Sometimes, you need a good old-fashioned kick up the backside. I’ve been rather down again about my work situation recently – hello, sense of failure, I’ve missed you these past few months. But this time, instead of wallowing in a pool of angst and ennui, I bit the bullet and did what I should, perhaps, have done a long time ago – I emailed my old supervisor, my mentor, and asked for help.
So, last Friday, I found myself back in the very same office where I’d twitched, incoherently, after a four hour viva some two years ago. Deja vu does strange things to you, but it felt…well, normal. We just chatted, about where I was in work terms and what I needed to do. He gave me several useful tips, about my CV, my monograph proposal, and the jobs I should and should not be applying for. Most importantly, though, I didn’t get the sense that he was judging me: I don’t think he thought I’d failed. Just that, somewhere along the line between me and that academic position, something had gone wrong and we needed to fix it.
There are two of his pieces of advice that I want to share with you. Not the attend conferences and publish publish publish you hear all the time, but these –
One: don’t apply speculatively. If you don’t fit the person specification, you won’t get it. It will be a waste of your time and effort, because they’ll look through your application quickly, and if you don’t immediately match what they need – well, to put it bluntly, you’re on the slush pile. So think about what you’re planning to apply for, and don’t apply out of boredom or desperation. Patience, it seems, is also a virtue.
Two: sell yourself. But do it right. Don’t sell everything about yourself: you’ll sound like a child, hollering into the wind that you can do everything, that you’re the king of the world. Just give them what they want. Don’t overblow your achievements, but don’t diminish them either. I’m not a middle-ground kinda person, and I find this balancing act really difficult. I’m sure some of you feel the same.
Tips on a postcard.
Anyway. All the lessons I learned in meeting with my supervisor – do I call him that now? – were good. But the biggest lesson? That asking for help, even two years down the line, is better than being stewed in your own pride. That overcoming embarrassment over any perceived failure, no matter how misguided that perception is, and being pro-active about it, is the best thing you can do.
Because people aren’t judging you in the same way you are. I know what you’re thinking – and trust me, the answer is still, “No, they’re not. Not even you.”
It gave me a boost to know that I have my own mentor, that I’m lucky enough to have someone out there who has my back. And it makes me more inclined to keep trying.