After a London encounter with a lovely Canadian beer writer and an equally kind fortean journalist earlier this week, I’ve not been feeling at my best. This hasn’t really been helped by the fact that I received two more job rejections without interview this week – on the day I was in London, in fact, and less than an hour apart.
When you are already feeling sorry for yourself, you reflect quite hard on the things that damage you, and for me, at the moment, job rejections are the main thing. You might think I’d be somewhat jaded about them now – the fact is that I’m not. Actually, it’s hurting more and more, partly because I have absolutely no idea what it is I am doing wrong. Am I continually making mistakes on the application forms? Am I coming up with weird research ideas that no-one wants to take on? Do I not have the right qualifications and experience? Am I applying for the wrong things?
Worst of all is this: the thought that creeps up on me in the early morning, and whispers that, actually, there’s no place for me in academia. That no-one wants me. And I can’t help but take that personally.
I have had one or two positive things come along recently, but I am still waiting for them to pan out, and I do wonder what I will do if nothing comes of them. I am hoping against hope, of course, that something does. But it is seriously becoming time to consider the alternatives. However, what do I, the girl who’s only ambition as a child was to go to university, do if the university doesn’t want me any more?
For a long time, I have had a very romantic pipe dream to own an independent bookshop. I know, right? I can really pick career choices at the right time. I’ve made plans for this shop in my head – really detailed, carefully thought out ones. What I would stock, how I would arrange it, how I would make it appeal to people, the events I would run, how I would turn it into a place that was a hub, that was loved. I’ve jokingly discussed this as my Plan B for years, with people even offering to be my “Manny”*. But why should it be a joke? And why should it be any less valuable, any less important, and any more of a disappointment than an academic career? Why should it be an idea laughed off? Why can’t I use what I have learned, the knowledge I have gained, to build – to curate, for goodness sake! – the best damn bookshop in the East?
I know that there are a number of post-PhDs out there who either don’t want to, or are finding it difficult to get into academia as a career. They prove that there are alternatives: From PhD to Life, a blog by Jennifer Polk, is a good example. So it is possible to change track, but I think it is important to realise that you will have to think creatively and uniquely, depending on your situation. And you have to time it right – at what point do you rethink your longheld and cherished plans?
I’m really hoping my Plan A works out eventually, of course. And I’m planning to hang on as long as I can. I am also aware that a lot of this current feeling is due to those job rejections, and how sore I am about them. But I have to be realistic. I’ve been in this situation for a year now, waiting and hoping. I am in my own modernist moment – the point in my career when all that was solid has melted into air – and I am wondering at what point I can make it cohere again, and at what point I have to take decisive action.
*Manny is the assistant bookseller in the Channel 4 comedy, Black Books.