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.
Late last year I ran an Academic Kindness Gift Circle (you can read about it here). It was, by and large, successful, but the timing was slightly problematic. I thought I would - for the more permanent (and possibly annual) AKGC have it earlier in the year, with a sending window, so that gifts will arrive all around the same time (and for us in the UK, will come around exam-marking time!)
The other concern was that a limit of £15- did exclude a number of people who just couldn't justify the expense. The purpose of this is to spread community and support throughout the academy, so I am conscious to this. Therefore...
1. Gifts should cost no more than £5/€6/$6USD/$8AUD/$8CAD/the closest whole value that comes up when you compare with £5 on xe.com. This is excluding postage.
2. Gifts can be whatever you like within this range including handmade or purchased. They should be accompanied by a personal letter addressed to your giftee. The entire value may be spent on paper or card to carry this message (that is to say, the entire gift may be the letter itself).
3. Gifts must be anonymous.
4. Gifts must be posted in the week beginning Monday May 22nd, 2017. Gifters must email me to confirm that gifts have been posted.
Sign up will be open from 19/3/17 to 20/4/17.
To keep postage costs down, there will be regional pools. Last time this was UK and EU, North America, Rest of the World. The regional breakdown will depend on signups.
To maintain anonymity there will be a designated return address for each region. If you are happy to act as the regional return person, please indicate this on the sign up form. This involves having your address marked as the return address on all gifts in your region. If any gifts go astray they will then be 'returned' to you and we can try and get them to their intended recipient. I will be the designated return for UK (and perhaps Europe).
If you cannot afford to participate the please get in touch with me by email and I will arrange for funds to be sent you to. If you can afford to sponsor another gift, please donate via PayPal (this does not need to be in increments of £5- you are free to donate however much you wish). All unused funds at the end of the gifting period will be donated to Arts Emergency. The only money coming in to this PayPal account at this point are related to AKGC. If you do not want to donate via PayPay please email me.
The Academic Kindness gift circle was set up to spread some kindness and joy among academics.
The gift circle has now closed for sign up, and those who have registered will be receiving the details of their giftee in the post shortly.
Just a reminder:
If you'd like to share pictures of your gift and anything else please feel free to tweet them at me, or with the #AcademicKindness hashtag, or by email. I'll collate all the pictures and anything else I get so we can have a gallery of Academic Joy.
Finally, thank you. The response to this was overwhelming, and so many more people signed up than I had anticipated. This is a wonderful thing!
The other day I tweeted a random thought, as it came to me (as I do more often than I would care to admit...)
The tweet got a small amount of attention, and enough - I think - to warrant actually setting a gift circle up. A traditional gift circle is based on people's needs, but I want this to be based on the need for solidarity and smiles - that's something we all need as early (or not!) career academics who are perhaps struggling with all kinds of extra pressures. Therefore, gifts should have the sole intention of making your giftee smile, feel happy, contented, more hopeful, and/or less alone in the academic wilderness.
How this particular gift circle will work is a bit like a Kris Kringle. For now it will be a one-off, perhaps with repeats every 6 months or so depending how we go. As I'm aware that many people won't be in a position to be sending off gifts willy nilly.
So - if you would like to be part of this one-off academic kindness gift circle, please fill out the form below. I will recruit my partner to randomly assign gifters to giftees, and then I will send out the details of who you will be sending a gift to.
The spend limit will be £15- (excluding postage), but please do not feel as though you must spend this much. I am aware that even £15- can be a lot of money for someone. Gifts should be sent within one month of receiving your giftee. Gifts can be bought or made, and you can choose whether or not to reveal yourself to your giftee.
Please do not send food unless you know your giftee's dietary requirements
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