by Jessica Conroy
I did it. I landed a tenure track faculty position.
And not just any position, but one I really, really wanted.
I’ve been summing up the last year or so in my head recently—whenever
I feel guilty about not getting as much done as I had wanted, I ask: what,
exactly, did I do the last year? Then I feel better, because the answer is I applied
for 13 jobs, and prepared for and went to 6 job interviews. In between I had 2
field seasons in the tropical Pacific, analyzed a mountain of water isotope
model data, and worked toward getting 3 very different manuscripts ready for
publication. And I spent a very intensive (but fruitful!) week at NSF Expert
Witness Training Camp. So I guess I did some stuff.
Getting a job takes work. Thirteen times over I carefully
crafted my research and teaching statements to match the institution and the
call, polished up my CV, and sent applications into the ether. Once the interview invites started rolling in,
I spent weeks making my job talk as perfect as possible--keeping it as
scientifically sexy as possible, but still interesting to the igneous
petrologist in the room (who also votes on you, remember). Prior to each
interview, I also researched each institution and department to death, and practiced
my talk like a maniac (since going over time in a job talk is the kiss of death).
And maybe I made some flash cards with interview questions, too, because I tend
to overdo things.
The interviews themselves were the most exhausting
experience of my life. That is not hyperbole. Being something of an introvert
and a classic imposter syndrome case (it waxes and wanes, but never seems to go
away for good), being ‘on’ for 2 days straight six times over was an ordeal for
me (confession: I drank 5-hour energy during my bathroom breaks!). But, despite
the hours of stressful prep (and the mental exhaustion that sets in afterward),
the interviews were actually kind of fun. You get to meet lots of interesting
people and talk shop. Only in a couple
instances were people jerks to me, or was I the victim of mansplaining.
What required the greatest emotional fortitude,
though, was the waiting afterward. I had heard from three of my highly
successful mentors, all amazing scientists who exude Science and Nature papers
from their pores, that “You won’t get the first job you apply for,” and “I
didn’t get X job,” etc. This is frightening information, I think, for the
first-timers on the academic job market. Those of us who have gotten to the
point where we are getting academic job interviews are not used to failing. But,
fail I did. I learned that you can have a great interview experience, give the
best talk, and still not get the job. And this has to do with ‘fit’ and ‘need.’
Completely reasonable, but even when I didn’t end up wanting the job, rejection
stings a bit.
But, here’s the bright side: Of all the applications
I sent out, I got offers from my top 2 choices. I even wound up having to
decline interviews at four more schools after those offers came in. So I did
ok! I’m proud to proclaim that starting in August, I’ll be an assistant
professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign!
Like many other female academics, I have an academic
partner. In grad school I fell in love with a charming, handsome
thermochronologist. We got in engaged in 2011, and have spent the last 1.5
years apart as he finishes up his PhD in Arizona. Long distance is not fun, and
is not a long-term option for us. We knew our ultimate goal was two
tenure-track positions at the same school. But how to make it happen? We had
seen it work at Arizona, and at Georgia Tech, but we had also seen it not work.
My plan was [to try] not to worry about it until I had an offer. So I never
brought it up, until interview #4. I was asked what my fiancé did, and I just decided
to be completely honest, and not make a big deal about it. Although I did talk him
up, which was easy to do. I quickly realized that the question was being asked
in order to inform me how wonderful the institution was about spousal hire. Not
to ‘out’ me as a candidate with a two-body problem.
This happened a second time, as I set up an interview at another school. Then I
mentioned my academic partner on the phone to the search committee chair, and
the department arranged to have us both fly out to interview at the same time.
Both institutions where I got offers were very open
to finding my fiancé a position. Illinois
moved quickly, and had him out for an official interview about 2 weeks after I
got a formal offer. He rocked it, they loved him, and it was clear he would
fill a need in the department. There were many reasons why we picked Illinois,
but one of them definitely was their progressive attitude about spousal hire.
Since he is earlier in his career, we thought it
best if he had a couple years off from teaching to build his lab and get his
dissertation papers out. So Illinois offered him a 2-year research assistant
professorship with the start up to build his lab. His position will transition to a tenure track line after 2 years. We
got it in writing of course (very important).
Thus, the stress of the job search has ended. We’re
going to be Fighting Illini come fall!
Now, I can worry about getting tenure.