Jump to content



Recommended Posts

This may not be the best place to post, as most of you are probably still in grad school, but I know you can get very good advice here so I am hoping that some will come my way. Apologies in advance for the rather long post from an anonymous handle. I am going to tell my story and try not to embellish or interpret anything.


I am a postdoc in the Social Sciences. I graduated from a top school in my field last year and won a nice fellowship that is affiliated with a top program with good funding and minimal teaching. When I graduated, and I think now too, I was considered to be a rising star. I have more publications than some people I know who recently got tenured at good schools. Everything seemed great. 


But this last year has been a continuous disaster. On paper, my new school is a great match. Everyone keeps saying how great it is that I got to come here. In reality, I don't like it here. There is something not right about this place. People only care about themselves, and the faculty are openly dismissive of students who they deem "not worthy." One, in particular, acts like I am not worth their time, though thankfully they have no real influence on my life and once I realized they were making me feel like shit I stopped trying to work with them (on paper, we should be collaborating on multiple topics). It took me a whole semester to figure out that this person was making me doubt myself in fundamental ways, because I know others really value this person's opinion. I haven't gotten any new publications, and a key paper has been rejected, after a difficult interaction with a reviewer. The job market ate up all of my time and probably not an insignificant amount of my soul. My relationship ended; she cheated. I kept up with my teaching and got good evaluations, but nothing else was functioning. Overall I actually did well on the job market and had a TT job offer from a good school that made me happy and hopeful again. I started planning how I would rebuild my life in a new job in a new city. But something happened. Those who would have been my future colleagues say in confidence that it is "unheard of, unethical, perhaps illegal." I will not go into details, but next year I will be a postdoc again and go on the job market again.


I've been trying to put the pieces of my life back together. I moved to a new part of town, I am spending my summer writing up multiple papers, I started a new collaboration, I got into a few good conferences. And then: I was hoping to apply to a fellowship that would require a sponsor at my new school, but just today I heard back that no one at my school wants to sponsor me. I asked four people. This includes my current sponsor, the faculty member who makes me feel like shit but who shares a lot of interests with me and has a track record of getting these fellowships, and someone I have been talking to about a potential collaboration for months, but we've both been too busy to meet on a regular basis. The email was nice, but said it was last minute and it would be hard without an already ongoing project. They said it would be too much work. I get it, it's true that I don't have an existing project with any of those people. But still I feel so offended, they don't even think it's worth their time to put together an application and try. I have a good track record of winning fellowships, and I know others who have applied and won this fellowship without having had an ongoing project with their sponsor prior to their application.


Ever since the job fiasco happened, over two months now, I've been occasionally having mini panic attacks, as diagnosed by mental health services here. I've never before been depressed or needed a therapist, but I feel completely broken. I was doing better, but this email today unleashed a new panic attack. Occasionally I have the following series of thoughts: I want to quit. But if I quit, what will I do? I will have to leave here, because I am on a work visa. I don't want to go back home. There is nothing for me there. I do think I have skills that are transferrable, although I don't have a specific alternative career in mind, but worse, I don't think I could get a job because I have the wrong citizenship. I don't want to go back home. So I have to stay in this field to get to have a life where I want to live. I am trapped. 


On better days, I know that's all bullshit. I enjoy all parts of the job. I enjoy the research. I enjoy writing. I enjoy teaching. I enjoy collaborating, mentoring, meeting with students. I think I am respected by colleagues. I even enjoy service-type work. I hate the politics, but I accept that they exist in every job. I know I can make it, I can do more than that -- I would kick ass, but I feel like I can't catch a break. And yes, I know it's only been one year, but feelings and facts don't always go together. Ever since I started thinking about where I want to live and how that could be possible, and realizing that at least right now it means I have to stay in academia, it's messing with me and making it hard to tell myself I enjoy my field independently of all that other stuff. I am damned if I do and damned if I don't.


Thus far goes the story. It doesn't have a point. I don't even know if I have a question, it's just that I have no one to tell this to. My PhD mentors are amazing and supportive and have dropped everything for months to see me through the ordeal with the job. I don't feel like I can call them and tell them over the phone that I feel like I have nothing to live for now, I want to quit it all. It wouldn't be fair because they couldn't do anything from afar. I also fear that if I do it, I'll lose their respect. I have no one to talk to here. My sponsor and other relevant faculty just told me they don't think I'm all that. I know some other people here but I've lived here for less than a year and none are close enough friends to tell this to. So here I am. Maybe someone will have some perspective or can offer advice. Or, as a start, maybe you can tell me if I am making any sense. Or, if nothing else, maybe you can suggest good music to listen to when I'm feeling down to help me snap out of it. If you've read this far, thank you. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm so sorry to hear about your troubles! It sounds like you have had an awful year both personally and professionally and I don't think you have to feel bad about feeling bad. If you know what I mean.

But, of course, it is essential to get better and make sure that you'll be back on your feet sooner rather than later.

To me it seems that the department you're at is at the centre of your self-doubt and panic and it may be a good idea to get away from that place. I'm not suggesting that everyone there has bad intentions but it seems as though it is not the environment in which you are able to prosper. And from what you are saying you are more than capable to excel at your work!

Have you considered taking some time off so you can apply for new positions/postdocs/funding? I'm sure you'll be able to use the time well by also working on further publications.

It may be an odd and imperfect suggestion but I think that your wellbeing is extremely important and panic attacks are not something to take lightly. Perhaps, removing yourself from that situation will give you the time and distance to reflect on the next necessary steps.

I hope you'll be better soon!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think many of us have had experiences like yours, try not to beat yourself up too much.


My masters supervisor told me my work "was nothing special" and my postdoc supervisor basically called me fat.  Academia has such a rigid hierarchy with vast authority differences that it, more so than many institutions in the modern world, allows people to behave quite badly and to mistreat subordinates.  Most academic departments do far more to protect staff than graduate students or postdocs.


More than anything, you want to keep producing work.  It sounds like you've stalled a bit in your current environment, which is a shame, but even if collaborations are tough, you should keep producing on your own to help you with other fellowship applications and future positions.


It's strange that no one wants to collaborate with you or sponsor you.  Unfortunately, if you're able to, I'd suggest some serious soul searching here.  It seems quite unlikely that as a whole the faculty have plotted to be mean to you.  Rather, something has happened that makes them not want to work with you.  Think about a guy who hates every woman he's ever dated - HE is the common element in those relationships.


It's a bummer the tenure track position fell through, but if you got that offer than you can get other offers.


For more pragmatic ideas:  can you try to get a sponsor at a different school?  could you apply for a tenure-track position at a lower ranked school (and plan to spend 3 years improving you research and grants to apply to a better school later one)?  can you keep working there without a fellowship?


You mention leaving academia, but not wanting to "return home".  This is a bit of a drastic step, but I think most junior academics under-estimate their employability.  You say you're not sure what you'd do if you left academia, but that's something you could spend some time thinking about...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sounds like you've had a pretty bad year, I'm very sorry.  There is a lot to disentangle here, so this post will be long.


The end of a relationship is never easy. Getting cheated on sucks and is unfair. I assume it happened not long after you moved/started your new job, based on your timeline, and I'm sure that didn't help either. Not having close friends around probably didn't help deal with the situation, and I would bet the pressure and anxiety that's associated with the job market made it even worse. This is all to say that it's understandable that you're feeling down, I think anyone would be. 


You say the job market ate up a lot of your time and you did nothing other than teach for a while. I understand, it wasn't all that different for me this year. It was my second year on the job market and I have to say that last year's experience helped, but there was one semester this year where I taught and traveled to interviews and basically did nothing else. I don't think this is unusual, based on my friend's experiences too. That said, if your new colleagues only saw you sad, confused, extremely busy or gone a lot, and not really getting research done, they may have the wrong idea about who you are and what you are about. It sucks that they judge you and jump to conclusions, but that's their bad, not yours. I really don't think your actions were different than anyone else's in your situation would be, so either they are impatient, or inexperienced, or not a good personality match (I think that much is a given), but either way, as have2thinkboutit says, I think this school may not be the best place for you. You talk about "the email," so I would assume they consulted with each other and together decided not to do it? Then it's not four rejections but one, not that I think it sucks much less. Anyway, it doesn't matter. In that sense, the fact that they say they don't want to sponsor you for a fellowship might be doing you a favor. If they can sense you are unhappy there, they are helping you find a place where you can fit. I tend to think people are not evil, but they can be selfish and self-serving. The comment that it would be too much work is very telling. But if they don't want to put in the work, you can't make them. I would write this place off, invest my time in another successful year on the job market without making the effort to collaborate with anyone there (which will free up time and emotional resources), and plan on moving to a new place next year, whatever happens. That is, I am going with your "happy self" that enjoys what you're doing, and ignoring the hurt feelings that come from having bad things happen to you that you can't control.


With regard to getting papers rejected and your research being stalled: rejection is something that happens to everyone. If it's your first one, congratulations. You have been extremely lucky so far. It sucks that the rejection coincided with other bad things in your life, but you have to learn to deal with it. If you haven't yet, pick the paper up, make whatever changes do make sense from your reviews, and submit it to another journal. Regarding feeling stalled, since you say you are spending your summer writing up multiple papers, I assume that's not really so. Being on the job market can slow you down, especially when your emotions are already all over the place. It sounds to me that you are doing everything you should be. It'll take time to get papers accepted if you didn't submit anything this year, but it'll happen, there is no reason to assume otherwise. 



And here I want to come to my main point. You describe the following situation: (success,) (success,) success, success, success, success, success, failure. Of course, it's possible that this was a turning point and now there will be a streak of failures. But there is no evidence to support this in your narrative. You had one bad year, but even as this bad year ends you are starting new collaborations and already writing new papers. Therefore, it's inevitable to conclude that this was an isolated incident and your future will be as bright as your past has been. Of course, the job market is difficult and one never knows, but if I were a betting person, I'd put my money on you. Again, if I were a betting person, I would bet that your panic attacks stem from the fact that you did everything right and still couldn't stop a series of bad things from happening to you. I can imagine if it were me, I would want to be able to put my finger on something I did wrong and could improve, to make sure it never happens again. Having no control over the situation is very difficult.


My advice is twofold: first, keep doing what you're doing. The chances of this bad thing happening again are minuscule, and you cannot plan your life around avoiding it. Second, do something new, non-academic. It would help you feel better to have good memories associated with your town, not just rejections and failed relationships. Plan to leave next year, but leave on a high note. Pick up a new hobby, find a meetup group you like -- anything, and start living a full life there. 



Lastly, I want to take time to address a couple of the suggestions that were made in the posts above mine. First, I do think there is something to have2thinkboutit's thought that the place you are at right now is not the best place for you. However, I would not go as far as to leave or take a break, unless you really feel like that is at the root of what is affecting your mental health. It sounded like your postdoc has already been extended and you are committed to being there, and if so then I would make it work -- perhaps mentally disengage from the people -- and plan to move next year, with enough time to do it professionally and not last-minute. Taking an impromptu break might leave a hole that's hard to fill on your CV and make it unnecessarily difficult for you on the job market. Plan to be elsewhere this time next year; it helps to have a plan and an end-point to the situation. Second, I don't think this one incident on your first year on the job market is any indication that you should be applying to lower tier schools or that you did anything wrong (and frankly, ivorytowerunlocked, I was surprised and confused by your comparison between this person's situation and a woman-hater, as well as by the suggestion to take multiple years to improve the research and grants before applying again). OP, you say that aside from the unfortunate ending, you did well on the job market. If it was unheard of, etc., then we must conclude that it will not happen again and next time will be successful and stay successful. Aim high and don't flinch. Conclusions should be drawn based on data, not anecdotes. And the data says your aim should be true. 


Good luck, I hope this helps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for your replies, everyone. 


I guess I should clarify a couple of things. My current postdoc is a two-year postdoc, so I'm simply staying on for my second year, as planned. At the moment I don't think it makes sense to do anything drastic like take a leave of absence, but I appreciate the advice to stay away from my department, at least emotionally. I think that will help. Second, reflecting a bit, I guess the people here really don't know me all that well. I've met with all the people I was hoping would sponsor me no more than 4-5 times during the year, and that's probably being generous. When I was in my PhD program I would meet with 2-4 people a week, and that was something I really enjoyed, so I guess that's another indication that the people here just aren't a good personality match for me. I was traveling a lot and they on their part also kept postponing/canceling meetings because I wasn't a high priority. It's a shame, but good to realize. I got one email, fuzzylogician. I suppose they all consulted with each other, but only one person has actually been corresponding with me. It's still not exactly one rejection, in my book. I have a meeting with my sponsor tomorrow and we'll see how that goes. Could be very awkward, but I'll use that to decide if we can still talk or if it's not worth my time. On paper my sponsor would be great to work with, but in practice the entire year I have not gotten anything useful out of this relationship. I recognize that this is at least partly my own fault: I've not sought their input on my work often at all. When I have, though, there have not been any useful research-related contributions from this person, which makes things quite awkward. Technically we should be working on a project together for my current fellowship, but turns out we don't get along well as collaborators. So, maybe they have a good point about what that would mean for a future fellowship (my thought was that it could be like this year -- the sponsor will be in name only; I have enough projects already going and I would just continue one or more of them as the fellowship project). I did get a letter of recommendation from my sponsor last year and I did get shortlisted with it, so it couldn't have been too bad. I hope it stays this way and we can part ways in a respectable manner next year. 


Meanwhile, I'm thinking about finding a sponsor at another school. There is one option, though not ideal since it's someone I've never met (I had never met my current sponsor before I came here either -- they sponsored me based on my application without talking to me at all), so I'm wary of doing that again. I should say I also have an offer for a postdoc for the year after next, in case I don't get a TT job, with someone I do know and at a place that would be professionally good for my career. It's not as prestigious as this fellowship I was hoping for, but otherwise it's actually not a bad option at all. I am thinking this might be a sign to go with the safe option, not the flashy one, which would be more work and less assured. 


Thanks again, everyone. If anyone has any other thoughts, I would appreciate them very much.

Edited by canidothis
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Very sorry to hear what a hard year you are having!

Since you have a solid plan B with the 2nd postdoc, perhaps you should start preparing for it a bit more which will make you more excited about it and thus relieve anxiety and fill you with anticipation.

Consider also scheduling some time off in the forseeable future when you travel to see your old friends, visit your previous school and maybe visit a completely new place unrelated to your professional life. It is kind of in relation to the 1st suggestion: have something you look forward to as a time of change or relaxation.

Simpler short term things: take good care of your body. Eat at a nice restaurant, go to a spa, take a sun bath. Eat properly orTry various kinds of meditation - something fun and new. As someone having had stress and anxiety issues in the past I found that the state of your body affects the mood very much. If you can t get rid of emotional stress at least make things better for your body. It will also make you feel better about yourself psychologically.

In terms of music if the world seems unfairly harsh I listen to heavy metal in order to clench my teeth and ignite furious anger ! Things like Pantera "Walk". You won t be broken by 1 hard year, you will keep doing what you love, what you re great at, with or without this current dpt.

Edited by random_grad
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use