Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Daily Trials of a PhD in Search of Employment

The job search process for a PhD in anthropology is a test in patience, stress-management, and emotional control. The process is as follows:

From September through January you send out your applications - some send a few, I sent out a lot.

Then you wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The first couple of months are fine because generally nothing happens. At most you get a letter saying that they received your application and the usually include some form for human resources where you check off what social group (some call it race/ethnicity/heritage - I have much more to say about those boxes and categories, but that will come some other day) you belong to. You also tell them your gender (narrowly defined) and whether you are a Veteran.

Around mid-January trepedation begins to settle in and you begin to engage in a tense daily routine:

You check the mail. Somedays I am at home when the mail arrives. We have a thick iron mailbox with a flap that clangs very loudly when it is shut. So when I hear that clang, I meekly make my way to check it. What you don't want to see is a thin envelope from one of the institutions you applied to. The wording has subtle variations, but the message is always the same: Thank you for applying but we did not think you belong here.

Of course, I have a second mailbox to check - the one at work. Some of the thin letters make their way there. My mailbox at work is a small cubby along with many others. I can peek into the department office and see if there is something in it. Usually it is some notice about an event.

That is how the bad news arrives.

Good news usually comes to you via email or telephone.

So between 9 am and 8 pm (generally when offices are open across the country - closing at 5 on the west coast), I check with guarded hope that some good news will pop up in my inbox. The only news that has come to my inbox was a rejection email.

That upset me.

It is against the established informal rules! Plus the school, which will remain nameless (let me just say it is in a small town in CT and starts with a W), was too cheap to pay for a stamp to send me some bad news.

The last hope is coming home and finding the message light on the answering machine blinking. Usually it is not. Today it was, but it was just the dentist reminding me that I have an appointment next week.

And so it goes, day in and day out (Saturdays are only bad news days because the mail comes, but you know you won't get good news. Sundays are a day off when you gather yourself for the next week). Thin envelopes arriving at a rate of about two per week, no emails, and no calls. Hope fading with each passing day. You jump around from frustration to pessimism to apathy to anxiety to ...

Now you know. So be kind to the next under/unemployed (or soon to be) anthropology PhD you come across - chances are they have had a stressful and perhaps disappointing day.

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