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Job hunting: It feels like I've hit academic magical unicorn status

Job hunting: It feels like I've hit academic magical unicorn status
Jun 28, 2019 636 views

Last year, I felt like I’d just won the lottery (if the lottery involved seven years of graduate study and three cycles of churning out 100+ page job applications by the dozen). This year, I feel like a magical unicorn.

My experience on the academic job market is not unique. Despite being well qualified for a new graduate—with publications, grant experience, and a strong teaching record—it took two years and three turns “on the market” to land my first tenure-track job.

I remember sitting on the bathroom floor over Memorial Day weekend, during my first turn on the market, in the middle of a complete meltdown after the last of the “Dear Sir or Madam, I regret to inform you” letters arrived six, eight, and nine months after I’d applied for a particular job. Obviously by then I knew I wasn’t a candidate… but as the last glimmer of hope faded, I faced an undefinable time as a contingent worker.

For a while, I couldn’t stop crying. And it got worse when Mr. T, trying to be helpful, said “You can’t take it personally.”

Then I laughed. It feels pretty damn personal when you spell out your life’s work, professional convictions, accomplishments, and abilities in 100+ pages (I am not even a little bit exaggerating) only to have them completely ignored or utterly rejected. Over and over and over.

Of course the logical part of me knows there are a thousand things that go into hiring, especially in the context of academia where job offers can be a lot like marriage proposals, but man. My soul took a major beating. I felt like a disappointment. Bitterness suffused me with every rejection and it was even hard to be around dear friends who fared better on the market. I wished them well, obviously, but part of me also hated them a little bit, too.

I started to recover last year as I worked at Chico State with my closest colleague and friend, another person who understood the demoralizing nature of academic job hunting. I felt so lucky, surprised, and relieved to have a full time job, even if it was 100 miles from my home.

So, when an opportunity came up at Sacramento State, I hesitated, albeit briefly. A school I dearly loved, IN MY HOME TOWN, but applying would mean a fourth turn on the gauntlet. The details and anxiety do not bear describing but miraculously, it turned out all right for me in the end (even if I feel a little like Katniss Everdeen).

Fast forward to earlier this week. I’m sitting in new faculty orientation (for the second year in a row, so fun!), marvelling. My new colleagues are discussing recent moves, and I chime in with hopefully helpful info about Sacramento and the campus, because I’m local and have taught here before.

A couple days of orienting later, it hits me. I’ve hit academic magical unicorn status. A fantastic job, where I actually live, at a place where I used to work part-time. Wild! I still feel some of the same surprise and relief as last year, but it’s layered with extra awe, gratitude, and excitement.

Cannot wait for school to start!


Dr. Shawna Malvini Redden (@drshawna) is a writer, speaker, professor, communication researcher, and consultant. This story was published on August 20, 2016, on Dr. Redden's blog (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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