The biggest issue that plagues most of us academicians training to establish ourselves in our respective fields is- “What after I graduate?” This is a pivotal and determining existential question, central to building our identity as researchers, academicians, and professionals. I have seen people in certain fields find a job they are happy doing right after their masters, for example, people who have some association with the software industry. Then there are people who graduate from renowned business schools and law schools and land up with multiple lucrative job offers. If you have been through this journey before, you will know how lonely and isolating the life of a final year doctoral student is. You are done with your classes, you are trying hard to figure out a research niche that will define your identity in the following years, writing a dissertation, struggling to get published, interviewing for jobs, dealing with job rejections, and so on. The bad news is, it is a tiresome, overwhelming, and alien feeling that requires all your energy, time management and resource management skills as well as prayers. The good news is, you just need one job at the end of the day. Yes, multiple offers will help you make a more informed decision about what you are worth in the field, not to mention a huge boost to the ego. However, all you need at the end of the day is just one job.
The way I found that one job is an interesting story. I was applying to as many places as I could, but few of them were interviewing. Funding agencies were going through sequestrations, and it seemed that none of the people I contacted proactively everyday had anything hopeful. I was applying for both postdoctoral as well as faculty positions. There was one posting I saw in the mid-west (read: middle of nowhere) in a field that was certainly not my niche. The work looked interesting, and sure it would require me to reboot the Chemistry I learned years ago, but it definitely seemed like something I would apply to. I started applying for the job when my roommate walked in and said, “Nebraska? Who lives in Nebraska?” I had said the same thing to someone a few years ago, and that person seemed to have born in Alabama. Her lack of enthusiasm dampened my spirits, but hey, maybe this would be my backup option?
The next day, I went to the adviser for a recommendation, and faced some serious opposition. He mirrored my thoughts that my specialization was not in Chemistry, and writing me a recommendation for something I might not be skilled at will only put him in a bad spot. I asked him to focus on what I was rather than what I was not, and write what he thought I was good at, instead of making something up. He was still not convinced, and gave me a hard time about applying. I went ahead nevertheless.
A few Fridays after, I got a call for a Skype interview in the morning. Interestingly, I had another interview lined up in the evening, with a different school (which I never got, and it took them 2 months to tell me a no). During this interview of mine, we talked. She told me what she does, and asked me what I did. She asked me technical questions. It was a formal interview of course, but things were not uncomfortable. She did not bombard me with a hundred questions trying to see if I knew ANOVA from MANOVA or grounded theory from interpretivism. The interview went well.
She offered me the job by the end of the interview. Which means she had pretty much made up her mind when she scheduled the interview.
That is the only job offer I got. Which made my choices easy. After all, you need one job at the end of the day.
Lesson learned: Trust your gut feeling, and apply to as many jobs as you can. If I had listened to my adviser and not applied for this job, I’d be jobless today.
Chances are more that my story may not be your story. Usually people get many more job offers and often take time to choose where they wish to go. When I started as a teacher in Calcutta, that was the only job I applied for and got it. Then in Seattle, that was the first job I applied to, and since I wanted to live in the area, I did not look further when I got that job. This time, I applied to 7-8 places, got interview calls from 3 places, and this is the only job I got. I seem to have a record of finding that one job I would take up.