Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

I recently heard from a trusted but unofficial source that the school that flew me out offered the job to someone else, and that this person plans to accept.

Here's why this is killing me inside. It's not just that this was a good school in a nice area with a favorable courseload, although those were all very nice things. It's that it's not just a job. When I moved to the city I now live in for the job I now have, I literally did not care where it was. I didn't care what the elementary schools were like. I didn't care if there was a major league baseball team or a good French restaurant or whatever, because I didn't think I'd be here for very long. I wasn't going to end up here, so it didn't matter whether it was a good place to end up or not.

I feel very differently about the tenure track, though. I'm not an ambitious person. I don't have a desire to bounce around and "move up" and be some kind of hot shot. I would like to be respected, sure. I would like to be moderately known as someone who produces quality work. But I don't want to be the next Rawls (if Rawls had been an ambitious hotshot who moved around a lot) or something.

And so when I go to this campus visit, I'm not thinking about it as a stopover on the way to my real dream. I'm thinking about it as potentially the last place I'll ever work. I'm thinking about it as the place where I might spend my entire career. I'm thinking about the city I might live in for the rest of my life. And where my wife will spend this time, too. And where we'll have kids, and where those kids will grow up. This affects a lot more than just me. And maybe it's a mistake to think about that stuff, but it's hard to avoid when you're touring the campus and there's this sense of possibility in the air and all your potential colleagues are telling you what a great place to work and live and raise kids this is. It's hard not to hope under these conditions.

And then they offer the job to someone else, and you have no choice but to let go of those hopes and start wondering what will be in the JFP when October rolls around. Again.

Of course, it's not over till it's over, and as far as I know it's not totally over. It could be that their first choice is waiting on a potentially better offer and will turn them down if it comes through. And it could be that they liked me only slightly less than that person. And it could be that as soon as that happens they'll turn right around and happily offer the job to me. But I think I'm being generous when I put the probability of that happening at .005.

I've never come this close to getting a tenure-track job before, and my overall feeling is that it totally sucks. But I will say this: at the very least, I got a free trip to a nice place where all anyone wanted to talk about was me and my research and how great I am. And that was very nice.

--Mr. Zero

P.S. God damn it.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that happened to you, but thank you very much for posting. I'm going through the exact same thing right now, and today, especially, has really been hard. It helps to see someone else going through the same sickening emotional roller-coaster.

Anonymous said...

I feel for you since I've also gotten my hopes up about a TT job and then had them dashed by a search committee. Your view is a bit naive though. Even if you're on the TT somewhere, chances are that at some point before retirement you will leave. You should think like s mercenary. What can I get out of this place while I'm there? How can I use it as a steeping stone to something better? That often helps you in the interview, since most committee members would rather have an ambitious and productive scholar who leaves for better pastures after 10 years than one who stays for the entirety of their career but is complete deadwood. You might have blown the flyout by giving the committee the impression that you were looking for a nice place to settle down and raise a family, not an institution where you could do some seriously good scholarly work and lots of it!

Anonymous said...

I too recently lost out on my only chance at a TT offer, and it stings something awful. So I just wanted to offer my sympathies Zero- I'm really sorry.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry! That absolutely sucks.

Anonymous said...

Zero, just last week I had the exact same experience, with a 'school of my dreams' where my dreams were very much like yours. I was (still am) heartbroken. I feel your pain.

zombie said...

Well, that totally sucks.

Same thing happened to me last year. It was a city I really wanted to live in, a city where I used to live, and where I still have close friends. It would have been perfect. That one broke my heart. I got over it. You will too, Mr Zero.

"Fortune knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience." (LJ Peter)

Anonymous said...

First off, that's too bad. This is never good news.

Second, this: "And so when I go to this campus visit, I'm not thinking about it as a stopover on the way to my real dream."

I'm always amazed by how many people approach tenure track jobs as temporary positions. On a search we ran this year, we asked a finalist about his 10-year goals; he replied that, while he didn't have to end up in the ivy league, he saw himself at a top-10 university within 5 years, and that our school (small state university) would give him good experience in the meantime. I immediately crossed him off the list. One of my colleagues was dazzled, and thought we'd be lucky to have him for however long we could hold onto him.

I understand that people move - for a variety of reasons - and we have to accept that. But to flat out state to a hiring committee that one has no intention of staying, just seems obnoxious. My university already has someone (in another department) who openly complains about the fact that he never got tenure at Princeton and had to settle for a job here. I don't need to listen to someone else bitch about how terrible it is to work here.

Anonymous said...

This happened to me last year and I had the exact same reaction. I'm so sorry.

Anonymous said...

It only gets worse. I have tenure at a place that isn't worth working and the town is so isolated and sickening, that my wife begs me, just about every day to give up the academy -- and her request isn't unreasonable!

But what makes it so difficult is that I was second at FOUR places that would have been career jobs for me too. Those three years on the market were difficult, but knowing now that I was so close, I still ache for those jobs.

I am sorry for you, not just now, but the future you if you don't get a job in a place that is worth living or at a school worth working.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to hear that.....

It seems that many people are facing this situation now; I am also in this situation as well (Want a particular TT offer so badly but cannot get it). I understand your pain.... sigh. =(

Xenophon said...


Sorry to hear that. I've been there too. Sucks.

Anonymous said...

My condolences. Hopefully your experience with the fly out this year will make you an even stronger candidate next year.

11:03, are you apply elsewhere each year? If so, good luck.

Anonymous said...

Zero, sorry to hear about what looks to be bad news. I don't know how close your source is to the search, but I suppose things are not official until they are official. I sincerely hope things work out for you this application season.

Anonymous said...

11:03 here. I took two years off to give it a real go, but now I am back. It's rough out there...

CTS said...


This is really heartbreaking, particularly because you were not someone who saw this place as a stepping stone.

I found the comments of Anon 9:22 sad. Perhaps there are places/departments with RI envy who only want to be stepping stones, but the fact is that most departments are NOT interested in being a way-station for people who openly regard the position as inferior. Why would they? They are invested in their institutions and want to find new colleagues who feel the same way.

I hope the place that did not choose you did not get fooled by someone 'passing by.'

My sympathies.

Anonymous said...

Given how horrible the job market is already, holding hopes for a TT job at a "nice city" (Seattle? SF? Chapel Hill?) with good art museums and a symphony orchestra, etc - is increasing your competition (and decreasing your chances) hundred fold.

I am tenured at a decent university, but at a geographical location I simply hate. Still, it surely beats sitting 9-5 at a corporate cubicle or peddling books at Barnes and Noble in some city of my dreams.

Everything has its price. You want to increase your chances for a TT position, press after jobs in "boring" locales, at 3rd rate schools, even CCs. If THOSE jobs never pan out, then it truly will be time to feel sorry. But so far you haven't hit the rock bottom, as I see it.

Anonymous said...

The first year that I was on the market, I had a flyout to my dream job. I was so excited. I tried really, really hard. I loved the campus visit. I loved the department. I wanted it so bad. I didn't get the job.

I was depressed for several weeks. Then I picked myself up and got ready to try again the next year....

I'm now tenured at the other place I regarded as a dream job, the place who passed on me entirely my first year on the market, and who only came calling after I'd been on the tt for four years. Moral: it sucks. But don't give up!

Anonymous said...

Been there man. So, so sorry.

I know this sounds crazy, but from one guy to another, I actually recommend crying. Give it one serious, deep cry.

Then wake up the next day, watch the sun rise, go to the office, and start working on the next paper.

Anonymous said...

So sorry it didn't pan out this time, Mr Zero, but I think you should be encouraged by the fact that this year you came closer to getting a TT than ever before. That's a clear sign that things are moving in the right direction. Hopefully, things will be even better next year and you'll land a job you can be happy with. In the final analysis, it boils down to a numbers game. This was my third year out and, with 10 first round interviews, I had several times the interviews that I had in my best year past. Those turned into several fly outs, and I just landed one good TT job. As everyone here knows, it's been a miserable process. But looking back, I can appreciate thesioxyl near misses as a sign that I was improving as a candidate from year to year. I hope you take your near success as such a sign!

zombie said...

Anon 5:51 -- congratulations!

Erick said...

Zero, I don't comment on this wonderful blog very often but I wanted to commiserate with you. I know you know this but when you're on the job market (or when you send things off to journals, when you apply for funding, when you etc etc etc) you get used to rejection. It stings so much at first and then you find yourself surprised at how nonplussed it's all become.

But then there's the special sting of being THAT close. I'm sorry you had to go through that. As someone else who's on the market this year and will be again next year (it seems) I empathize and hope you see the silver lining in the rejection. You really were THAT close. Many of us don't get there.

Hope the next time around brings you great tt succcess.

Mr. Zero said...

Thanks for all the kind words, everyone. I'm hanging in; I took the opportunity to dust off some of my old Muddy Waters CDs. (It's hard to choose a favorite, but maybe Folk Singer, which is all acoustic features a very young Buddy Guy on second guitar.)

A couple of things:

anon 9:22,

It's not that I'm hostile to the idea of changing jobs once I'm on the TT. It's that I don't like moving, and neither does my wife, and there are a lot of other things to consider besides my own career aspirations. If it was the right thing for my family, I'd apply out and jump ship. But It's not something I specifically want to do. There is something very appealing about idea of spending my career in one place, investing in it, and

anon 10:25,

I have a friend who teaches at a mid-ranked grad program who tells me that their hiring strategy is to get bright young people who they know are going to jump ship in a few years. They figure that their amazing qualities will make up for the fact that they'll be gone soon--better to have them for a little while than not at all. But I would not imagine that a desire to leave immediately would be one of those amazing qualities.

Thanks again, everyone. This has been a genuinely helpful thread. I deeply appreciate everyone's comments.

Anonymous said...

As one of my mentors (a brilliant philosopher) said to me once: the likelihood of your succeeding in academia depends to a large extent on your stamina, your capacity to take serious blow after blow. I am a postdoc on temporary contracts for 4 years now, and I have taken my fair share of blows.
This year, I came very near to getting a TT position - I was in the top 4 and was going to fly out - the job was not at a wonderful location, but it had a good teaching load and salary. A few days ago, they tell me they suspended the search due to budget cuts at the department! I think I would have preferred it if someone else got the job, now no-one got the job!
[captcha: Worsm - interesting mix of worst and worm]

Anonymous said...

10:25 here, Zero:

"I have a friend who teaches at a mid-ranked grad program who tells me that their hiring strategy is to get bright young people who they know are going to jump ship in a few years. They figure that their amazing qualities will make up for the fact that they'll be gone soon--better to have them for a little while than not at all. But I would not imagine that a desire to leave immediately would be one of those amazing qualities."

I assume - as does my current chair - that all junior faculty are on the market, every year. We also assume that senior faculty always put out a few feelers (or even applications) when they publish a new book. That's part of the job, and we all recognize it. (This in addition to those who decide they want to leave for another location, or to follow a spouse, etc.) It's idiotic to expect that someone will stay forever; the field just doesn't reflect that.

As to your friend's program, I can see the logic, and yes, there's a difference between building one's career and announcing at the outset that one has no desire to stay. However, as I'm sure your friend knows, some of those people do stay. Your friend was, at one point, one of those bright young scholars who might have left (and might still leave). As we all know, a job that looks like a stepping stone may turn out to be a dream job (one may come to love the location, or enjoy the work more than expected, or be happy to stay because one's spouse has landed their dream job nearby, etc.). In fact, the desire to settle down, become rooted in the community, and be more than just an academic hit me very hard when I landed my job. College, then grad school, then adjuncting, were all temporary. This could be permanent, and I approach my life differently because of it.

One of my biggest beefs (and maybe this could be its own thread?) is with grad students who define the professional world based on their own graduate programs. They judge everything against what they know to be true at their program (good or bad), and sometimes fail to understand what they really want or are really good at. Part of mentoring junior faculty is to help them see this. Those who have been on the market a few years - especially those who have bounced around between post-docs, VAPs, and adjunct positions - often have a much better understanding of their own wants and needs, in addition to the wealth of experience that comes with having worked for a number of programs. (The person in my above example, for instance, earned all three of his degrees from the same Very Prestigious University, and couldn't understand why the other institutions were not just like VPU.)

Anyway, all hiring committees know that the better the new hire, the better the chances that person may eventually leave. And if you can get that person for a while, it's good. Convincing that person to stay feels great. But being told flat out that our job is a stepping stone to one's eventually brilliant career...no thanks.

KateNorlock said...

Anonymous said...
As one of my mentors (a brilliant philosopher) said to me once: the likelihood of your succeeding in academia depends to a large extent on your stamina, your capacity to take serious blow after blow.

How funny, this reminds me of my similar warning to my students: The prospect of failure is so high in this endeavor, it's like a quarter you have to continually swallow, pass, wash off and reswallow.

So sorry to hear of your near-miss, Zero. Christ, it really sucks. You deserve better results, and your fly-out is proof of that. You are good.

Word verification: covenne [the reassuring gathering of your bewitching readers]

BunnyHugger said...

I have been right there, down to the imaginings -- no matter how much I told myself not to hope -- of what my life in that city, in that department, would be like. I remember it as though it were yesterday. I'm sorry. (And sorry to be late to the discussion too. I have been regrettably too busy to read my favorite blog in a timely manner.)