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Professional Rejection.

22 August 2012

Well, the vague, wild dream of taking a tenure track position in Singapore is over. I received a short note from the headhunter yesterday night, which stated that the department head chose to go with a more experienced candidate. I was specifically told that the rejection did not reflect any sense that I was not qualified for the position, just that someone else was more qualified. The headhunter also offered to speak with me directly if I am interested in further discussion regarding the decision. I sent back a note thanking him for all his effort, and simply saying: “If you have any more detailed feedback that might help make me more competitive for similar positions in the future, I’d be pleased to hear it.” I don’t expect a response.

All that’s fine of course. As I’ve said here a bunch of times, I like my job here, and I prefer most of all to keep it. I just hope that’s an option. I’m working at several opportunities to make that a more viable option. One of these days, LRU is going to nail down the contract they’re working on that has the funding for my position in it, and I’ll sign a contract there that will cover 25% of my time, possibly more, and make me an honest-to-god assistant professor (though non-tenure track). And I’ve been applying to various positions around the country. All of this I’ve detailed before.

But I’d be remiss not to spend a moment grieving the opportunity in Singapore. Even though I wasn’t particularly keen on traveling halfway around the world to take a job where I didn’t know anyone, it was exciting. And I was flattered that they found me, contacted me out of the blue, and asked me to apply. I don’t know if I was ever truly competitive. The headhunter thought so, obviously, as he forwarded my CV along to the selection committee. For all I know, I was laughed out of committee. But I’m impressed with the professionalism with which it was handled. Many American universities don’t even bother acknowledging you’ve applied, or sending rejection notes.

I had come to see the potential of moving to Singapore to do exciting research in health systems as a kind of grand adventure. Possibly with a lot of money too. I had fantasies of my piano being put on a ship and sent across the sea. Of living in a glass tower, with a gym on the second floor. Of a clean, white computer laboratory with an interactive model of the city I designed, where I could develop health systems models that would revolutionize care, in a test-bed of the island city. Where my ideas could be put into practice.

So I’ll be a bit sad today. I would have liked at least to get to fly to Singapore to give a job talk and a chalk talk. Other than the bizarre fiasco in June at East Coasty University, I’ve never done either of those things. And I feel a little stupid. I talked about it nonstop on twitter and here, and in my personal life. And I didn’t even make the final cut, the group who got to go give an interview. And they’re right. I have very little experience. I’ve only had this academic post for less than three years. I’ve published seven or eight papers, only four of which are in journals not best used for toilet paper. I’ve won less than $300K in funding awards. I am not, objectively, an established researcher.

I hope I get the chance to be one. As my friend said last night, when I texted her about not getting the position, every job is a longshot. And this job was for a high-profile post at a prestigious university, for which a global candidate search was conducted. It is not surprising at all that I was not the best candidate on Earth. Most of the time, I feel like I’m not the best candidate in my own cubicle.

Now I have to guard against the ricochet sensation. Going from feeling proud and honored to be considered, to feeling like worthless shit for being rejected. Perspective is trying for me. Here’s the truth, probably, and my best ability to be objective about it: I am a decent candidate, and I clearly have special and relevant skills for a position like this. However, my CV is spotty. I don’t have the traditional trappings of a professor. I had no post-doc, no K award. I have a year gap on my CV immediately after graduating, when I was unemployed. I have a four year gap in publications, from 2006-2010, because I only published one paper in grad school, and then it took a while, of course, to get my first publication out from my current job.

I definitely need time, and more publications in decent journals, and grants to be truly competitive. Time, I think, will be the most critical. If I win a grant or two, that’s lovely. If I don’t there’s hard money potential (perhaps remote) that will allow me to keep publishing. But what I need, truly, is enough time that my gaps fade into the past, and I build a long, current record of uninterrupted work. Which I don’t know if I will continue to have the opportunity to do. There’s a strong chance I will be losing my current position not too long after my boss leaves, set for October first.

And there’s a strong chance that I won’t. I have things in the hopper. Including a big grant. Which I am not hopeful about. I feel like it’s too cludgy, blocks rammed together. We were badly scored the first time through. I feel like triage is a possibility this time. We’ll see. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’ll love it. Then, all my woes vanish. For four years.

The academic life is stressful and difficult and uncertain. And, based on conversations with established, successful, tenured professors, it never gets any better. And academia itself is a bubble that’s going to pop. Tuitions rise unaccountably, universities have become administrative labyrinths, corporate money and federal granting has turned every university into a for-profit institution, in deed if not in name.

I am going to try to drum up some consulting work.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 August 2012 08:35

    ricochet sensation – like that maybe it should be ricochet syndrome I know I often have that kind of flip flop 100% to 0% mind flips

  2. Mona permalink
    22 August 2012 10:54

    You’re still really young, there’s a lot of time to bolster your CV!

  3. 22 August 2012 12:47

    Great thoughts about picking yourself up and dusting off. You are such a self-aware realist. It’s inspiring.

  4. 22 August 2012 22:03

    I hope that good things will come your way. Academia is cut throat.

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