The Postdoctoral Hunger Games

I’m not going to get involved in the row which is raging in academia about adjuncts and the over-supply of PhDs, though I have been following it with a keen (self-) interest and much respect for Rebecca Schuman (her blog here) and Sarah Kendzior (website here) who have taken on the tenure system and the prestige economy alike. But one of those quadruple-whammy style combos which occasionally sneak up on me has got me thinking about what it’s really like to compete in the Academic Hunger Games.


win or dieReading the Guardian’s Postdoc Diaries, I was struck by a marked innocence from the contributors about the likelihood of finding postdoctoral work. Absolutely no disrespect intended to them – I know well how an edit isn’t really an insight. It got me thinking though, about my own awareness of the stakes and just what I’m prepared to do to make it happen. My first real proper rejection since December 2012 came on Friday, and although I am really OK with it (I was, after all chancing my arm in a related discipline, over 300 applicants for the post etc etc), it made me feel very insecure about the fellowship application I had just submitted. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a strong application, and I hope (feverishly) to make the shortest of all shortlists in relation to it. There is far more likelihood however, that I will not. Not only that I will not be second this time, but that the only list I might actually make would be the one stamped with a big scarlet R (for this is how I visualise the rejection pile). I never think about my competitors (except in terms of the effort they might be putting in) because my strategy is to make it really difficult to say no to me.  On a personal level, I’ve talked of little else for the last month, to the extent that my parents saw fit to remind me of an incident from my childhood. At seven, I was obsessed with gaining my swimming certificate (my LBH) so I could spend all summer at the outdoor pool without having to have a parent present. Never have three little letters created so much disquiet in a household. I remember being banned from mentioning them on pain of having no pocket money. LBH = verboten. I went without my weekly book and bar of chocolate all summer, such was my obsession and my inability to not talk about it. Doc’s eyes start to roll back in his head every time I say “If I get X then…”. He’s been here before too. Imagine my consternation when I discovered that a disliked rival had applied for the same post. There is no chicken less happy. I’ve spent the morning (oh and a fair bit of the afternoon) lurking under the duvet in the World’s Biggest (Unreasonable) Huff. And then I realised that this was not what Katniss Everdine would do.

Read The Guardian’s ‘Postdoc Diaries’ series here (the comments section is most enlightening)

See the coining of the phrase Academic Hunger Games and some of the reasons behind it here and here

*addendum, Nov 2015: if you follow me on twitter, you’ll know I have since shed an ocean of tears, had many more rejections, and seen myself beaten to longed-for fellowship by that much disliked rival. However….



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