Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pam from Portland With the Job Misery.

I have applied to 60 positions. No one wants me. Rejection letter after rejection email after silence after failure after failure. It's hard to want to finish writing my dissertation. I don't even see the point of it. I've wasted enough time on something I thought I loved, but apparently no one wants me for anything. I've spent my 20s in school. All of my 20s. While my friends struggled to find jobs in the economy, they also managed to go on fabulous trips and start their lives. I feel like I'm in perpetual puppyhood. I have time, but no money.

I started having serious health problems while in graduate school. When I offhandedly asked about having children, then nurse cocked her head and said, "Well, if it really is [chronic condition], then you should have had kids when you were in your early 20s if you wanted a chance at getting pregnant." So, I gave my youth and fertility to graduate school. It was okay; I wasn't completely sold on having children. I could handle not being a mother. I wanted a career more any way. My choice to attend graduate school made that a reality.

So, when I began applying to the market this year and hearing crickets, well, it made me feel so crushed. I wish I could describe exactly what it is like to go look on the Job Wiki and see that other people are being asked to the Big Conference Dance and Campus Visits, and to know that no one wants to give you the time of day.

All the extra crap I did in graduate school in the hopes that it would make me stand out from the rest of the pack didn't mean or do shit for me.

Here I am, with a chronic condition, no funding after Spring session, and absolutely zero job prospects. I'm applying to everything. The local theater wouldn't hire to me be a manager because they didn't think I would be "committed to the company long-term."


  1. @Pam: Hang in there. I won't presume to tell you what to do, but I know how you feel, since I've been there. It sucks. I hope things improve soon!

  2. I sympathize and understand the need for venting. I hope things get better for you.

    I notice that you use some language ("no one wants me," e.g.) that makes it sound as though maybe you're making the job search rejection overly personal. The academic job market is brutal for everyone, and you don't even have a degree in hand. It may be time to re-assess your goals and maybe sit down with a mentor to talk about where you stand and what your broader options are.

    I wish you the best of luck.

  3. Right now, many universities don't know whether they will make enrollment numbers or not; hence there might be late opening jobs in this market. I know that is what is happening to our university.

    It really sucks.

  4. I feel you. I'm in a very similar position except that I *might* have funding after spring . . . but I won't know until April or so. Also, my husband recently landed him a job that makes him non-portable, which severely limits my options. It's depressing.

  5. Pam, this sucks. As others have said, it's not you. You are not defined by your current or future job. You are a person whom others care about. That gives you value.

    I know that and a pocket of change gets you a cup of coffee but it's a state of mind that can get you through hard times. Good luck.

  6. Finish the diss, pick up whatever one year or contingent thing you can, and try again next year. In this market being ABD is a major problem: when they're going through those many many many apps for a T-T job and trying to narrow them down, and they come to the check box "Terminal degree in hand?" you're among the first into the circular file. To some degree it's a battle of attrition.

  7. Definitely finish the dissertation. No one looks at ABDs these days.

    And start scouting around for jobs at private high schools.

    1. ^^ Agree. I say this often: if you enjoy teaching and are willing to put your research on a back burner, private high schools can be a rewarding career. Check out NAIS.org for a basic overview. Do know though, that most hiring is done through a small number of recruiting firms. The job search season is very much in full swing right now. If you can get to the upcoming NAIS conference in Philly for some interviews (again, usually through agencies) I strongly recommend doing so.

    2. What Stella says is true.

      In my field, ten years ago someone who was close to finishing could apply for jobs and have a pretty good chance of getting some interviews.

      Over the last few years, though, there have been so many applicants with completed dissertations (and even some with book contracts or books in publication) that an ABD, in order to get a look-in, has to be a certified genius with a bona fide field-changing dissertation on the cusp of completion.

      Some of the same schools that are ignoring you now might well have offered you an interview if you had a completed dissertation. Stick with it!

  8. What everyone else said. It's not you.

    But I want to elaborate a bit: if you get into the mindset that it IS you, you tend to become more withdrawn, antisocial, and inward-looking. These obviously have disastrous effects on your physical and emotional health, but they also can nail shut the coffin on your job prospects. Both myself and Mrs. Colossus got jobs (mine a tenure-track at a SLAC, hers a private-school gig) simply through having contacts, and they weren't the fancy contacts that come from "networking sessions," but random people we met at conferences / guest speakers / etc. Don't closet yourself.

  9. Another thing that may give you some hope, is that sometimes there are late searches (especially for visiting positions-I wasn't hired until June for an August start). Around here you will hear about the "accursed visiting professor" position. Mine was a life saver and it allowed me to get the much needed experience that I lacked. It all started with about 50 rejection letters- so I feel your pain. I lucked out and got an interview at a place I had no business even dreaming of teaching at with zero experience. They had had a failed search for a one year position, but my application caught one faculty member's attention because I had worked with him (when he was a post-doc) and he recognized my name. So while it wasn't an intentional networking approach- never underestimate the networking angle, even if the person isn't the one who can/will hire you-making a good impression all over the place will eventually pay off.

  10. About "wasting your twenties"... I spent the majority of my 20s in a more traditional career path, and I hated it. I felt like I was "wasting my 20s" doing something I hated when I could have been in grad school, advancing the career I wanted to have. So no, unless you secretly wanted to be writing copy or working your way into some other middle-management position, you really didn't miss anything. Just ... trust me on that. There's nothing to say that being in a traditional career would have led to marriage/family/house anyway--you could have come down with your chronic condition while you were working as a high-paid consultant, and the "cautionary lesson" of your story would have provided just as much fuel for the anti-feminist crowd--"Woman put work above family, and now she is barren, ha ha!"

    And your nurse should be shot. I wonder if anyone would ever say to a man, "You should have knocked up your girlfriend in your early 20s before you came down with testicular cancer. If children had meant something to you, then you would have found a way to have them."

    And to echo what everyone else is saying--I don't know anyone these days who even gets an interview while ABD. My friend is a total rockstar with publications and fellowships, and he didn't get dick his first year on the market. This year has been much better for him. You are definitely not alone here.

    1. Second the shooting of said nurse. The inhumanity of many in medicine never ceases to amaze and disgust me.

      Can you consider positions abroad? A lot of my compatriots at Across the Seas U are only in to get their feet wet with a real (3/3) teaching load while banking a few articles or a book contract in time for the next round of recruitment. Most foreigners leave because they've found jobs "back home"--although there are plenty who stick around year after year, whether by choice or because they haven't found anything yet. But those who publish pretty reliably pack up and leave.

      But even here, as everyone else has said, no one will so much as glance at an ABD. The only good dissertation is a defended one. It doesn't have to be perfect, only defensible. Once that hurdle is cleared, you'll have a much better shot at whatever your next step might be.

    2. "The only good dissertation is a defended one. It doesn't have to be perfect, only defensible. Once that hurdle is cleared, you'll have a much better shot at whatever your next step might be."

      Just wanted to second this. Especially in this job market (and with some uncertainty these days about making a dissertation that has been distributed digitally, as many are, into a first book), it makes sense to finish, so you'll have the Ph.D. you've worked so hard for, and any benefits it may bring, inside or outside the academy, but it doesn't make sense to labor over perfecting the dissertation. Produce & defend something half-decent; publish some more polished articles if you still think you want to follow the academic path; explore your options.

      And no, don't waste your time applying for TT jobs until you have the degree in hand (and don't assume that no one will hire you for such a job until you've tried going on the market with the degree in hand).

  11. We all wasted our twenties in grad-school. That, or else we wasted them doing something else, and then wasted our thirties in grad-school. And I was getting 60+ rejection-letters each cycle back in the 90's. So the situation you are facing is normal, par for the course, and part of the reason we're so jaded here. It's not you; it just is.

    Interview season doesn't end until after classes have started, and there may be a shot at a post-doc, though you're probably preparing for the next-round to be ready for the apps for the 2014-2015 academic year.

    If you want a chance to be in the game (and you do really have to want to be in it, with all the glamour, wealth, fame and power that goes along with it), then you've got to finish your dissertation and defend it, publish it and other things, and be at conferences talking to other people about what you research and publish.

    We all do it, it doesn't really get any easier effort-wise, though appointment to a tenure-track position and earning tenure changes the psychological dynamics.

  12. What everyone else said. I echo everyone's encouragement. Write back when you complete that sucker so we can toast you!

    And best of luck with your health.

    As for shooting the nurse: don't limit your options just on her word. FWIW, two of my friends (both Ph.D.s who "wasted their twenties") heard from *physicians* that their chances of pregnancy were over or never existed. After 0 miscarriages, they now have 3 healthy kids between them. A third decided to adopt and now has a very active, noisy pair of little girls.

  13. Oh God, I can sympathize. I did finish my Ph.D and am having a hell of a time finding either a postdoc or some sort of full time job. I took longer than normal to do my Ph.D (6.5 years) due to some severe disasters in my personal life I had no control over (including a suicide in my immediate family which was emotionally traumatizing) and I think people are put off by the long time I took to finish.

    I did get a sessional position (last minute thing - I found it at the end of a summer shortly before fall session began) but it's not permanent and I never know if they are going to hire me back.

    Don't take not being hired personally. It's not just you - there are other people in your position everywhere.