Call for Stories: (Why) Does Academic Rejection Hurt More?

There has been a lot of interesting, productive talk on this blog in the past months about why–and sometimes if–rejection from the academic job market is more painful than other forms of rejection. It certainly was for me. I’ve been told “no” and reminded of my own mediocrity from a very young age; I cut my teeth in the media world of New York, where even getting someone to pay attention to you long enough to reject you is considered a mild victory. I’ve been heartbroken and told I’m fat (not by the same person, luckily); I’ve been told I’m dumb by more randos than I can count (if you’ve never had the unique pleasure of someone who is less intelligent than you by considerable measure calling you “dumb” because they do not understand the words that is coming out of your mouth, you haven’t lived). And yet, the academic job market destroyed me in a way that none of this ever had. I want to know: was this the same for you, and if so, why? If not, why not?

Please leave stories in comments or email me anything you want; know that your story, but not your name, may be used for publication, so do keep as much or as little identifying info in there as you wish.

Thank you!

81 thoughts on “Call for Stories: (Why) Does Academic Rejection Hurt More?

  1. The worst thing for me was having to undergo the flaying of my soul over and over again. I went on the market six times, and only two of those tries were successful. One time I got three VAP offers, another time I got a t-t job of such quality that I later took three failed shots at the job market trying to get out of it. Every August and September, as I started getting ready and looking for the ads, I would get anxiety attacks and couldn’t sleep. Rejection exists in other fields, but not to the point that it becomes a yearly ritual of self-hatred and emotional pain. Pretty much from September through May every year for six years I had a constant knot in my stomach. That’s no way to live and I honestly think that it’s taken three years now for me to finally recover.


  2. Getting rejected for jobs that just a few years prior you would have considered your worst nightmare and total life failure (Binghamtom NY gigs, anyplace in Wisconsin gigs, etc, apologies to people who are from there, I’m sure there are nice things I am unaware of). And the jobs all suck and pay terribly compared to anything else that takes as much expertise. And somehow you are still convinced you need one of them because you have been driven crazy by having no social contacts (except family and students) outside academia. The total lack of control – as if was the only place to find a job, but with a lower success rate, and hustle, people skills, expertise, hard work, past relevant job excellence, etc count for nothing.


    • Oh yeah, and how people outside academia (and the old timers in academia) can’t conceive of the fact that it is difficult/impossible to find a decent job in your field with your fancy doctorate, supposed career successes, and all.


  3. How about the ABSOLUTE, DEAFENING SILENCE one receives after applying for even the DUMBEST, SHITTIEST VAP/Visiting “instructor/lecturer/choose your non-prestigious title of choice” position?

    What about the pervasive idea that advisors can sabotage any job prospect you might wish to pursue based not on your actual performance, but whether or not they LIKE you? (Happening to me right now) And that somehow, you must have done (or not) something to deserve such (illegal) treatment?

    The non-academic job market is brutal, but some of the shit academics do to one another is absolutely cruel and heartless and illegal, and they think they can get away with it because they are FULLPROFS.


    • The silence, yes. I mean, it’s not so much ‘heartbreaking’ as it is just “pissing-me-off-ing”. I mean, I was one of 3 finalists, the fucking interview was a damn-near 3 day affair (for a low-pay, asst prof tt), with about (no kidding) 20 separate meetings. And the only reason I know I didn’t get the job was via the department’s facebook page that touted the hire.


  4. as with many of the ritualized/proceduralized forms of acceptance we subject ourselves to in order to become officially counted as members of our disciplines, our employment in permanent academic jobs is premised in part on our potential (in complex, variable, and vaguely defined ways).

    but coming off a ph.d., you have arguably established that your potential has become actual. you accomplished something which is supposed to be not just a school exercise; you belong. (it could be even ‘better’, i.e. worse for those who can’t find work: you might have been publishing, had your work endorsed by important people with good judgment, etc.)

    and you belong in a way which is -the- condition for gaining the kind of work you are looking for.

    but when it actually comes down to finding work, you face rejection on all kinds of counts that cause you to call into question whether you belong in any particular place. and on counts which you seem to have no control over (or you might have, but the die was cast long ago) and which have nothing to do with your main accomplishment. which all along the way to it has depended on your acceptance by others, on a recognition of your past accomplishments and your potential for more.

    it is hard not to feel rejection or non-acceptance at this point to reflect on your potential. and since your accomplishments seem not to matter you turn more and more to your potential: to different ways you can style yourself to seem attractive to people who want different things, to areas you can reach to cover, courses you can quickly learn to teach, research projects you can shift to take up.

    obviously those are often risky and desperate resorts to your potential, especially in a climate where those who hire are conservative for institutional reasons (or worse) and who enjoy a buyer’s market for economic reasons. because they can much more easily rely on official accomplishments of those who do happen to suit their idiosyncratic little demands, of people the market hasn’t yet thrown back on themselves.

    and evidently, resorting to your potential to get around further rejection does not work very well, because the condition you’re in materially deprives you of what people in academia need in general to develop their potential, what you had before when you were accomplishing the things that didn’t get you a job. so it comes to seem that even your efforts to develop your potential differently, to get you out of the slough, only dig you in deeper.

    when you look outside academia, where your accomplishment is impressive but also somehow just a piece of paper, you find that people either regard you as a failure, or as so inappropriate for the rigidly-controlled conditions for career entry or advancement in practically every single kind of job, or as wildly overqualified for almost every job that every non-academic person has, that you can’t even get work doing things for which your potential is overflowing.

    you come to feel in the end that you have accomplished nothing and have no potential. you can’t believe this, but you can’t stop feeling it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. We were probably near the top of our class in college. However, after we graduated we did not have access to honest disclosures from graduate programs regarding attrition and job placement rates. So, we naively thought we would succeed despite the miserable odds. It feels like we were misled or advised poorly by our faculty colleagues.


  6. “I want to know: was this the same for you, and if so, why? If not, why not?”

    That is surprisingly hard to answer as I’m not actually sure and never really think about it but I’ll take a go –

    * I’m from a working class background, so don’t really think in terms of careers but jobs.

    * I did my PhD part-time and I think that experience is different

    * This was my second career so I’d been away from Universities for quite a while

    * I kept a strong wall between work and home – even now, none of my friends are other academics.

    But I think the key one is – I did a PhD because a) I wasn’t paying and b) it sounded interesting but was never and still (even though I am a FT academic) isn’t a passion for me, it’s just how I earn a living.

    So for me rejections were just like rejections for any other job and I was quite happy (well as happy as you can be) with the idea that if I didn’t get a job within 12 month, I’d move onto other stuff. At the time, I saw how a lot of people were effectively “hanging out” year in and year out for an opening but that wasn’t never going to be an option for me, I like money too much.


  7. My situation is similar to Mr. Smithee’s—blue-collar background, focus, and academia is my THIRD career, after military & tech.

    I chose this career knowing full well the job market situation, having worked at a college as classified staff and seeing how adjuncts struggled.

    For me, academic rejection hurts because it’s the first career I’ve had in which rejection is the norm. In the military, when it was time to advance you took a test and had an evaluation; if you were good at your job, you advanced. In tech, your skill set meets a company’s needs, so you’re hired. But being an academic is like being an actor—underemployment is the norm. The culture of academia continues to recruit thousands of starry-eyed kids into grad programs with vague plans sitting atop dreams and rainbows. Academia needs constantly needs new contingent faculty to replace those who’ve given up on finding F/T employment, and kids want to follow their dreams of living lives within the humanities, and VERY FEW full-time faculty tell their protegees the truth. My own advisers spoke haltingly, obliquely, but I knew the score before they said a word. Even if I’d known nothing, it was written on their faces.

    I’m actually pretty fortunate for an adjunct professor. I have three P/T jobs, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. I teach for one of the best local colleges, and the wage isn’t bad if you ignore that I’m expected to grade & prep for free. I also teach for a second college, and I still have that staff gig at the third. By a stroke of luck and timing, the staff gig comes with full benefits—thank you, American Federation of Teachers. Ironically, it is in this non-faculty classified position that I have the biggest impact on students, as I work on programs that affect thousands every term, rather than the eighty or so I teach in a given semester. In the fall, I’m adding online classes from a for-profit institution into the rotation. My good friend, a tenured professor, says it’s a good side job because both students & administrators expect less of you. I am wondering if at some point, as I continue my search for the unicorn of full-time employment, if I’ll begin to expect less of myself.


  8. Here’s why it hurts more.

    Some of us picked up our academic interests as teenagers. By the time we have utterly failed, we have spent over 50% of our lives in pursuit of something we’ll never get.

    Some people say that academic failure hurts because we’ve always succeeded before now. I think that’s not quite right. We didn’t leave high school as successes. We left it behind with the idea that we were heading to college, so who needs all those high school idiots? Then we left college thinking that we’d show up our unhelpful undergrad faculty advisors and shallow classmates by succeeding in grad school. Then we left grad school thinking we’d prove our worth as scholars to our doubting advisors by succeeding in our jobs. When we fail, we’re failing at the last chance we’ll ever have to succeed.

    Failing at academic employment is like Japanese death row, where you don’t know your execution date, you just know it’s coming. You might put it off for years or decades, but you can’t avoid it. You don’t know when your second chances will finally run out.

    And every year it hurts more because you don’t know how the job market really works until you’ve gone through it enough times to realize that you will never be a winner. The experience that teaches you what qualifications you need to get a job at the same time disqualifies you from getting a job. As you publish a book and a dozen articles and teach your way across the whole curriculum, you are becoming less and less qualified for a job that focuses on teaching and research. TT prof, with or without a book, = expert. Non-TT + book = loser who needs advice from the TT prof on what areas to work on in order to be a more attractive job candidate in TT prof’s department. Just toss a decade-long research agenda because we might hire a film guy (or whatever) next time!

    It hurts because of letters of recommendation. Every year you have to ask important people in your field to update their letters of recommendation (oh, by the way, I’m still a loser). Even more humiliating is seeking out a letter from a big name in the field who knows your work well – and being rejected.

    Academic job rejection hurts because, as they tell us, there are so many qualified candidates that it’s all about fit. Rejection means being told that you don’t fit in anywhere. When a place where you do fit perfectly gets rid of you because they don’t want want to pay for a TT professor in your field when hiring another contingent faculty is cheaper, that’s even worse, like having your own family decide to replace you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Academic job rejection hurts because, as they tell us, there are so many qualified candidates that it’s all about fit. Rejection means being told that you don’t fit in anywhere.”
      I just needed to thank you for saying this. It helped me understand why I can’t just get over this stuff.


    • “When a place where you do fit perfectly gets rid of you because they don’t want want to pay for a TT professor in your field when hiring another contingent faculty is cheaper, that’s even worse, like having your own family decide to replace you.”

      Being dumped from my full-time, decade-long faculty position hurt more than my own divorce, and they handled it even worse : they just didn’t give us (there were three of us “long”-timers tossed at once) sections to teach, hoping we’d just give up and move out of our offices. Only I inquired. And was even told, basically, “It’s not you, it’s US. You get wonderful reviews, your students love you, and you’ve done great things for this department. We just don’t have any sections.” Then they hired three new adjuncts from different states that very semester. Who took over our sections.

      It was my dream job; I planned to retire there. And, they were like my family. It was very, very difficult to move on (and have since found a new teaching gig), but I have to admit: even though it’s 4 years later, I break into a wide grin whenever I hear they’re on “hard times” these days or when a student says their new hires and/or the department sucks.

      Good. Fuckers.


  9. I cannot think of any other job, a part from consciounsly volunteering in a professional capacity, where you would complete all the tasks that are required of that job without any of the recognition, from salary, to title, to status. I, as I am sure all of those writing here, have been publishing, teaching, marking, advising students, providing references, going to conferences, all of which has been done while either working as a part-time lecturer/tutor, or while effectively without any academic affiliation.
    On a personal level, my story is both too painful and too complicated to be shared, even if I am sure there are lots of (female mostly) phds who would find it depressingly familiar.


  10. All great comments and insights. I’d just add that academe isolates you, cutting you off from other (more reasonable and more varied) perspectives on how to define success or how to value the self. Without those outside variations, it’s so easy to see only two possible career outcomes: success on the TT, or complete and utter failure.

    Also, I think the cyclical nature of the market exacerbates the high-anxiety of it all. ANS alludes to this above in the comment about seeking letters of recommendation. If I were to apply for a marketing job tomorrow and get rejected, I’d just start looking for another the next day. And another the next. And the next. In the rest of the world, there is always the possibility something could come along tomorrow. In academe, when you get rejected it means (for the most part) that you must wait another YEAR to try again. What will you do in that year? How will you make a living? How many new grads will join you on the market next fall with their fresh pedigrees? And how will you justify the time spent when you ask for letters again the next fall? So it’s not just a rejection. It’s a consignment to one more year in the trench–just at the moment when you thought you’d get out. I remember thinking this the year I decided to quit. I was exhausted and just could not face another year of adjuncting, uncertainty, and financial hardship before I could try again. The weight of it was devastating.


  11. I have been applying for jobs since I was ABD in 2006. I have applied to over 400 academic jobs all over the world and many “normal” people jobs (in higher ed, non-profit, city government, etc…I don’t even get phone interviews for these jobs) The first couple years of applying, I had many phone interviews and at least one on-site interview a year. But the last two years, it’s been silent. I worry it is too late to get a job since I’ve been out of doctoral school so long. I wonder if I should just give up and quit writing and quit any career development. Wouldn’t that time be better spent trying to figure out another career? Should I got to school again? Or would that be a waste of even more time and money? I’ve applied to a good deal of non-academic jobs, but again, not even phone interviews. If I can’t get a job I’m qualified for, how can I get any other job? I just don’t know what to do with myself.

    I think this rejection is worse than others because I have invested most of my life into this career and I have six figures of student loan debt. Only academics can say this. And I developed a passion for my discipline when I was very young. I have invested a good deal of my own money to go to conferences and in career development. I have done everything they told me to do and more. And at age 38, I have nothing to show for it. I get adjunct jobs here and there and I correct the GRE in the fall for pay, but I’m lucky my husband has a job that pays well and he can cover our expenses. I told him that he could take some years off from working to practice his art when I get that first position. But he’s even starting to think that’s never going to happen. The job market has damaged my marriage, my finances, and my mental health.

    My husband said my personality has changed since I’ve been on the job market and once told me he doesn’t want me to quit drinking, because I act like my “old self” after I’ve had a couple. I don’t sleep at night and cry a lot. I get migraines and headaches quite regularly and take sleeping pills. Spring is always the worst because that’s when everyone gets their job offers, except me. I graduated in 2009, so I thought maybe it was just the economy, but now everyone from my program has a job, so what’s wrong with me?


    • CA, I am sending you many, many hugs. I hope you can recover from this hell. You are not alone. I’m so sorry you are going through this.


    • I could have written every word of that. My husband, who has followed me for five years of one-year VAP jobs all over the country, has struggled to deal with a wife becoming more miserable and depressed year by year. I graduated in 2009 as well, and only now just got a renewable lectureship after being the first runner up in THREE TT searches. (My advisor’s comment when this year, yet again, I got plenty of campus visits that did not result in job offers was “Something is going wrong on your visits.”) I have now had pretty much all the bad experiences available off the Tenure Track, including being the passed over internal candidate. It does not get more personal than “It’s an issue of fit,” particularly when you’ve spent the past semester working your ass off trying to fulfill every single item in the faculty handbook and exhausted yourself going to non-mandatory (oh, they’re mandatory) social events. Even Middle School was less cruel. Anyway, I am ecstatic to have this non-TT job because I won’t have to move and live next year in the search cycle.

      I accepted the job a month ago and just realized that between then and now I’ve dropped a dress size. I’m still not 100% me yet because the anxiety doesn’t just disappear overnight; it got worse for a week or two after the offer when I was actively terrified that they’d withdraw the offer, and I’d be stuck because I was telling other schools I’d accepted a verbal offer. The poor Provost’s admin must have thought I was a crazy person with how anxious I was to confirm that they had my contract. After five years, I’ve had so many 11th hour rejections that I now expect the worst. Even now, the worry monster is still in my head. Will the new job end up hating me? Will I not be renewed after all? Will I make an enemy for some stupid reason and be drummed out of the school? Will they exploit me once they have me in hand?

      Nevertheless, the crying jags and panic attacks are lifting. My migraines are starting to improve. I was looking through my Facebook photos and realized just how miserable I looked right up to the point where I got this year’s offer. I read emails from five months ago and I sound like a completely different person. I am so, so lucky that my husband stuck it out, and I hope this will be it for a while. Again, this is a non-TT high teaching load job about which I am excited ONLY because it’s steady work (if I “fit”).


    • CA, Many hugs! Your story could be my own. My own spouse had to put up with the emotional roller coaster of the academic job search for five years! His job provided a stable income and health benefits but all the health care in the world can’t make up for an unhealthy work environment. On several occasions he encouraged me to quit, just because he didn’t recognize the person I had become. Random episodic bursts of tears, anger, and general depression made him worry that I wouldn’t be around for the long term.

      I feel that academic employment, especially non-TT, is full of contradictions. I have been employed on non-renewable contracts at one PUI for three years, achieving a good deal of success in service (in and out of the institution), teaching (two successful new courses developed), and research (collaborations with colleagues and research grants). However, when longer term TT or renewable contract positions were offered, I was never interviewed, being told “you are not a good fit for this institution.” The lack of ‘good fit’ was often followed by an offer of full time employment, but at a lower salary position.

      Its hard not to take that kind of rejection from your own institution personally. You (or I) spent the last three years working closely with each colleague in the department, carefully fostering collaborations and developing friendships. Then the college, which consists of people who know you personally, say that you aren’t worthy of working with them. It hurts. You think something must be wrong with YOU, YOU fail, YOU don’t reach the standards, YOU are broken.

      I spent many nights crying in both frustration and hurt. I developed migraines so sever that they were confused with a stroke. I lost weight and my enthusiasm to teach, something that I’ve enjoyed doing since I was 6 years old!

      In reality, the system isn’t perfect. There are too many qualified positions for too few people. Many people who can succeed in academic aren’t even given the chance to prove their worth because too many others can do the same job. Obtaining a long term position in this condition requires a great amount of luck, location, and limitless resources.

      Finally, after 5 years of applying, I secured a contract for a full-time renewable contract at a new institution. The institution is incredibly close to my husbands work and provides many opportunities for long-term professional development. I am happy to have this position, but I realize that I’m one of the lucky ones. I only waited 5 years to get a longer term position. I had a supportive and employed spouse. Despite the rough situation with colleagues at my current institution, I was always encouraged to develop new things and continue with my research. However, I wonder how many other people can do all the things “right’ and still suffer through years of job uncertainty.


  12. You lose confidence in your intelligence, your ability to write, everything. I have still not recovered from the ridiculous level of writer’s block I encountered during my dissertation. I’m in law school now, so this is obviously a problem. I was recently working on a paper and thought, “Why the hell am I having so much trouble finishing an 8-10 page paper?” I only managed to finish it because it’s for a class taught by a professor I highly respect, who has made it extremely clear that he does not accept late assignments under any circumstances.


    • Oh holy hell, isn’t that the truth. I had a meeting with my advisor and the DGS today to discuss my unpleasant advising situation, and she tried to paint me as stupid, unworthy of the degree, anything to discredit me in front of the DGS. At the time, I was incensed and stood my ground. I got home and my head started to ask, “What if she’s right? What if you’re a fraud? What if you’re really no good?” No. This whole process is demoralizing and inhumane. UGH. NO.


      • Lonely–your advisor is the unworthy one (and believe me, she is a bully because she has been bullied by other academics and possibly by others earlier in her life). I was told I was intellectually inferior because of my national origin and the fact that I qualify as “PoC” in this country–by numerous paunchy, middle aged men (with horrific comb-overs I might add). I was also told to drop out of my doctoral program because, as one asshole said, “you seem like a nice woman but this paper [waving it off disparagingly and smirking] doesn’t show much promise.’ Do not EVER doubt yourself.

        Now, years later, as a more sophisticated and top-tier published scholar I see how mediocre the scholarship of these asshole bullies actually is (or was, rather, given that they have not published in years. One of them never even published a monograph!). Again, these moronic advisors are gatekeepers of the worst kind who are plagued by their own insecurities and scarred by the bullying they themselves have been conditioned to give and receive in the academy. And, if you’re wondering, I’m out of the industry at this point (one leg in/out, finishing my last gig as an adjunct). Again: DO NOT DOUBT YOURSELF. ACADEMIA HARBORS SOME OF THE MOST ABUSIVE WORKPLACE PRACTICES AND “RELATIONSHIPS.”


      • DM–(I can’t reply directly to you), THANK YOU for that. I am seeing all of what you said, honestly. Especially since my advisor had to resort to sputtering and lies to make herself seem “big” in front of the DGS. I’m hoping another prof in the dept will take me on as an advisee and help me get out. The DGS said her priority is to get me graduated.

        And I am so sorry you had to go through something similar. It’s heartening to hear of scholars fight back and be successful outside of academia, which is what I am planning to do. I know I will never be a TT prof, nor do I particularly want it anymore. I want a better life than one of belittlement, ego, and bullying, academic style.


  13. Rebecca:

    My pain-of-rejection theory comes with two qualifications: first, I am still a mere grad student, having just begun to apply for jobs. Second, I am considerably older than the average graduate student. And these two qualifications have two primary implications for my answers to your query: I will likely not be considered for (or even apply for) tt jobs; and I have a lot of different kinds of rejection to which the academic variety can be compared.

    The academic rejection I’ve experienced thus far has called to mind the rejections of my very first career as a stage actor. I got an MFA in acting (I know, I know), taught, acted, worked a fair amount for several years, got rejected a lot. Broke, dejected, and divorced at 30, I decided I’d given it my best, and it was time to move on. I’ve had two or three careers since then. And I’ve discovered that acting and academic rejections hurt the most, and in many of the same ways.

    This is because acting rejections–after auditions, vicious reviews of performances–were not just professional, they were *personal*. In most job application/interview failures, you are rejected because you don’t possess a particular set of skills or characteristics. Sure, it may also be because people don’t like you, but you can survive it. The job is not who you are.

    People brave and dumb enough to become actors or academics, though, are different. Their identities are often *fused* with and expressed through their careers. So a rejection is more than professional, it’s deeply personal.

    People who yearn to teach, write, and research find this work to be the highest expression of who they are — so rejection is a rejection of who they are, at the deepest, most fundamental level. If you fail to get the right job, or any job, it’s not just your research, your publications, your teaching philosophy and portfolio: because you see this work as *more than work* (as it is currently defined), you see a rejection as striking at the very values around which you’ve based your life — intellectual inquiry, deep reading, challenging the status quo, developing the ability to think critically, for yourself and your students. The list goes on.

    The academy and the stage are shoots from the same rootstock. And the best acting, like intellectual inquiry, requires delving into worlds other than your own. It requires research, careful preparation, experimentation and risk, collaboration, and vast terabytes of memory.

    So when you’ve done all that work, and it’s deemed, for whatever reason, not good enough, it hurts. But what hurts even more is the possibility that you chose a career that would be not just a paycheck but a living mission statement of the way your work could expand the horizons of your life and maybe even change the world a little.

    Then you die a little.


  14. In the moment, I think my romantic rejections hurt worse than the academic ones. But long term, I think what gets me about the academic rejections is the waste and devaluation of our best minds.

    I am one of the Ph.D.s who gave up on academia. I went (on scholarship) to an elite private university. All my friends became doctors, lawyers, consultants, or investment bankers, got rich, got married, had kids, and bought homes and cars–all things I “put off” (read: sacrificed) for my academic career. I went to grad school on a fellowship. My advisor loved me to death and thought my research was just the greatest. Visiting luminaries and even scholars in other fields told me my research was awesome and helped me in many ways. Yet in the 10 years I spent in grad school (which is lower than average in my field!), I was rejected for all but one outside grant that I applied for. It’s not that I had never experienced rejection before, but I could never figure out exactly what I had done wrong. Each time my committee were SURE the grantor couldn’t help but be wowed by my proposal. And yet.

    So as the end of my Ph.D. hove into sight, I had been rejected enough that to realize that academic success would not be predicated upon my hard work or quality of research, or even the prestige markers from my earlier career. I was rejected for the few post-docs and jobs I had already applied for (and was “overqualified” for every non-academic job I applied for), and I could see I was surrounded by dozens of equally smart, equally hard-working competitors. And then I admit I gave in to despair. I stopped applying for grants. I stopped submitting papers. Then I stopped writing altogether. My dissertation was slated for publication and two years later I have yet to finish the edits. With the increasingly serf-like working conditions for contingent faculty and the corporatization of academia, I came to feel I was just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

    I only spent about a second on the job market. In an unforseen twist, my mom became seriously ill and I had to drop everything and become a full time caregiver. This is the first non-academic-or-illustration job I’ve ever had. But I am watching my best friend on the job market. She has all the hope, ambition, passion, commitment, and belief in the value of her work that I lacked–and she’s getting rejected at every turn. You could argue–I sometimes do–that I don’t deserve a tenured position anyway, since I threw in the towel even before my unanticipated job change. But my friend has done everything right, ticked all the boxes, jumped through all the hoops. Even a colleague who lorded it over me when he got a post-doc and I didn’t can’t get a t.t. position. And I have no faith in a system that would select educators, of all people, apparently semi-randomly. (No disrespect intended to those who have t.t. jobs–I KNOW you deserve them. It’s just a lot of others probably did too.)


  15. I didn’t go on the academic job market full-on, but I did apply for jobs. And I applied for more fellowships than jobs. So take this POV with a grain of salt.

    For me, the rejection hurt because I believed this career was what I was going to do with my life. I was (and am) professionally driven, and I was working *hard* on my degree to become a professor. I had put on hold a lot of things because I felt this is what you do when you really want something. But the job rejections felt personal; I had heard again and again that I was good at what I did and I believed my work was worthy of funding. Every rejection felt like a big fat NO to each of those questions.

    I didn’t stick around long enough to see if that was true or not. I decided I needed to step out and stop foregoing income to see if maybe someday possibly I’d get an academic job. Stepping away made me realize that indeed I had skills, knowledge, and potential that others valued enough to hire me. I also understand now that a job is a job. Academic jobs are just that: jobs. Careers are comprised of different *jobs.* Sheesh, I needed a PhD to figure that out? Yup, I did.


  16. Because they make it personal, and reasons are always contradictory. It comes down to, you are not good enough in a general way, a personal way. I have had rejections that were not like that and the experience is quite different.

    Also, the precariousness. If you are rejected but rich, or rejected but have another trade or profession you have experience in, also like, and can fall back on, then you are not as destroyed as a person, I would imagine.


    • ” If you are rejected but rich, or rejected but have another trade or profession you have experience in, also like, and can fall back on, then you are not as destroyed as a person, I would imagine.”

      Yes, it helps. Immensely. I’ve had other jobs, so I KNOW I can like another line of work if I have to. It’s still difficult not to internalize the rejection and crappy behavior, BUT, I have past experiences I can draw upon that have shown me I am good at lots of things and can be happy doing things other than being an academic. (Unfortunately, my “other things” did not pay well, either, so if I don’t get a FT teaching position, I have to sort of start over in another field altogether, but at least this knowledge that I *can* do and like something else is there.)


  17. I think it hurts so much because you spend your entire adult life trying to be a smart, intelligent, polite authority on a particular corner of an academic subject to which you entirely subject yourself with little or no reward except the joy of what you have learned and huge debts, to be denied any kudos by someone who could set you free from the feeling that it was all a waste of time. Worse is to find that the person denying you could be the complete antithesis of who you might expect to find in a university chair.

    Having balance helps – I had to leave academic ambitions behind to regain some. Lots more will do the same. It’s not necessarily the end.


    • “Having balance helps – I had to leave academic ambitions behind to regain some. Lots more will do the same. It’s not necessarily the end.” My new slogan. You also hit it with the “denial of kudos” bit. It goes to the heart of the losses and grief over real and imagined things. We sought a life of learning AND a sustaining community who would understand, challenge AND praise us.

      Turns out that community doesn’t exist–and it’s a key feature to understanding my upset about academia: the supportive community of learning, one ostensibly really interest in collaboration and originality, is JUST.NOT.THERE. That is something that continues to strike me about acquaintances and friends, established academics, express frustration at not being appreciated, acknowledged, supported. The level of pettiness and jealousy has never ceased to shock me–among ESTABLISHED folks.

      Yes, we all have a handful of people who admire us and who we admire–but that is it. Questing for the “imagined community” of scholars yields the same result as looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And that, I think, is the source of so much grief and disappointment–for those of us who leave/were “left” and those who remain (we all feel rejected by the “imagined community” which is just that–a fiction of our imagination).


      • There are some terrific, truly great individuals working in Higher Education,nd none of us would get anywhere without them. I’d like to add that.

        Be bold, be confident, be brilliant and be proud of yourselves. If you’re rejected because you’re a better choice than the interviewing professor, take it as a sign to keep on pushing. Good luck guys!


    • It is also important to realize that in many cases it is actually mediocrity which is rewarded. So, when you are actually very good and cannot understand why you are rejected, it could be that you are too good — not that you *think* you are, or that you are snooty, but just that you are too good. Note: I have realized that many academics, particularly those who rise to power in third tier type places, are not actually well enough trained to recognize quality, etc., …


      • I absolutely agree. I wish more people who have no direct experience of the academy would be aware of this. And let’s not even get into the role of “prestige.” AAAAARGGHHH.


  18. umm…figment of our imagination.

    Actually, if there is one community that I felt has truly sustained me it’s that of the post-acs and alt-acs. Folks who have the best of the learning and erudition we quest after…yet have NO interest in dealing with the BS of the industry. In other words: the new public intellectuals. I feel honored and flattered to be part of this cyber community (and if I’m imagining it…then so be it…it’s much better than the Other Imagined Community).


  19. I had an on campus interview only to find during the day long ordeal that I was not really in contention and that I was only brought to campus so they could have a third person. It still stings to this day. Waste of my time.


  20. I received a call from my undergraduate advisor (I went to a SLAC) since they’d be opening up a psych/neuroscience position that year and wanted me to apply. I did, then found out they hired someone else via a phone call in which my advisor said I was immediately DQ’ed because I went there as a undergraduate, and it “looks bad.” Then he asked me to take a year visiting professorship to “beef up my teaching experience,” since my two adjunct positions and a research-heavy postdoc “weren’t enough.” So I’m good enough to teach there, but not to teach there?

    To add insult to injury, he then replied later that month to ask me to provide quotes and/or pictures from when I was an undergrad so that the departmental chair could present to the provost how successful the department has been, to get funding for the position that I didn’t receive.

    Thanks but no thanks.


  21. I have been looking for education positions since August, and I don’t think that I have ever been as upset and stressed as I am right now. The application process is simply exhausting; I liken it do getting ready to go to the prom – getting all dolled up, asking out that special someone, and not even getting a response in return. The rejection and down-right disrespect as a human being, no less a PhD, has been rattling to my system. I check the job sites at least 5 times a day, like that will actually help me get a leg up or something. It has been an obsession, a depressing obsession.

    Part of the stress is simply the unknown. Can I be myself in a interview? My “academic” self? Do I kiss up? What are the right things to say and/or do? There on no manuals on breaking into the academy, and the unknown is imposing and frustrating.


  22. There are two things that I found especially difficult about the academic job market process:
    1) The sense that I had to accept the working conditions and long hours and poor pay and benefits without complaint and without negotiating for their change. My powerlessness to negotiate was demoralizing (I actually had a dean tell me that this was “a buyer’s market,” in which, incidentally, I was the one being bought… not that that the application of the term was new to me. I turned the job down…. It was the only TT job I was offered that year and I felt so liberated when I made it).
    2) The sheer length of time that the process lasts. You start a year before you need the job, and the months wear on and fall turns to winter, and winter turns to spring. People are asking you the entire time if you’ve found a job–it seems like the only question people are asking you–and as the spring progresses, their reactions become more and more pitying. And then, you’re doomed to find a temp job (postdoc, visiting prof, adjunct). Or leave. Which is what I did.
    3) Insecure older faculty, who I believe are actually afraid of feeling like poor mentors will tell their grad students to work harder. If you’re not succeeding, you’re not working hard enough. In my experience, working harder is not what most grad students need to hear. They need to hear about working smarter and more strategically, and they need to hear about what they can do outside of academia if they are unwilling to accept the kind of lifestyle that the academic job market requires. I remember going to one seminar on careers where the message was pretty much, “Most of you are not publishing enough.” As if that was going to make us scramble and find time in our already overloaded schedules to publish more than we already were. There was not enough compassion for the very real and difficult situations we faced, which, to be fair, were much harder than what the older faculty had faced at the same stage.

    I think staying in these conditions is acquiescing to these standards, and I just couldn’t say that as an intelligent, empowered person, it was in my interests to stay. I’m very happy post-ac, and I also understand that there are people in academia who are intelligent and empowered and have found a pathway that works for them. It just wasn’t my experience.


  23. Once during a job talk a certain famous psychologist named Gert Gigerenzer screamed at me in front 30 or 40 people “how can you say these results are significant?!” He cut me off every time I tried to answer, and eventually the rest of the committee told him to be quiet so we could move on. Needless to say though, I was rejected from the Max Planck Institute.

    I am now in industry research with the impressive sounding title “Principal Scientist” which I have attained with no PhD. I still routinely apply to academic jobs and every now and then. Sometimes a rebellious PI considers me despite the lack of pedigree. Maybe I am masochistic but I still dream…

    I have an ambivalent relationship to rejection in academia. I was also offered a dream job once and I turned it down!! (A dream job that hardly paid for renting a closet).


  24. Hi, just would like to add my 2 pence and say that I don’t find it hurts more. I have sympathy with everybody’s experience on here. But we all know the many reasons beyond our control that impact on our job search, so we know that, mostly, the problem is “them, not us”, so that’s relatively easy to accept. And of course to accept that you might just not be good enough in your field to make it is something that we have to accept sometimes, too. That’s all very different when a partnership ends…. I think if professional rejection hurts you more than personal rejection, you should reconsider your priorities in life really.
    I’m based in the UK though, so maybe the situation is not as desperate as in the US, with less student debt at the end of your degree, etc.


  25. I “failed” on the job market once, after 10 conference interviews and 3 campus visits, and “succeeded” when I got 2 TT offers the following year. I am now leaving academia because, in fact, I never actually wanted one of these faculty jobs but got sucked into the cult at the very end. Rejection the first year only increased my need to have a job I didn’t really want to fulfilled my ideas of prestige and success.
    The academic job market was excruciating both times. A number of factors combine I think to make it different from other forms of application/rejection.
    -The cult aspect is the biggest one, and the one that makes it nearly impossible not to go on the job market or see not getting a job as a huge personal and intellectual failing even when there are (a) clearly nowhere near enough jobs to go around and (b) being a faculty member is not universally accepted as a desirable profession or life choice.
    -The cohort aspect of job applications matters. You go out to the job market as a group and inevitably are evaluating yourself against your peers applying for the same/similar jobs. This is probably similar to law school and other grad programs, except that there are nowhere near enough TTF jobs for the applicants on the market each year.
    -The advisor aspect matters, you want to impress/emulate the person/people who supported and trained you for years. Everyone knows that your reputation, their reputation, the reputation of your program depends on grad students getting good jobs.
    -The intensity of the campus visit, in which you have to perform as a scholar, teacher, and colleague for more than 24 hours in an unfamiliar environment where you cannot always grasp the internal political terrain.
    -The long, long wait of weeks or even months after the campus visit, which provides the opportunity to review every minute of it for potential failings or errors of judgement.
    -The fact that you can only apply once a year for jobs, so if you miss one round, you have to wait for months to apply again, with a new cohort of people to a group of jobs the following year.


  26. I think one of the reasons is the degree to which academic institutions portray themselves (and that we’re encouraged to think of them) as “pure” meritocracies that are wholly dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. In reality they aren’t; that’s not shocking and it doesn’t mean academia is EVIL (profit motives and personal politics are inescapable in our culture; nothing is a pure meritocracy), but I think other fields and industries are more honest about it. For-profit entities DO try to project a positive image, but it’s still widely culturally understood that they are there to make a profit. Rejection in the for-profit sector can be easily understood as a failure/inability to make the company money (which is not necessarily a personal failure), whereas rejection in academia (and I imagine things are probably similar in the non-profit/NGO circuit) is culturally assumed to be due to a personal intellectual failure.


  27. Thank you for this call for stories. It makes me feel much less alone. After my failed attempt at finding a job, I have been unable to write (as others have said) and have been physically ill too. I do believe academic rejection hurts so much more. I think a combination of the lack of control over your life, the realization you’ve given up so much for a dream that may not come true, and the fact you’re playing a game with uncertain rules (which goes back to the lack of control).

    I worked in a corporate setting before going back to graduate school and didn’t mind rejection at all. For my academic search, I applied to 40+ schools. It never made sense to me what schools called me for interviews and what schools did not. I did have oncampus interviews. All of them made me seem like I was their top choice. All of them rejected me with “reasons beyond your control” and were unable to offer me any explanation of things I could have done differently or ways to improve. The idea that I can be my best and it still doesn’t make a difference…and there is nothing I can do (or at least, nothing anyone is willing to tell me to do better) is absoutely mind-boggling and incredibly stressful. It means everything is luck. 5, 7, 10 years of work comes down to luck? That makes rejection more painful.

    Furthermore, my mentors and advisors have reacted to my rejections with “at least you got interviews! You should be so proud!” Well, yes, but, interviews don’t pay the bills. I don’t have a job. I can’t even get a “regular” job to call me back. I’ve applied to dozens of those too and, when my referees found that out, they said they wouldn’t support me because I would never get back into academia if I went to work for a regular company (not that I was getting calls anyway…)


    • “they won’t support you bc otherwise you won’t get into academia.” Where does one begin to even respond to that. Good lord.


  28. I also think it (the feeling that THIS sort of rejection is worse) has to do with the stakes and idealism you (we) attached to this dream of teaching, of being a member of a club we *used* to really, really admire.

    For me, I get the same heartbreaking/balls-kicked-in/heart ripped out/crushingness when my written work is rejected, because being a writer is where I’ve placed all my dreams and idealism. It hurts every damn time.


  29. There’s a partial theory of this in my IHE/Slate essay from a few months back, which I know you’ve read. So I won’t rehash my argument about the structural aspect of why the academic job market is so cruel. But I would add one other thing here. The market is so f***ing arbitrary. One might think that that would make it easier to accept the results, but it doesn’t. It makes it harder. It’s a small community of scholars, so you’ll eventually learn who got the job you didn’t. Were they more qualified? Or even about the same? If the answer was yes, I personally haven’t found it hard to accept the results. But so often that isn’t the case. The worst emotional turmoil that the job market ever sent me into was when the committee sent out a long rejection letter explaining the not-especially-impressive qualifications of the candidate they had hired for the position. It was agonizing.

    So: drawn out and arbitrary. The third thing that makes it difficult to deal with is the lack of transparency. The hiring committee’s decisions are confidential. You can try to ask if there is anything you could have done differently, but you’ll never get a straight or useful answer. So it comes down to feeling like your shoes were the wrong color or something like that. And if you have enough bad luck, then you’re stuck: in low-wage work, with no research support, trying to continue to be productive while the people in the offices next to you gripe about problems you’d love to have.

    Finally, let’s be honest: everyone on the academic job market ends up applying to jobs that we really want, and jobs that would be less than ideal. But forget the jobs that we want: we can’t even get hired for the jobs that we don’t especially want. And that hurts.


    • So true, Patrick, so true. The seemingly arbitrary nature of hiring is beyond baffling–even more troubling is that many hires do not AT ALL (and I mean AT ALL) match the job description–at least in my discipline. How on earth is this possible???

      Honestly? I’d like to see lawsuits by candidates who were more qualified and were rejected for arbitrary and discriminatory reasons. Academic hiring HAS to be more accountable. Yeah, I know. Who has the money and psycho–emotional energy to pull that one through but….it’s wishful thinking (and I believe it WOULD force greater transparency and ethical hiring practices).


      • Ha, but as long as the names of candidates are kept “private”, schools don’t have to justify that they hired the hot new thing that has never published instead of the person who has several articles in good journals, but is three-four years out of their PhD. But anyway, if schools had to justify anything, they’d say it’s about “fit”, right? That elusive “fit,” that often amounts to “we know you” or “we don’t know you yet, but you seem cool to us.”


      • But sometimes the runner up names AREN’T private. Some universities circulate discreet announcements about the job talks while others, all you have to do is google, make very publicly and explicit announcements about a “TT job candidate talk.” I would just relish one, even one, such lawsuit.


  30. For one thing, academic rejection hurts because, at the end of the day, it’s not anonymous rejection — it’s intensely personal, especially given the extent to which our identities get bound up in the admittedly romanticized image of The Scholar. I mean, you apply to the federal government, for example, and your resume is rated by a computer algorithm. Okay, fine — you missed the points cut-off to be rated “fully qualified” because you don’t have a plumber’s license or something. But in academia, the job search can be intensely personal: you know who the members of a search committee are. Some of them are bound to be in your field, which means you’re bound to run into them at a conference in the future. You’ve read their articles and books; you admire them; you’d like to be admired *by* them. Far worse, it’s quite possible you know some of the same people; your adviser, say, was in graduate school with the chair of the search committee. Your adviser knows you’ve applied to Big State U; your adviser knows you were rejected by Big State U — which means you were rejected by people your adviser knows and likes and admires. So what does that make you? And the rejection never goes away: perhaps you’ll find yourself on a panel with Important Professor Jones, late of the search committee at Big State U, where you’d given a job talk last year. So there you are, in a group conversation with Famous Professor Schmedlap after a panel at the annual meeting of the American Association of Academic Association Meetings, and you suddenly become aware that standing next to you is Important Professor Jones herself, and you’re overcome by The Fear that Jones will glance in your direction and think, “Oh, there’s that loser candidate we didn’t like” — or worse, that Jones won’t remember that you were a candidate at all. The academic community is so profoundly clubby, especially in the narrower disciplines, that it is all-but-impossible not to feel your identity is tightly bound up in the approval of people whom you actually don’t know but who are, by virtue of no small amount of good luck in their own lives (and, indeed, by virtue of their contributions to scholarship), effectively the Saint Peters who stand before the Pearly Gates of the Heavenly T-T job.


  31. I have never tried to be in an academic job market (I can’t spell to save my life.) But i would like to offer up this question. Is it more about where you received your knowledge vs what you really know? I really have no opinion on this. Someone my have already toiched on this topic.


  32. it is a degrading process all around. I had the unfortunate experience of being rejected for a position for which I was visiting. the initial suggestion was that it would change from a VAP to a TT position (wink wink), but the new provost decided to do a national search. despite my being one of three finalists (and being recommended for the position) the provost passed me over–his decision was final (so much for democratic transparency!). these kinds of experiences are humiliating–and I’m not alone at all!

    there are some things I have learned from this experience and from being on the market for over 7 years with little luck (still unemployed, BTW): the most important is that there is so much weight put on getting the job that i often lose sight of the reason I became an educator in the first place. that’s a shame and it happens to the best of us. not having stability is tough, dehumanizing, etc., but I try to remember to focus on being an effective teacher and on my research. at least I have control over those two areas of my life–the rest will surely fall into place. above all, it is necessary to agitate for changing this horrific system of capitalist education.


  33. i suppose there are many reasons why for me the rejections are so utterly soul crushing. one is that every job application that is sent out – carefully crafted letters detailing the specifics of my research, what i have done and what i will do, how i teach and what i would be thrilled to teach – all of that is a referendum on my intelligence. and my intelligence is the thing that has held me afloat all these years, as i struggled with being poorly paid while my friends found jobs and lives. even if it isn’t true, it feels as though each “you are not progressing in the search” is someone saying “you really aren’t all that smart” and, because we’ve all been gaining our self-worth through various markers of intelligence (grades, papers accepted, conference accolades and questions) these rejections are not just of me or my intelligence, but my entire self-worth. it feels like people are rejecting every bit of me.
    and its even worse when you look up the CV of the head of the search committee and find you have more publications than they do, more scholarships, more citations. then it fills you with a white hot rage mi

    also, as someone from a working class background too, its hard not to feel like i really disappointed my parents who don’t understand the deadliness of the academic job market and are so full of trying to help, saying things like “call them and find out why you didn’t get the job”.

    i don’t know why academics with jobs have to be such dicks. they will sit there and smile at your face, ask you to do various free labour for their silly conferences – the administrative stuff they can’t be bothered to do – and then not ever bother to inform you that you didn’t get the crappy semester long contract you and two other people applied for. it is as though once they obtain tenure they become inured to humiliating their underlings.

    i had a child in the last year of my phd and feel utterly tossed aside by the academy. they make not effort to accommodate anything about my life, such as my inability to move long distances because i want to keep my family intact. after getting rejected from a contract job in the department i had also done free labour for (to be fair, it was a seniority issue) the department head said “well, you know, you could have a commuter relationship. lots of people do it” as though my child living between two cities, spending only half her time with her father – and me half the time with my partner – is any sort of solution. so to add to the rejection of me and my intelligence, it feels more so like a rejection of my entire life. “your happiness isn’t important! your child’s happiness even less so! no job for you!”

    the academic job market seems so horrifyingly crushing because there is only one job market and we’re on it, and when it is failing it feels like there is nothing else. but there is – i am about to loose my chains and set myself free. and no one can ever take my scholarships, fellowships, publications, and education away from me.


  34. “also, as someone from a working class background too, its hard not to feel like i really disappointed my parents who don’t understand the deadliness of the academic job market and are so full of trying to help, saying things like “call them and find out why you didn’t get the job”.

    So brutal. So heartbreaking.

    Add immigrant parents to that…and not be able to explain to them how going to grad school is especially onerous financially because the chair of the department tells you that you did not get funding because despite having an honors MA from the same institution, and more language erudition than all of the other doctoral candidates in the dept. put together, there had been “concerns [raised] about the ability of students from certain countries to meet the rigors of a doctoral program.” I have never told my parents what happened because their pain and anger would have been too much to bear–I was dealing enough with my own. And then have them send you some money–and you accept it ashamed and even more angry at your department.

    Can’t tell you how many times they innocently made the “helpful” comments you mention. So many families who expect reasonable common-sense decency from the academy. They think professors are enlightened people, decent people, from whom you can expect reasonable behavior. And then there’s the incredulous look when you tell them you have to shell out $1000 to go to a “preliminary interview.”

    I have to say I have also experienced exceptionally kind and professional behavior from a number of academics, especially my current employers (whom I’ve told the above stories).


  35. I’m currently an English Literature undergrad and have long figured my plan involves going to grad school and getting a teaching position somewhere, so I’ve been following Schuman’s Slate education articles regularly with mild trepidation and hope it might turn out different for me. But these posts are straight up terrifying.


    • Elemeno: you’ve been warned. You’re not different or any more special or capable. Don’t gamble with your future. Build administrative and tech chops. Get lots of work experience before going for an MA in something along the lines technical/administrative/techie and/or that combines with education. You want to be in your early 30s (or 40s, like myself), broke, while your peers are moving, both laterally and vertically, in the real world? No, you don’t. After your BA get as much experience working in offices (learn how to grant write, be a team member as part of a collaborative project, learn how to coordinate groups of people, learn the Microsoft Office Suite package inside and out. Your English Lit degree is for your pleasure and boost your social capital a bit–but the humanities by themselves will not get you a job.

      Seriously, listen to the voices that are telling you not to gamble away your financial and mental health by getting a PhD in the humanities. We who comment on Rebecca’s blog are from all walks of life, science and humanities, Ivies/R1s/SLAC’s. LISTEN.


    • And…btw, not getting a phd does not mean you cannot pursue your English Lit passion (THAT is the most distorted psychological/cultural rationale I see young lovers of the humanities make: thinking that the only option they have to pursue their passion is to go to grad school and get a phd. WRONG. Your opinions will not be more “legitimate” or “accepted”–at least in the academy where immature competition and egos will never give you credit or actually CARE about what you have to say.) Check out the blog 100 reasons not to go to grad school.



      • Thanks for the advice DM. I do think I have a general advantage as far as the skills you suggested. I spent a year at my undergrad before I couldn’t afford it anymore (yay 2008) so I left and got a really good finance job with the government that got me lots of experience in a field I never thought I would be in. I traded music lessons for excel lessons with one of my coworkers and it’s not what I wanted to do, but I’m definitely better for it and much more qualified for a range of jobs than if I had stayed in school studying English the way I originally planned. I just quit that job so I could finish up my bachelors, but its hard not to entertain those old dreams of going on to grad school and teaching….

        I will say that a lot of people in the posts have complained about the utter lack of human decency in academia, such as where they apply for jobs and have to learn via fb that someone else got the position. I think it’s important to note that a hiring manager who doesn’t notify failed applicants before announcing the selection is SO MANY LEVELS of unprofessional. But it’s just as important to remember that jerks, and unprofessional jerks, exist in EVERY field. Maybe academia has a heavy preponderance of it but I realized when I left school for a while that jerks/office politics/rejection exist everywhere and never go away. One time I got offered a job with a defense contractor, and the hiring manager called me back 15 minutes later and said that he hadn’t checked with his boss when he called me, and that he actually wasn’t authorized to hire me and would have to rescind the offer. You just have to learn to live with it and find the nice people where you can.


  36. Elemeno, of course you’re right that every field has its jerks. I certainly got to experience some during the year I took between undergrad and grad school. I think what we’re trying to say here though is that this is NOT a matter of jerks who just happen to be unprofessional, nor is it that academia has a higher proportion of jerks necessarily. The problem is that this behavior–in particular lack of transparency and lack of consideration/respect for those who “fail” to get hired–is INSTITUTIONAL. Speaking as an anthropologist, there is a culture in academia which implicitly endorses this behavior. All through grad school, I and my friends/peers lived through the twice-yearly rollercoaster of dread and elation waiting to find out if we had a TA position or not. It was de rigeur not to inform us if we hadn’t gotten a position–we usually found out when other people announced they’d gotten the positions we applied for. The Chair and the DGS just couldn’t be bothered. Another example: I once applied for a grant which required that I and one other applicant be nominated by the department before entering university-wide competition. I later found that my fellow nominee and I lost our shot at that grant because the DGS forgot to send the applications on down the line by the due date. He never told us that–someone found out through the grapevine and let us know–a year later.

    My department was not especially filled with jerks, but it was filled with academics who were called upon to contribute to the administrative functioning of the department yet felt they were above that sort of thing. They do not receive extra status or kudos for the administrative work they do (sitting on committees, serving as DGS, etc.) and even teaching is looked upon as pretty much irrelevant at R1 schools. Some of these people are nice enough, they are just phoning it in and, from their point of view, wisely avoiding investment of effort into something that won’t produce much in the way of returns. Problem is that the rest of us get royally screwed.

    The important message of all of us sharing these tales of woe is that they aren’t isolated anecdotes. Forewarned is forearmed.


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