Feeling totally defeated

posted
30-Jan-19, 16:10
edited a moment later
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 6 months ago
I'm just posting here to vent. I'm feeling pretty miserable and I don't really have any friends in academia to talk to.

I just received yet another postdoc rejection and am starting to think I'll never get anything and that all my hard work has been pointless. Everyone keeps saying just keep going, there's light at the end of the tunnel etc. but I also know the job market is insanely tough and there are hundreds of candidates for every position.

I feel like a naive idiot for actually thinking I'd get a job. I have articles, prizes, grants and a PhD from the one of the best universities in the world. I felt really hopeful after graduating and now I feel like it was for nothing. I feel like a failure.

The fellowship I just got rejected from was one of my best chances. I worked so hard on my application and had great references. When I look at who has won it before, I really felt like I had a great chance. I guess not.

I'll keep going because what else am I going to do. I'm just really upset and needed to get this off my chest. If anyone has any good advice for continuing through this soul-destroying process, I'm all ears.
posted
30-Jan-19, 16:34
edited about 10 minutes later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 6 months ago
How long have you been looking for a postdoc?

Remember only about 10% of fellowship applications are successful. I think that percentage is right.
I was warned by several academics when I came to the end of my PhD that who you knew was significantly more important than what you knew.
posted
30-Jan-19, 16:53
edited about 50 seconds later
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 6 months ago
Since summer 2018 (after graduating and then maternity leave). I know there are others that have been looking for longer. I guess it just feels like it's been ages even if it hasn't.

My subject is really niche and there aren't many opportunities (though I know that's pretty much the case for everyone). Again, I know how slim the chances are but I honestly thought I was in with a good chance but maybe my CV isn't as strong as I thought. I have built up (what I think is) a good and fairly prestigious network of supporters. My supervisor especially thinks I'm a superstar and has been an amazing advocate. I'm not sure what else I can do (except keep going I suppose).
posted
30-Jan-19, 17:16
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 6 months ago
Nesrine I'm in another very overcrowded field where very few PhD graduates get a first step on the ladder. it worked out for me but it was an unpleasant time and I know it was luck as much as anything else. What helped me psychologically (it might not for you but it might) was feeling like I was a bit in control. I set parameters for the academic job search - how long I was willing to give it, what sorts of jobs I was prepared to apply for and where I was willing to move to rather than applying for everything advertised, when I knew deep down that some jobs/locations would make me miserable. The conversation with my then partner added further constraints. I then developed plan B and C for non-academic job searches and started to implement them. Oddly although I didn't get it an interview for a really good non-academic job did wonders for my self-confidence in general and I got the next academic job I applied for possibly because I was feeling less desperate.
posted
30-Jan-19, 21:49
edited about 5 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 6 months ago
Quote From Nesrine87:


The fellowship I just got rejected from was one of my best chances. I worked so hard on my application and had great references. When I look at who has won it before, I really felt like I had a great chance. I guess not.


That doesn't mean that you didn't have a good chance or that your application wasn't brilliant.

My only advice is that you keep on doing what you do - you obviously do it well (articles, prizes, grants and a PhD from the one of the best universities in the world). Such competition means that it is normal / very likely to have to try multiple times before being successful. I know it's easy to say that, but it is also a fact.

Be encouraged. No one can take away what you've already done and earned. And it will pay off.

Bewildered's advice also sounds like good plan.
posted
31-Jan-19, 08:55
edited about 9 seconds later
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 6 months ago
Quote From bewildered:
I set parameters for the academic job search - how long I was willing to give it, what sorts of jobs I was prepared to apply for and where I was willing to move to rather than applying for everything advertised, when I knew deep down that some jobs/locations would make me miserable. The conversation with my then partner added further constraints. I then developed plan B and C for non-academic job searches and started to implement them.


Hi bewildered, thanks for your post. I have set parameters of sorts, in that I have had to restrict myself to UK jobs for personal reasons, and I've not applied for that anything that I wouldn't be happy to get. I didn't see the point in working so hard and then being miserable, as you say. I thought maybe I was being too 'picky' but your advice makes me feel better. I haven't given myself an end date though. How long did you give yourself to find an academic job, and when did you implement plans B/C?

I don't know if this is the same for you, but 'industry' jobs in my field are really hard to come by and super competitive (and badly paid) as well. I decided not to apply for these jobs because there are doze of people who really want them and it felt insulting to regard them as 'second-best'.

I think I'm just really scared that I won't get anything. I can't even get feedback so I'm constantly wondering if something's wrong with my applications. It's hard to keep believing people when they say 'chin up' etc.
posted
31-Jan-19, 08:57
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 6 months ago
Hi Tudor_Queen, thanks for your encouragement. I do appreciate it. I really hope to find something soon but it's good to keep remembering everything I've achieved so far (academically and otherwise).
posted
31-Jan-19, 11:28
edited about 20 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 6 months ago
Quote From Nesrine87:


My subject is really niche and there aren't many opportunities (though I know that's pretty much the case for everyone). Again, I know how slim the chances are but I honestly thought I was in with a good chance but maybe my CV isn't as strong as I thought. I have built up (what I think is) a good and fairly prestigious network of supporters. My supervisor especially thinks I'm a superstar and has been an amazing advocate. I'm not sure what else I can do (except keep going I suppose).


My advice would be three-fold.
Firstly, whilst you need to focus on your niche area, you really need to try and widen out the scope of job you are looking for.

Secondly, I am not saying this is necessarily a problem for you but I want to bring it up. I know your supervisor means well but it would be good for you to take praise like "you are a superstar" with a pinch of salt. The same goes for your prizes and the university you went to. Lots of us have prizes and good publications from good unis but it can be damaging to your mental health if you are clinging on to these things. There is also a risk of a bit of entitlement leaking into your personality. I saw a lot of this in academia - former Cambridge and Oxford people walking around a lower ranked university with a really terrible attitude about how they were working in a place and amongst others beneath them. These people end up getting nowhere. Again, I'm not saying you have this problem but it's just worth being aware of.

Thirdly, it's a bit early for worrying. If you had said two years, I'd be advising you to consider other career options. You could certainly do that now with a view to continuing to look for jobs in academia from the position of knowing you are earning in the meantime.
posted
31-Jan-19, 11:49
edited about 2 seconds later
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 6 months ago
Hi pm133, thanks a lot for this advice. It makes me feel better but it's also a good reminder to keep some perspective.

I've mainly been applying for very general 'humanities' postdocs so I suppose I worry that my subject is a turn-off for people who will naturally gravitate towards more familiar areas. But of course I have to try and communicate the value of my research as best I can.

Your second point is really interesting. I have quite low self-esteem so I think I vacillate between thinking I'm doing really well (due to this sort of praise) and thinking I'm totally uncompetitive and will never get anywhere. I haven't quite found the balance and it does take a mental toll. I am working on not getting validation from external sources but it seems hard in a field like academia. In any case, I would certainly want to avoid falling into the trap of having a superiority complex and thinking I'm above it all. That sounds like a miserable way to live your life.

I'm glad that you think it's early for worrying. It's nice to have that outside perspective. When you keep receiving rejection after rejection, it can feel like you've been at it for a lot longer than you have. I will re-consider some options this weekend.
posted
31-Jan-19, 15:47
edited about 8 seconds later
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 6 months ago
Nesrine I decided to give it a full year to start with, and if by then I wasn't getting any interviews and there wasn't something amazing about to go on my cv, I'd give up. If I was getting interviews then I was going to give it a second year but apply seriously for non-academic jobs too. I had p/t teaching to keep my head above water but I was determined that I wasn't going to do that for more than a year, as it seemed like a low income trap that never got you further. About 6 months after finishing I got a one year teaching fellowship, worked all the hours possible to still publish and then got a lectureship. I had been a civil servant before the PhD so was open to those sorts of jobs again, which I think helped.
posted
31-Jan-19, 16:12
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 6 months ago
Hi bewildered, thanks very much for your reply. That sounds like a sensible plan. Glad it worked out for you.
posted
31-Jan-19, 18:26
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 6 months ago
Hi Nesrine, it is so difficult to be in times like this. I call them transition times. They're painful because you've got these hopes, aims, and aspirations - but there's no fruit in sight. I haven't been in your specific situ yet, but I do remember when I had finished my UG and was trying to get PhD funding. At times, it felt like, "how long do I keep on trying for then?". And it's true - some people try for years and years and still no joy. But I think that with your profile, it really is just a matter of time (and thus perseverance and resilience) and, depending on what's available in your field, really looking to broaden your scope (and thus your options) as suggested by pm133. Also apologies if you've already said this elsewhere, but are you also applying for RA jobs? They are another way in to a postdoc.

It may sound a naive or silly suggestion, but it might be good to watch some inspiring films/read inspiring books. I really like Pursuit of Happyness to help get me through such times. It sort of reminds you that others have been in what feels like dead-end situations, and there is success at the end of it (whatever form that success ends up taking - perhaps slightly different to what was first anticipated, or maybe not - maybe exactly what you had in mind!).

Best
Tudor
posted
01-Feb-19, 11:08
edited about 10 seconds later
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 5 months ago
Hi Tudor, thanks for this lovely message. I have had a short RA job already (6 months, part-time) but have not applied for any others. There have only been a few advertised and they were unsuitable for various reasons.

It's nice to have encouragement from people who understand what it's like to go through this. When I wrote my first post, I was feeling so hopeless but the initial shock has worn off a bit now. I'm still really sad and disappointed but I have to keep plodding along. As pm133 suggested, it is also good to adjust my perspective for the sake of my mental health.
posted
01-Feb-19, 20:46
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 5 months ago
Absolutely. And in the future, no doubt you'll actually look back and draw strength from this experience. Glad you are feeling more positive. Keep us posted!
posted
02-Feb-19, 10:51
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 5 months ago
Nesrine87, I completely recognise the swings in mood and the external validation thing. For me, I overcame both when I stopped valuing the opinions of others over my own. At the time I was receiving praise for academic prizes I was winning when I knew myself that those achievements were based on weak background knowledge. I realised that I am best qualified to judge how good I am.

Having secured your PhD, I reckon you are now in the same position to judge yourself better than anyone else. You shouldn't think that this is somehow conceited or arrogant though. It's just a fact that you are now best placed to know yourself. If you can begin to believe this about yourself, you might find your self esteem is bolstered, you become more emotionally grounded, you seek less validation from people who really are no better qualified to judge you than you are yourself and you might find yourself calmer and more focussed as a result.

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