I have an announcement and I’m quite excited to share it with you: I have accepted a position to start after the completion of my PhD (this June!). 

You are welcome to scroll to the bottom of this post to see where, but if you bear with me, I wish to take a moment to reflect on this process.

I began applying for positions in the middle of summer 2020, as the world moved into a third month of COVID-19, my husband and I moved towns, and I fully began fieldwork for my dissertation. So, you can imagine the difficulty of that process, to also begin searching for academic positions and preparing an application package. I will say, I certainly did not have high hopes. The academic job market is notorious for its lack of options in comparison to the number of PhDs seeking jobs. Even as a candidate with a strong CV, I was grimly realistic about the situation. Which is why I am interested in sharing with you how this process looked for me, the applications sent out, the rejections received, the radio silence, the writing, the rewriting, the sheer exhaustion, and almost lack of interest in pursuing new opportunities when they appeared. But also, the community, the support, the connections, and the exciting conversations about potential opportunities. 

First, the numbers (Post-docs and TT): 

Table that reads with two columns: category and numbers:
Positions applied to: 24
Rejections received: 15
Assumed rejections (no response): 7
First round interviews: 3
Second round interviews: 2 
Offers extended: 2
Documents generated by me: 73 (between 1 - 6 documents per application), each averaging about 2 pages

I know that receiving even one offer is an enormous achievement in any job market, and being able to negotiate for the best offer for yourself between two offers is quite a privilege. But I want to speak about my approach to and experiences with rejection I experienced this cycle, which is sizable. 

First, I am privileged in that I have a very supportive advisor and home department, with an opportunity for funding to be extended if I was unsuccessful this cycle, and could take time to apply again without graduating. I also have a partner who is gainfully employed and we would be financially capable of managing without me being employed full time at a university if the situation became this. These are enormous privileges to have and I fully acknowledge that. So, with that in mind, I was able to be somewhat disconnected in terms of not having the worry of what would happen to my husband and I if I wasn’t successful this cycle in pursuing an academic job.

Second, my dreams of the future encompass academia, but academia does not consume my dreams. I see teaching, scholarship, organizing, and mentoring as pursuits I can achieve anywhere, and academia being one of those sites for that work. So while I would have been disappointed if I didn’t accept a job in academia that I felt was right for me, my feelings would not have been hurt in the same way. So every rejection I received, while a rejection, was not the same as a rejection of me and the future I am eager to achieve. Again this mindset, coupled with and enabled by the relative financial security I had for the future, was a privilege. 

That doesn’t mean I was completely nonchalant about all rejections. There were a few where I had made it to an interview stage with positions in departments I was very excited about, where, when I received the rejection, well. It hurt. One of those rejections came on a day when I received two other job rejections. These three rejections also came the week of the Texas winter storm, as I worried from afar about most of my friends and family lacking basic necessities during a crisis, such as water, heat, and electricity. I took the rest of the day off that day.

So, when I experienced rejection this cycle, I came out fairly well on the other side of each one. Further, I was thrilled at the prospect of someone else more qualified, a better fit, getting the job instead of me. 24 applications might not for sure translate to 24 positions filled, but it did mean some positions filled (sometimes by my friends), and that was joy-inducing. 

The experience of getting to two offers was also exhausting, but also very exciting. Each interview I did was often a lot of fun. The job search committees were usually composed of people interested in a future colleague in pursuit of scholarship, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and teaching. I really appreciated the time spent envisioning better futures with them, even as we interviewed via Zoom because of COVID-19. Even after days of Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, and the repeated practicing of my job talk, I am happy with the results of this process. Not everyone can say that, but I hope one day that will change. 

However, this process is brutal. It is unsustainable. And as we figure out how to change it and academia where all are not only welcome but invited and respected, I offer some suggestions for supporting those on the job market, if you are so privileged to be involved in someone else’s participation with this process:

  • Support their rest time! If they don’t mention rest time, perhaps politely inquire about when their next rest break will be – even if it’s just a fifteen minute walk outside in the sunshine
  • Offer to read their materials, or share your materials to assist with providing an example
  • Consider the recommendations written about here

If you’re not directly connected with a person on the job market but you are one of those people making these decisions, check out this research brief on bias and how it emerges in the academic job market. Start brainstorming solutions. Try implementing them as actions within your department. Seek to and create change!

As I and others pursue that future, I am so excited to announce: In Fall 2021, I will be joining the University of Missouri’s Women and Gender Studies and Geography Departments as a Preparing Future Faculty Postdoctoral Scholar. This offer comes with a level of support from both departments and the university that I know will help me achieve my scholarly, community, and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion goals. I am truly grateful for all the support and time and energy of everyone in my network and community as I have gone through this process. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Picture of author in a green Missouri Geography Club shirt and blue striped shorts, smiling, hand on hip, standing in front of a tree with a sunny, grassy background.

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