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Taking care of yourself on the academic job market

Ask a Candidate | Topics in Higher Education

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on how to mindfully take care of yourself during the holidays (especially if you’re on the academic job market).

How in the world is an academic job seeker supposed to enjoy the holidays, when departments are calling some candidates for first-round interviews, applications for late-deadlined jobs, VAPs, and fellowships are due, and well-meaning relatives want to know what’s happening in your life? Here are some tips for self-care in the middle of the madness.

Try to clear the decks.

This may be late-breaking advice, but if you have free days between the end of the semester and the beginning of the holiday, try to hit some of your late-December or early January deadlines early. Even if you can’t finish those applications before you travel, try to at least “break the seal” on them:

  • Review the requirements
  • Take a pass at an essay
  • See what old materials could be repurposed to suit

Getting a head start is key so that you aren’t faced with a huge amount of psychologically challenging work to do as your family is eating cookies, drinking eggnog, and playing games downstairs.

Identify a few people to be your sounding board.

Is there someone in your family who you think will be able to listen to you talk about the job market without reacting anxiously to your own worries, or giving you unnecessary advice? Try to get some one-on-one time with them, then lay out everything, including the seething mass of feelings you’re surely experiencing. It can really help to know that at least one or two family members know the entire story.

Figure out how to avoid unhelpful conversations.

For lots of people, the holiday is full of encounters with nosy uncles and family friends, who will want to talk about your employment status. These polite interactions can be deeply demoralizing, especially if your conversation partner knows nothing about academia, is superannuated, or both, and offers all kinds of advice that’s useless (“Why don’t you call up the department at [desirable institution] and find out if they’re hiring?”) You might find it helpful to deputize an ally who can come save you from these conversations when you flash a (discreet!) sign. Or, prepare a script for yourself and repeat it: “I’m hoping for the best. I’m trying not to dwell on it too much over the holidays!”—and then change the subject.

Cut yourself off from the parts of the Internet that make everything worse.

The Academic Jobs Wiki is an obvious place to start. If your field is very active on the wiki, you’ll know how terrible it can feel to see that a job that you’ve coveted has started emailing candidates for first-round interviews, and you haven’t made the cut. This isn’t actionable information—if you are going to be interviewed, you’ll be contacted—so try to stay away from the site. If you can’t make yourself do it for the entire vacation, give yourself the gift of 24- or 48-hour stints without wiki-checking.

Similarly, if you find that social networks make you anxious—maybe your online friends are in your field, and they’re into job-market gossip—try to be minimally present on Facebook and Twitter. Consider deleting the apps from your phone, and checking them only on desktop; that’s an easy way to make sure you’re not fixating on the latest news while you’re out sledding with your kids.

Be kind to yourself.

All the standard self-care advice still applies. Get enough sleep. Try to get exercise. Take time during the day to get immersed in a novel or a comic book—something completely unrelated to your research. Eat as well as possible, given the constant presence of peppermint bark. We’re all rooting for you.

 

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