety and depression. And I’m not alone. A recent study found that graduate students are 6 times more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general population.

The moment I opened my eyes each morning, I felt a sense of dread. My gut tightened into a knot and stayed that way all day. When my boyfriend would pick me up, I often couldn’t speak and tears would just start rolling down my face. I remember walking home from work and clutching onto a leaf on a tree to feel something alive…because I felt that I wasn’t living. I envied prisoners because at least their minds were free.

I spent countless hours in a tight hospital storage room, working on a medical device and developing and testing control programs on my knees. There was no natural light, the MRI cooling system in the room was loud, and I was often interrupted by nurses getting supplies from the closet.

Towards the end, I often worked 70 to 80 hour weeks. But it seemed like graduation was a moving target – no matter how much I accomplished, the finish line kept moving. At the time, I thought everyone hated their jobs and that’s just the way life was – it took me a long time to realize it didn’t have to be this way!

If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self to find a life coach or career coach to help me navigate through this time, to focus on self-care and to identify other options in life sooner. But I would also pat my younger self on the back for doing some things which helped me land a great job outside of academia once I graduated – and helped me become so much happier.

Regardless of whether one chooses to stay in academia or not, it’s empowering to have greater options in life.

One such decision was signing up for an entrepreneurship class during my PhD. This class led to founding a biomedical company and winning business plan competitions and other startup grants worth over $100,000. In the end, I made MILLIONS…

Ok, no I didn’t. In fact, the company crashed and burned like most startups do.

But the experience changed my life. I developed new entrepreneurship skills and also learned how to communicate with a non-academic audience. As a PhD, it’s easy to become used to speaking in jargon few people can understand and relate to. We need to practice explaining our work at a sixth-grade level. (Yes, you heard me right.)

During one of my presentations, a successful investor told me to stop using big technical words. The pesky word turned out to be “array!” Another tip he gave me: tell stories to appeal to people’s emotions instead of just their analytical side.

Around the same time, I was writing a scientific journal article and my PhD advisor told me that saying “we conducted research…” was too personal. Instead, “research was conducted…” The irony!

Getting out of my comfort zone wasn’t always…well, comfortable. But it paid off.

When I interviewed for a job to lead a program that helps innovative startups grow and access capital, the hiring team did not call my references. They called my business professor and director of an organization that funded my start up. I got glowing reviews and was hired.

I ended up overseeing over $250M in public-private partnership funds with a great mission.

But 5 years in, I felt an even deeper calling to help people. I believe the world is a better place when it’s filled with self-actualized people living life on their terms and not struggling the way I did during my PhD. I’m passionate about helping people live a life they LOVE and find meaning and purpose in their work. And so…Money for Meaning was born.

So my message to anyone during or after their PhD studies is to expand beyond your research. Build new skills, engage in new activities outside your comfort zone – and most importantly, build new networks.

You never know where it will lead – and it just might change your life.

Mihaela Jekic

Mihaela Jekic, PhD is the co-founder of Money for Meaning. As a life and money coach, author and speaker, she’s passionate about helping people become financially free, live a life they love and become the best version of themselves. She’s founded startups, managed public-private partnership programs with over $250M in funding and performed on a TedX stage. Her PhD is in Biomedical Engineering.

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