I originally wrote this post for jobs.ac.uk, but I decided it might be better here. I also am wary about posting another rejection-based blog post (anywhere!), but I think it's the right time for this one in particular.
Rejection is built into the fabric of academia, but rarely does it hit so many early career academics at it does the day that Leverhulme ECF decisions come out. For a lot of reasons, I didn’t submit an application this year, but I remember the pain of last year’s rejection so vividly. ‘We’re sorry to tell you that your application was not successful. However, your proposal made it to the final shortlist, and this is clear evidence that the panel thinks your research project is very promising’. Egh. This was my second Leverhulme rejection, and add that to two British Academy postdoc rejections I felt like I knew the lay of the land. But that one hurt. A lot.
So, today feels like a day where a lot of people could use some encouragement. So here it is. My career story.
I graduated from my PhD in 2015.
For the 2015/16 academic year I applied for twelve jobs. I got one interview. I ended up doing hourly-paid teaching at my PhD institution. I ‘invented’ a non-stipendiary postdoctoral fellowship for myself at a research institute. I worked on my book (that’s another post for another day), and I worked on an article. I applied for and got Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.
For the 2016/17 academic year I applied for fifteen jobs, and I had three interviews (for four jobs). I didn’t get any of them. I made the final shortlist for the Leverhulme ECFs. I kept my non-stipendiary position at the research institute. I continued working on my book. I had my first article published in a major journal. I did a term of hourly-paid teaching at my PhD institution. I gave up. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I love teaching, and I absolutely love my research. Being an academic is part of the fabric of my being. But I realised that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how much I wanted it.
A teaching fellowship was advertised in the ‘off season’ to start in January of the 2016/17 academic year, that was for 12 months. Meaning, I would be tossed back out onto the job market in the off-season again. I applied. I got an interview. I went, I was 100% myself, with no feeling of intense desperation. I didn’t feel like I had to make it. I got the job.
I signed a book contract but not for my PhD book. I hope that will come in the next month or two (I’ve done the required revisions to the proposal and sent it back recently).
I have applied for three jobs so far since getting my job – two permanent jobs, one two-year research fellowship. I got an interview for the first permanent job, but I didn’t get it. I think my presentation went well, but my interview was awful – I think because by that stage I was pretty sure that I wasn’t the candidate they wanted, and that got to my head. I was long-listed for the second permanent job, and am waiting to hear further details about the interview. I’m still waiting to hear about the research fellowship. This second - the one I've been long-listed for, at least - is the one I want to get, and I'm trying not to get too weird and over excited about it.
I’m still in a precarious position, but much less than in the 18 months since submitting my PhD. I have been privileged enough to be able to play the waiting game. But this isn’t that article. This isn’t the ‘just wait it out and you’ll succeed’ article because frankly, that’s terrible advice.
I also don’t want to advise you to ‘just be yourself’, because that’s terrible advice too. The times I have tried hardest to BE MYSELF are the times I have come across as the most desperate and over-enthusiastic.
I don’t know what my advice. I suppose I don’t have any. There are people who have applied for more or fewer jobs than I have, who have been luckier or unluckier, who have had an easier time of publishing their PhD book, and who have had a harder time.
Right now, I’m trying to find a permanent job. I’m going through the round-about again. When (if) I get there, I will go through it again with grants, and books, and articles, and it just doesn’t stop. I’m okay with that. I think you have to be okay with that.
But this story isn’t about me. It’s about the fact that every person who has a story of the academy has a different story. Maybe you weren’t meant to get the Leverhulme. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. I adore my department now. I’ve been interviewed for a permanent job in what would have been the first year of my Leverhulme. We’re all different.
And, we all experience rejection. That’s what binds us together as academics (whether we have institutional positions or not!). We need to be there for each other in those times. Because we all know rejection is the worst part of this game.