Academic common room
I feel like such a failure
shmivorytower · 05/06/2019 10:41
I am really struggling with what’s happened to my career.
Quick overview (I am in the humanities): sailed through education (highest first at Oxbridge, distinctions, passed viva with no corrections), have been very successful at getting postdoctoral fellowships after PhD (think two things like British Academy and a shorter but quite prestigious one). I have a good publication record ( 7 years post PhD I have 6 peer reviewed journal articles, two of which in top journals which I had previously been told would be career making, an edited collection, a monograph with a good UP coming out this year, another in consideration elsewhere, as well as working on a third). I have extensive teaching experience (albeit not at super prestigious unis) including setting up and teaching on a MA. Oh, and I have had two children as well!
Despite all this, I am just not getting shortlisted for permanent lectureships.I have had people look over my applications and I am told they are good.
I think this lack of success if mostly due to my specialism which js both very theoretical and extremely interdisciplinary; but there is not a lot I can do to correct this. Having children (hence not being very flexible location wise and not being able to produce work at the same rate as before) also does not help.
My fellowship ends this year, I have lined up some casual teaching for after, so financially I will be ok. But I just cannot help feeling so disappointed that this is where I am at after all the hard work I have put in.
I also feel a bit bitter (I am ashamed to say) when I see other people with far less good CVs succeed. Or when I see people with connections or proper institutional support (which I did not have, my supervisor basically has washed her hands off me even before I graduated) get permanent jobs.
I am going to stay in the job market one more round (hoping that REF will play in my favour) but then realistically I am going to not be competitive for research heavy positions anymore, because of all the adjuncting I will have to do to stay in the game.
I am not sure what I am hoping for in terms of responses. Perhaps, how do I get over feeling like such a failure?
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 12:50
Well, you're clearly not a failure!
I keep being told that having a book out makes a big difference. I hope it's true! I also keep reminding myself that most of us have some sticky time with casual teaching at some stage.
But are you sure you won't be competitive after this year? I'm five years post PhD. Never had a research postdoc; I had a two-year teaching post, then mostly casual teaching after that, and for the last 18 months I've been at home with my DD and have one of those figleaf 'research associate' affiliations that give you library rights but no pay. I have been worrying since my two-year job ended that my lack of 'proper' jobs would count against me, and I'd nearly given up. But I was shortlisted for a permanent job this spring (didn't get it), and I have now got a reasonably prestigious two-year research postdoc. So, ok, no I don't know whether I'll ever get a permanent job, but I do feel glad I kept going through the very depressing stretch of casual teaching.
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 12:51
(Oh, and yes, absolutely be bitter about less good people getting jobs!)
Northernlurker · 05/06/2019 13:02
The other people getting the jobs -are they male by chance? I think it's the location restrictions that may be easiest to fix. Just his possible is it for you to relocate for a job? Have you thought it through completely?
shmivorytower · 05/06/2019 14:08
Hi, thanks for replying!
@Northernlurker yes, it’s not feasible for us to move. My dh works in the City, which gives us the kind of income which means that it’s ok for me to have some badly paid adjuncting for some time, it also means that I solo parent mon-fri. If we moved, I would lose the friends and family support network that allows me to have a full time job despite of this.
And yes people who get the jobs are men or women with no care responsibilities.
@SarahAndQuack I am not sure I will be unemployable. What makes me think that is that I have done all the things that I was told to do with little result. So perhaps it’s a question of a fundamental la k of alignment of what I offer and what the market wants?! Jumping through more hoops won’t solve that.
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 14:27
But your book isn't out. We might be in quite different bits of the humanities (I'm English/History), but I really do keep hearing people say it makes a big difference.
shmivorytower · 05/06/2019 14:37
@SarahAndQuack mmhh, I can understand the difference between ‘book contract’ Vs. book actually written and out ’ but is the difference between ‘book in production’ vs. ‘Book out’ really that great?
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 14:44
Yes, I think it really is.
Book under contract could mean anything - you could write a cracking proposal but never actually finish the book. I know several people who did PhDs around the same time as me who got contracts but ended up moving out of academia or just stalling on the book process. OTOH a book that's out, that's getting reviews, is a known quantity.
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 14:45
... aaannnd I completely misread you. Gah.
I dunno, maybe it's not such an issue? But it's what I am clinging to myself.
shmivorytower · 05/06/2019 15:31
I really hope you are right re book.
Honestly, had I known it would have been this hard, I would have gone and got a proper job!
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 16:16
Oh, but then what would you do without the generous summer holidays and the bags of money you get from each student?
shmivorytower · 05/06/2019 17:29
And the flexibility! The job is so flexible I can worry about my inadequacies and about REF, teaching and marking in a way that fits around my family (ie all the time)
woodcutbirds · 05/06/2019 17:35
l agree about the publication track record. Get that book out. And then another. Try and open up the scope of your specialism too with a new practise based or practise led research project as this adds to your employability.
And remember, those of us who are less academically shiny than you are stuck in shittily paid online teaching jobs for good unis on hourly contracts. It doesn't make me feel good to be teaching at one of the world's best unis and be earning the same as a friend on the checkout at our local supermarket. That's academic failure! (And yet, I still love my job.)
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 18:43
What are practise based projects? It's a phrase I hear but don't know what it means in context.
Peachsummer · 05/06/2019 19:13
OP I was in a similar situation. The academic job market is collapsing. There are nowhere near enough jobs for everyone with a PhD, especially if you can’t repeatedly relocate. But students are so heavily indoctrinated by the academic world, it’s the only world they know and leaving is a failure akin to banishment. People leave academia and those who remain never hear from them again. It’s like you’ve died. It took me a long time to come to terms with it.
In the end it was a neighbour who helped me the most. He used to be part of a religious cult and he said if you leave the religion then people in your social circle cut ties with you and you’re thrust out into the wilderness away from everything you’ve ever known. It’s a common tactic used by cults to keep you locked in. I do think academia is like a cult that brainwashes you into believing that leaving is a fate worse than death and labels you as a failure.
But once you leave, you find out that actually nobody gives a crap about what is, when it comes down to it, just a day job. You realise you’ve only been kicked out of a small insular group of academics that the wider world couldn’t care less about. There are even people out there doing research and not publishing it, because they’re doing it for commercial benefit and their employer wants to keep the results secret. You can still be successful in another field, and probably richer with more free time for friends and family. It’s just a question of recalibrating your world view. It’s very hard and I reckon it took me 7-8 years to accept that not having a certain job in a certain academic field doesn’t mean I’m a failure.
shmivorytower · 05/06/2019 20:02
Thanks @woodcutbirds what do you mean by practise based?
shmivorytower · 05/06/2019 20:05
@Peachsummer I could not agree more. I think the ‘myth’ of academia is relied on heavily to convince people to stay on and be exploited as cheap labour or source of income. I definitely feel that my teachers should have been more honest about the job market with me, rather than giving me outdated advice.
May I ask: did you leave and what do you do now?
MedSchoolRat · 05/06/2019 20:19
how do I get over feeling like such a failure?
Life seems to be a game of expectations.
I wouldn't be disappointed if I were OP but then I wouldn't want or expect a permanent post.
I don't relate to perfectionists. Does it make perfectionists happy to be like that? If not, can you change yourself?
I didn't have to move around country to get jobs I was satisfied with.
I know heaps of career RAs with PhDs in their 40s-60s like me.
We had different aspirations than OP describes.
I don't find academia cult-like (or no worse than other industry cults, anyway)
That said, I agree with one part of PP msg in that I believe that life has many opportunities & it's good to think widely about what they are.
kalidasa · 05/06/2019 20:32
Is your monograph actually in press yet? Have you seen proofs? Appt committees this year are v nervous about books supposedly 'about to come out' as the REF deadline nears - and in this respect they may actually be more suspicious of three book projects at various stages. I think once it is really out or demonstrably imminent that may well make a difference. You sound otherwise eminently shortlistable. Is there any way you can get any feedback on any of the unsuccessful applications?
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 21:36
I know heaps of career RAs with PhDs in their 40s-60s like me
How many of them are in the Humanities?
Peachsummer · 05/06/2019 22:16
May I ask: did you leave and what do you do now?
Yes I left. Only because I couldn’t get a permanent lecturing post. I felt worthless for years. I’d spent a decade studying and working towards being a lecturer and researcher, always top grades and successful - then at the last hurdle I was told nope, there’s no job for you in this world. Out you go, on your own, cut off from your worldwide network of colleagues and the work that’s become your life. I felt lost, betrayed and angry that I’d invested so much time and effort for nothing. It hurt me to see others who were ten years into their careers with good salaries and jobs while I, the brightest of them all, had nothing.
There was no place for me in the “real world”. Employers saw me as too academically oriented to be successful in a commercial environment. At interviews they suggested I’d have more luck if I went back to teaching, not realising that wasn’t an option. They questioned why I’d invested so many years into studying only to quit and apply for [insert crappy job here]. It was obvious that I was only applying for their job because I couldn’t get anything better. They were concerned they’d train me up and I’d get a better offer and leave, not understanding that was never going to happen.
I was advised to play down my qualifications, which was devastating. One job agency suggested leaving the PhD off my CV and just saying I was unemployed for five years. I said it’s ridiculous and they said truthfully you’d have more chance of a job if those five years were spent in jail instead of doing a PhD.
In the end I got a part time job in sales and was eventually offered full time. I earn more with less hassle. It doesn’t fulfil my high brow aspirations but I’m smart enough to have figured out that money makes the world go round and academic achievement is worth less than shit. I wish I knew that sooner before I wasted my twenties on it.
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 22:34
I don't think academia is about brightness, is it?
I'm under no illusions about how bright I am. I was never top of my class at university. But no one ever made me think I'd deserve a job in academia purely for intelligence.
Peachsummer · 05/06/2019 22:59
From day 1 academia was painted to me as a route for only the brightest. Professors and researchers are supposed to be the experts, the cream of the academic crop. Only the brightest students are approached with the suggestion of staying on to do a PhD.
In actual fact what happens is that 99% of those students become grist to the academic mill, chewed up and spat out to further the professor’s career. The less able student who wasn’t approached to do a PhD is better off because he graduated and got a job - and five years down the line they won’t hire the too-old and overly-academic PhD graduate to do the same job.
woodcutbirds · 05/06/2019 23:11
schmivory I'm in the arts side of the humanities, so practise based or led research involves applying and testing your theory through artistic achievement - write and stage a play and then explain the academic methodology. Or set up a proposed methodology and then test it in practise. This is increasingly encouraged as in the arts, PhD students teaching BA and MA need to have a working knowledge of the practicals. But I'm guessing you're in a more academic vein of the humanities.
shmivorytower · 05/06/2019 23:15
This is a really interesting conversation. Thank you, all.
I definitely feel that success in academia is not conditional on being ‘ the brightest.’ I think it has a lot to do with timing and fit. Are you looking at the right questions at the time when you are likely to get funding for/interest in it? Are you lucky to be in the right place where people will champion you, line you up for jobs etc? It’s not a meritocracy, but then what is?
One thing that I have been thinking about are the emotional dynamics involved in being an academic - the putting on the line of self and not in an always healthy way. And it strikes me that this does not stop once you have made it to the other side of a permanent job at a good uni. There is definitely something about the whole system that needs to change.
My post came I think from the place where I was trying to change something in myself, to find a sort of mental pivot to feel less shit about my position which, really self-critically speaking, is much luckier than what even other academics have to put up with (let alone people with real problems). Perhaps it would entail a sort of fundamental readjusting of expectations?
SarahAndQuack · 05/06/2019 23:16
See, I just never had that experience.
Even when I was an undergrad, I remember one of my supervisors talking about the things her brightest students had gone on to do, and they were really varied things, not just academia.
I definitely got approached to do a PhD, by the person who ended up supervising me, and I was by no means the brightest in my cohort.
And now, the students I encourage to consider doing postgrad study are the ones I think are suited to it and likely to enjoy it, which isn't always the brightest ones.
In my field, though, none of this has anything to do with furthering a professor's career (not to mention the vast majority of PhD supervisors who aren't profs).
I get why you feel angry, but I just don't relate to what you're saying.
To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.