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My academic job market journey
Nov 6, 2022
As I’ve been collecting the various lists of interview questions from jobs I was long- or short-listed at, I can’t help but also add a few words about the process itself. There is more to say than could fit in one post, but I find the numbers to be instructive.
By the numbers
I went on the job market for 6 cycles between 2014–2019.
Over the years, I had 11 different letter writers, to whom I continue to be eternally grateful.
I applied to 109 jobs (mostly TT but some temporary, quite selectively). I had 29 long-list interviews and 12 short-list interviews. I received 1 TT job offer which didn’t pan out (and is a very long and shocking1 story indeed) and 1 unsolicited2 offer, plus 4 offers for temporary jobs. So overall you might argue that I did alright. Given that I was dependent on having a job for a visa to allow me to live where I wanted to live, I feel like I can’t really complain. I was continuously employed and I was living in locations that I wanted to live in.
I became quite immersed in the gossip3 and most of the time knew the makeup of the short-list for each job I was short-listed for. Over 12 distinct short-lists, with an average of 4-5 candidates per list, there were only three(!) other female candidates, who showed up in lists again and again. I was the only female candidate on at least a half dozen lists. In total, those lists contained roughly 35 men. I cannot begin to explain how demoralizing it was when I started to realize this pattern and its implications.
I know the exact date I decided to actually act on my increasing desire to leave academia. It was the day I got the rejection from the only job I was short-listed for that year that I was really interested in. It was March 4, 2019.
Between March and May of 2019 I went on two full job application cycles,4 from submission to chatting with the recruiter and hiring manager to phone interviews to on-sites, and ended up with three offers for roles as an ontologist or analytical linguist. I accepted one of them, moved to the Bay Area, and started the job in July of 2019. It was such a stark contrast with the experience I had in academia. This job search was everything that the academic search was not.
To be fair
I had at least one short-list interview every year. And I ended up with an offer of some kind every year, even if not for the (permanent, well-located) jobs I really wanted. I was told I was the second choice on multiple occasions. I don’t know if it was true or just a way to make me feel better, and I don’t really care; it did make me feel better so I’m going to choose to keep believing it. I was also told repeatedly that it was just a matter of time — finding that exact right job search at the exact right time (and with the exact right search committee, I might add). Maybe that’s true. We’ll never know.
But the job search was a soul-crushing process that I did not enjoy even a little bit. There is nothing redeeming about this process.
There is so much politics and so much luck that goes into the job search process. There are jobs that I’ve been told (in confidence, of course) I didn’t get because one particular member of the department or search committee (and once, of the community beyond the department) had a grudge against one of my advisors, and that fact cost me the offer. I appreciated having this insight and I’m grateful to friendly committee members who shared feedback, especially early on when it helped me improve my interview skills and calibrate my expectations. There were also some jobs where post- (or, to be honest, mid-) interview it became clear that I wasn’t a good fit for the job, and that was ok too. I didn’t expect to get every job I applied for, and I understand that there are a lot of considerations that go into choosing the right candidate.
At the same time, the amount of power some senior members of the field possess, and the ease with which they wield it to destroy junior members’ careers — and I do not think I am exaggerating here — in a bid to get back at a disliked rival, is mind boggling. I can count multiple instances when this happened to me. I do believe that is unusual; but most people who’ve been at this long enough can recount some such stories themselves. This should never be allowed to happen.
I should also say that I am immensely grateful to the broad community who I discovered had my back when some of these negative events were happening. The support and friendship of the majority of linguists I have encountered over the years is what keeps me coming back even now.
Also likely illegal, certainly immoral, and entirely indefensible. This one event caused me so much damage — career damage, mental health damage, relationship damage — it’s hard to put into words. I am as enraged writing this now as I was broken when it happened. ↩
This offer came after I had announced that I was leaving academia, so I never actually interviewed for it. But I appreciated having it, so that I had the peace of mind of knowing that I chose to walk away from options — which helped me to feel less forcefully pushed out. ↩
In hindsight, this was both incredibly helpful and entirely unhealthy. ↩
To be clear, I spent additional time preparing before I actually started applying, including conducting informational interviews and working on my resume. I’ll write more about this process some other time. ↩