The insecure scholar: A world of possibilities

Being given the opportunity to apply for jobs can make all the difference to one’s state of mind

January 19, 2010

Just after filing the last blog entry, things started to move. Although no job offer has fallen from the sky, a number of possibilities have turned up – some of them quite unexpectedly – and brightened my mood considerably.

First of all, the department within which I am based (until the end of January anyway) suddenly advertised a lectureship to cover one staff member’s sick leave and another’s maternity. The post starts pretty imminently and there was only a week to apply, so I dashed off an application (I say “dashed off”, but as ever the form was excruciatingly long and pointlessly detailed) and I should hear whether I have an interview very soon.

There are, though, reasons to doubt whether this is a post with my name on it. No one in the department actually approached me and asked me to apply and I found out by chance on the departmental website, which suggests that I am not the person they have in mind. Even if I get it, the contract is only for a year and it comprises a very intensive teaching load with no time to prepare – I will be writing at least two lectures from scratch per week. Still, it’s a hopeful development despite everything.

Then a couple of days ago I got an email from someone I know through conferences in my subject area. He’s leaving at short notice to take up a position elsewhere and he needs someone to take over the teaching on one of his courses. This is, of course, very part-time and temporary and if I take it I will be required to make a long trip once a week, getting up at the crack of dawn and spending a large proportion of the fee on travel. I have a difficult decision to make as to whether it’s worth my while taking on the work, but just having been asked is enough to put me in a positive frame of mind.

And if those posts don’t pan out (and there are very good reasons to think they may not), I heard from the head of department in a nearby university that they would be interested in giving me an honorary position. This is in some ways the best news of all as it gives me a definite institutional “home” when my contract runs out and a place from which to apply for grants. The offer is the result of a lot of delicate lobbying and it’s both a relief and a pleasure to have some of my “hustling” pay off.

A couple of other tempting possibilities have also turned up. The editor of a long-established journal in my field is stepping down and they will probably be looking for someone to fill the post. The journal is run by a trust, whose trustees I know, so I’d be a strong candidate and maybe, since it’s run by a trust, there will be a small honorarium attached to the position (aside from the prestige inherent in the job itself). Then I received an email inviting me to a symposium in Germany for which all expenses will be paid. OK, it’s not a job as such, but it always warms the cockles of my heart to be invited to travel somewhere for free. This is, after all, part of what I dreamt of when I decided to become an academic.

All these possibilities help to calm the anxiety that grips me so much of the time. I have tried as hard as possible over the past few months to take charge of my destiny, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of the time I am waiting to hear from people and institutions about ideas, proposals and applications I’ve pitched. Often I receive nothing but silence. For a job I applied for just before Christmas, the interview date has been and gone and I never heard so much as a “no”. So weeks like this when new opportunities present themselves are like manna from heaven.

I know that my likeliest fate for the next few weeks and months is a slow struggle to find work. But that struggle is bearable if there is a steady stream of reminders that circumstances can change suddenly, that I am not alone and that people do sometimes remember I exist. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

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