Honestly, what better day than Friday the 13th to hold a workshop on CVs and job applications! Below you will find the (slightly abbreviated) slides from the workshop I am running for current PhD candidates in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester. I hope they're useful. This is information and advice I have personally been given and which has worked for me in the past in getting shortlisted for jobs, and building my CV. I hope they can be useful beyond just SAAH but please remember that the advice presented here is not the only way to do things - it's just a suggestion!
(the giant picture of a tweet is a link, by the by!)
I have been thinking recently about how much of myself I should be giving away in job and grant applications. This has come because I am working on an ERC Starting Grant application. I have no idea if I am good enough for one, but this is the first year I'm eligible and the last year that the UK might be able to apply. And honestly, I think the experience of writing a huge grant proposal will be good for me. But, the thing is... I don't think I've quite done as much as I might have done regarding being excellent.
I finished my PhD as a single parent, in the middle of a serious manic episode. I struggled to get my bipolar and anxiety under control. I've struggled with the side effects of medication. In the midst of that I published an article in a pretty good journal. I got two book contracts. I've submitted another article. I am by no means prolific, but... that's not too bad.
Here's why I struggle with this.
1. In my life, this is normal. This is my normal. I have done everything I could do, within reason. For instance, I would have loved to go to Fondation Hardt, like many of my PhD cohort (and my now-husband) did. But, I had a kid that relied on me to be in London. How much of that should I get a pass for? I did other things, that were closer to home. Like chairing a year-long seminar series in London. At home.
2. I don't want to make a 'benchmark' for good, or decent, or excellent for people who have stuff going on. 'Oh, well X also has acute anxiety and has produced two more articles than Y', 'Z also had a child and finished their PhD 3 months before X'. I hope you see where I am going with this. But then, by not declaring, aren't we saying that the benchmark for everyone is the same? When it shouldn't necessarily be. X might have a parent who suddenly needs significant care, and it falls to X to take that on. How do we compare near 24hr care of a parent for 6 months (for argument sake), to the small-bits-a-day of self-care required of someone who has a schizoaffective disorder? Or myalgic encephalomyelitis (also called chronic fatigue syndrome)? We can't have two benchmarks (i.e. one for 'normal' people and one for (what?) all other people). We can't just have one benchmark, because some people have overcome significant things to achieve. I obviously don't have an answer.
3. As much as I would like to think that saying all this in a job or grant application would be taken in the spirit it is meant (i.e. here's what I've done, and here is the context of my life) it might be taken as a mark against me ('this person might have another serious manic episode' 'this person might have another child' 'this person might develop serious side effects and require sick leave'). I would never have a way of knowing, but it's a scary proposition.
The Pros List (I think the cons are obvious)
Anything I can do to destigmatize mental illness is a good thing. Calling my mental illness a chronic invisible illness demonstrates (I hope) that I treat it as a serious, but manageable (and managed) illness that would be like managing any other non-life-threatening illness. It also says (again, I hope) that I am not ashamed of having bipolar.
So. I don't have an answer. I suppose I will probably end up writing two versions of the statement and see which one passes though the research office.
Future job applications - again, totally undecided.
What an unsatisfying end.
Do you appreciate my blog, tweets, and vlogs? You can buy me a coffee if you like!
At the moment I am a master juggler. It's true, I have so many balls in the air and so far all of them are still in the air. But, not for long, I fear, as something will inevitably fall.
Last week I tweeted that I had submitted a job application ten days early, but what I didn't say is that I wanted to ensure that it wasn't a ball that fell. That application is important - really important. Doing it early meant I could give it the time and love it deserved. Like the article I submitted a few days later. The article is still out, but the notice that I'd not been shortlisted for the job came this morning.*
But now I am starting to feel the overwhelming enormity of all the things - a sample:
*Let's talk about rejection for a moment: it happens to all of us, there are job rejections, and papers that get turned down, and articles that you eventually retire into the 'Come Back to this Later' folder (last opened the day after you created it). I won't lie about this - I am really gutted that I wasn't shortlisted for this job, but I also know that I did everything I could do to make my application strong. And I have to remember that I'm a pretty strong candidate for my career stage, realistically. I shouldn't be surprised, because this job was probably two steps up from where I am now. So there you go - I won't be leaving Leicester yet (which, in itself, makes me quite happy!).
Do you appreciate my blog, tweets, and vlogs? You can buy me a coffee if you want!
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.
This is a companion to Welcome to Job Season! on the jobs.ac.uk Post PhD Life blog.
Here is the link to download the academic job tracker spreadsheet. It's quite simple, but if it saves you a little bit of time then it's worth it. Please feel free to modify it as necessary, and pass it on if you wish.
When you click the 'Download File' link, it will open in Excel Online. Please note that the drop-down lists won't work. From here you need to download the file, and then everything will work fine. (Also, I'm not sure exactly why but when the file opens in Excel Online you need to scroll UP to actually see the content. I will try and fix this soon).
Lists for the drop-down menus can be modified on the second workbook, unless you want to add additional categories all you need to do is replace the text of the existing category with whatever you need. I originally included 'online form' in the 'Materials' category but felt it was redundant as so far every job on my list requires an online form.
The example line is this Teaching Fellow in Roman History at Royal Holloway, and you will see that I've linked the text to the job advert. In my own spreadsheet job positions are actually linked to the folder on my OneDrive that contains all the relevant info, including a saved version of the job description and person specification (which you should always do, if you don't current, because the ad will disappear after the closing date!)
If you like what I do here, and on YouTube and Twitter, you can buy me a pinch of fairy dust.