Rejecting Your Rejection Blahs

Here’s my latest on Vitae–the second of four articles I’ve got coming out this week on the Internets! Ah! The Week of Peak Schuman!–which is about the one thing that everyone on the job market has in common, from the winners to the losers: REJECTION. Academia is full–full–of rejection, and the late-winter/early-spring rejection blahs can be really tough. I hope this helps! And yes, writing four pieces in one week is a challenge, in case anyone cares. And yes, the next two will be fun. SO much fun.

11 thoughts on “Rejecting Your Rejection Blahs

  1. Well, here in the UK, what with there not being TT, rejections come throughout the year, a gift that keeps on giving…. and the rejection emails are masterpieces of banality. It is ALWAYS a very strong field; there are ALWAYS 75 applicants (I was told this 5 times, now what are the chances of that? statisticians, please advise); there is ALWAYS somebody with a better fit, background, pair of boobs, whatever. Sometimes the rejection email does not even arrive, because as a phd holder, you should be smart enough to realise that you are not wanted.


  2. I did this for four mother-effing years before getting a TT job, and so I have thoughts!

    1) I think that the worst part of rejection is that for most PhDs is that for most of their adolescent and adult lives, the pattern they’ve gotten used to is one of unending yes. Yes, you got into the college you wanted. Yes, you got that scholarship, yes, you got into graduate school, yes, you got that fellowship, etc. So to suddenly be hit by an unending wall of No can be very, very disquieting because it’s something that most young scholars have very little experience of.

    2) One of the worst parts of the rejection is trying to explain the long odds to one’s professional but non-academic friends and family. “Maybe if you’re not getting the job after all these years you’re doing something wrong? Have you thought of a career coach?” &c.

    3) The absolute kindest rejection I ever got was after a campus visit and the selection of the successful candidate who wasn’t me. The search committee chair explained that I’d come in a very close second after a vote of the entire department and wished me well. Moreover, another member of the Search Committee had also given me advice for the future on a job talk (apparently members of that department had found it “too obscure”), and, having followed that advice, my next job talk was successful. So search committees don’t *have* to be dicks to the unsuccessful candidates even if they *are* stressed out and overworked with the search superadded onto the rest of their work.


    • I had spent some years trying to be a writer before going to grad school, so I was already used to endless no, but for some reason the job market *still* killed me. So true about SC’s not having to be dicks. They really don’t. And I love that so many are still insisting they do, and that it is I who just doesn’t understand the pressure they’re under.


      • I’ve heard the explanation that the reason that search committees often reply to an unsuccessful candidate with, “You didn’t get the job, don’t ever talk to us again” (or with nothing at all) is that they’re terrified that if they actually give a candidate feedback, then the candidate will go into high dudgeon at the given explanation for not getting the position and then come back with an attorney. And so in fear, they take the approach of DO NOT SAY ANYTHING AT ALL THE STONY WALL OF SILENCE GIVES THE UNSUCCESSFUL CANDIDATE’S LAWYER NO PAPER TRAIL.

        I think that explanation’s crap because any sort of non-sociopath is actually going to appreciate getting told what hurt the unsuccessful candidate and what helped the successful one. I certainly did. And if the search committee does give a crap explanation for why another candidate won out, what am I going to do? Sue them for the expenses of the conference interview and dossier? By the time I’d paid attorney’s fees I’d have lost money. Will I sue to get the job, go to court to demand I be hired by a bunch of people whom I now hate? Again, not unless I’m a sociopath. So it’s a fear that on the surface looks reasonable but really isn’t (IMO).


    • I’ve often heard the “never been told no” explanation, but it just doesn’t ring true to me. I spent too long in grad school in part because I didn’t know what I was doing on my first round of applications and got rejected from all the places I applied. But I didn’t give up, and I ended up getting my degree from a well-raked program that had rejected me at an earlier application stage.

      And even if there is anyone in my program who entered grad school having never been told ‘no,’ I can assure you they got that experience multiple times as part of the prospectus-writing and dissertation-writing process, to say nothing of conference and journal submissions.

      So why is systematic rejection on the job market so much harder? Because it’s no longer about what you might do with your life – it’s about what you’ve spent the last decade or more of your life doing (I’m here including undergrad, though in many cases grad school can be a decade all by itself). It’s no longer about a career you might pursue – it’s about the career you thought you had already started.


  3. You know what really gets me? That somehow, wanting a job in academia is seen as projecting a sense of entitlement, a certain arrogance even. So we should train for 15 years for a job we should not even feel we have the right of getting? How stupid would you need to be to do that?


  4. but I mean, what ARE the other jobs out there, now that I am nowhere near my University to get career advice and I have not given one single thought to what else I might do with my life for the last 20 years, let alone tried to “re-tool” for such? That is, besides blogging about it.


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