Tag Archives: job search

Revisiting Plan B



It’s been a while since I thought about plan b at all. Quite frankly, I haven’t had the time.

A conversation with a graduate student last week caused me to hit my own pause button.

The student had come in to see me about working up a manuscript. We chatted about the work and then I asked him how his job search was going. He had been very transparent with everyone about his job hunt; seeking advice, getting feedback, and asking good questions.

Upon asking, he slumped down a bit and said, “it’s not going so well.”

Like any good advisor(y) type person, I said, “what’s your plan b?”

“There is no plan b.”


The student had assumed too much because we had given him too much hope. I hate to say it, but it’s true. We assume that our students will all finish and there will be mountains of opportunity for them. While there should be, there’s not. At all. The numbers on tenure track positions decline and continue to do so and the number of other types of positions rise to save universities money. It’s happening where I work too. I’m not in a TT line either so I’m having the same struggle.

I have thought about all of my options though. Many, many times….and I’ve tested the waters too. Applying, interviewing, etc…

But this student had not done anything outside of academic job applications.

And I hope he does now.

As many of you get to take a pause for a deserved break, I hope that if you’re thinking about finishing anytime in the next six months, you’ve got your “unicorn” but you’ve also thought a little bit about plan b. I don’t want to rain on your parade, but someone has to let you know or remind you that there has to be a backup. There would be nothing worse than wrapping up and not having anything to move toward. Sometimes plan b pops up when we lease expect it, so don’t be afraid to go towards opportunities that you may not have considered.

Plan b’s often turn into plan a’s and that’s how the job market works at times. Don’t count out your plan b. Keep working toward plan a, but in the meantime, don’t forget there’s other letters in the alphabet too.

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Taking Rejection Like a Champ


Rejection.  I’ve gotten real good at it.  The new economy had me running around like a maniac applying for jobs.  At last count, over 50–and I’m sure my number is very LOW compared to others who found themselves scrambling and lucky because I actually landed a job. I’ve been rejected about 49 times in over a year. Thankfully I received at least one call and it has been one of the best calls professionally I’ve received in a while.

Rejection is tough.  There’s no way around it. The waiting….that’s the worst.  In academia the wait seems to be about 10x longer due to the negotiation process that comes with it.  If you are the candidate who gets the call, you can go back to your current job, negotiate both ways, and that can take weeks to decide upon.  If you were like me, you said “yes” and signed on the dotted line for fear that someone else would swoop in and do it.  But don’t worry, I didn’t sign until the last day.  I learned a thing or two in life and I also learned how to ask questions, get things in writing, and haggle a little bit.  But not too much, girlfriend wanted a paycheck and good benefits again….

Academic rejection is like a swear word with which many of my colleagues think about and immediately want to barf a bit.  Pardon the overt honesty here but it’s true.  I won’t lie, I interviewed for a few TT track positions and was flown to far away places that did not remind me of never never land (the Peter Pan version of the Michael Jackson version). One is still sitting with me and I’d like to share my experience…..

The interview started off well enough.  The folks were pleasant. The breakfast was from a major chain restaurant. And that’s where it stopped being pleasant. As I waited in the room to present my seminar(s) that I had prepared with the topic guidelines sent to me earlier, I noticed something that was odd to me. No one spoke to each other. The interview committee, the other invited stakeholders, the chair of the search committee, all sat with stone silence.  Was I supposed to entertain them?  Should I have brought my juggling balls?  I can’t even juggle! I made small talk like a champ, noting that I loved the weather, the city was fabulous, and I had enjoyed a leisurely stroll the day before. **Awkward turtle swimming at ya!**

I gave my talks, fielded questions, and was given a boxed lunch to eat while visiting with the graduate students.  Pleasant. Honest. After lunch I met with an “important guy” in the Dean’s office (the dean was unavailable, a red flag raised high enough for me to notice it) and we chatted about research, scholarship, and all things academic.  That was ok.  I could do my work here……Dean’s are busy people but if an interview committee is truly serious about a candidate, they will do their very best to schedule said candidates during a time when the Dean is available to get multiple impressions.  Note that future job hunters in academia….There are extenuating circumstances (emergency hires, emergencies for the Dean, etc….)

My last interview segment of the day was with the full interview committee.  While I’m going to point a few things out here, let me preface this by saying: these things bother me, they might not bother you.  I walk into the conference room w/ no personality-white walls, no decor, no nothing, the door closes behind me and I’m sitting in front of an all-white-male committee with one-token-female thrown in there for good measure. **Red flags** I sit down. I begin to answer the questions of this very interested committee. And then I apparently made a mistake.  I know it was a mistake because it was followed by a full blown argument between one of my interviewers and myself.  This was not witty banter or scholarly engagement.  How do I know this?  Because I had to pull out a term I save only for when the s^$t gets deep, “we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one Dr.__________.” The question at hand does not matter enough anymore because I knew….I KNEW the interview was over no matter how many other stops in the day there was.

I finished the on-campus visit.  I went back to the hotel.  I called my old advisor and panicked.  She reassured me.  I told her I wasn’t feeling too good.  I did feel good up until that point. I’m not afraid of conflict, it’s not one of my top 5 things to do, but you know what I mean.  I can hold my own.  Mama didn’t raise no fool.  I go to dinner……The department chair is at dinner, another newly hired faculty is there, it’s pleasant.  We discussed pies and baking.  During dinner a few more red flags flew up like red cards at a soccer match. “We think this hiring process will be audited so we wanted to make sure to bring in a diverse candidate like yourself.” **giant red flag** During the car ride back to the hotel, the newly hired faculty asks, “do you have kids? are you married? i’m not supposed to ask you that but oh well. i have two kids. this is my job for life.” **red flag** While it wasn’t so much that she asked me very personal things, which are in fact illegal to ask, the point that caught me–the job for life thing.

I admit, I’m female and Korean.  I can check a whole lot of HR boxes with one fell swoop. I know this and can’t do much about it.  English is my first (and mostly only) language. But no, I don’t have kids. I’m not married.  If you know questions are ‘off the table’ keep your big mouth shut other new faculty.  You’re making yourself and your university look bad. The end.

So, rejection–that’s what it looks like.  You get that feeling.  You just know.  To my own defense and not to pad my own diaper, this place would not have been a good home for me.  There were too many epistemological differences we shared, hence the screaming match.  I did not really want to move to that city, I would not have been happy.  I know I could do it for a few years, but the long term was scary for me. This was also different because I have a job that I LOVE.  This is not just for the blog either, I truly enjoy my work right now. It’s opening new doors for me that will come in handy in a few years.  Where I live right now is pretty great, it’s nice, quiet, cheap, and I am living with good company.  It’s also a bit backwards, southern, and humid.  But central AC can cure much of my crabbiness most summer days. I received my email of rejection and quickly replied and thanked the person again.  Getting rejected is a feeling of humbleness mixed with satisfaction.  I am humbled because I am not perfect but I was very satisfied with myself for recognizing my strengths and weaknesses.  I was satisfied because deep down, I knew I didn’t belong there, I belong where I am right now.  Standing at my desk blogging.  This interview was a different experience for me because for the first time in my interview history since grad school, I had nothing to lose.  I felt as though I could be bold, sell my research and future interests without fear.  I did not fear if they didn’t like my crazy ideas, I only feared if it would be a good fit. This job would have paid more, it would have had summer money, startup, grad students, and other perks.  But those perks would come with cost.  More publications, higher cost of living, less family/home time, a huge move farther away from anyone I recognize as important in my life, and other unintended consequences.

As a new faculty, it’s something that we all must face, rejection.  Perhaps we have become jaded in this new economy.  But I was raised knowing that if I did good work, tenure would not matter, I would always be employable.  While the economy may never fully recover, my own moral and work ethic have yet to let me down.  It’s still not a perfect job, but it’s work to live a nice life.

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