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I haven’t been keeping up because I’ve been trying to get a job. Big deal, you might say, but unless you’re in academia (and therefore already pitying me) then you’re probably underestimating the level of torture involved in the professorial job search.

The academic job search goes like this:

  1. Apply for jobs from September through November. Application materials: cover letter (2 pgs), CV (mine’s 10 pgs), research statement (2 pgs), teaching statement (1 pg), 3–4 carefully selected references, and 1–3 writing samples of published papers. Each item must be painstakingly crafted to demonstrate superior abilities. 200 other people will apply for each job; I applied for 6.5 jobs.
  2. Wait.
  3. Get phone/Skype interviews in December and January. Spend about 3 days per interview preparing for a 20–45 minute screening call. For each position, a search committee will interview around 12–20 people. I got 4 phone interviews.
  4. Wait.
  5. Do “flyouts”, “campus visits”, or “campus interviews” in January–February. Spend about a week per visit preparing for an intense 2-day gauntlet during which every moment is scheduled, aside from 10 PM to 8 AM; you’ll be lucky if they remember to offer bathroom breaks. Meet up to 20+ faculty each time, either in group meetings that feel like firing squads or endless back-to-back half hour meetings where you must impress each person individually. Give a 35-60 minute “job talk”, then meet with graduate students/deans/department chairs, tour the campus, and literally talk yourself hoarse while charming everyone at every moment. Each position will have 3–4 candidates visit. I got 2 campus visits.
  6. Write thank-you notes to every individual that you met at each visit.
  7. Wait.
  8. Wait.
  9. Get paranoid and drunk a lot.
  10. Wait.
  11. Sometime in March, if you’re very lucky, get an offer or two.
  12. Negotiate.
  13. Wait.
  14. Negotiate.
  15. Wait.
  16. Sign a contract.
  17. Pack up your whole life and move.

I’m somewhere around step 9 and it’s driving me (and Mr. Chickadee) crazy. I can’t think about anything except this impending transition. I search for places to live in each city I’ve visited, increasingly horrified by cost of living and suburban banality, and then second-guess every interaction along the way. From all accounts, I performed brilliantly at the interviews, and the fact that 1/3 of my applications yielded campus visits is actually quite good.

This week I attended my favorite annual conference. I thought it would be a great distraction, but faculty from both schools I visited were there and everyone asked how the job search is going, over and over. Instead of being fun like usual, it was a pressure cooker. I cried myself to sleep but barely slept, ending up so exhausted that I could hardly pay attention to content or conversations. Worst of all, I co-organized a workshop with two people who are on the search committee for one of the jobs I’m up for. I couldn’t get drunk fast enough at the end of that day.

I was constantly under scrutiny and trying to maintain a good show, but the stress was killer. I resorted to avoiding people, leaving events early, taking breaks to be outside by myself where no one could judge me, and drinking heavily. Which may not have been terribly wise, but my coping skills just couldn’t overcome that much stress.

I tried (and failed) to put on a brave face, and all my friends heard the truth: I’m terrified. I can’t draw good comparisons between the schools because they’re so very different, and despite excellent feedback, I don’t know if I’ll get job offers. Although there’s nothing I can do and it’s like picking at a scab until the wound becomes infected, I just can’t let it go. And I still have at least two more weeks to wait.

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