In the last episode of the podcast, something that was raised was keeping motivation in trying to get an academic job; Nino related that her colleague had applied to 300-350 jobs before getting a permanent position. In the face of such lengthy application processes, I just wanted to spend some time discussing how best to keep motivation on the job hunt, academic or otherwise.
- What do you really want to do?
This was something Nino touched upon and I think is worth reiterating. When you’ve completed the PhD and you’re looking at career options, have a real critical think about what you want to do and why. If you’re like me, you may have gone into a PhD with some vague idea of academia and because it felt like the natural next step, this may not have left a lot of critical thought into why you want to move in that career direction. If you can have a real honest look at yourself and decide what career move you want to make and why, then this can make keeping motivation all that much easier. If you have clear reasons why you want to be an academic it can make those 300+ applications worthwhile, rather than soul-crushing. If you at least know that every application is just another step towards a goal that is meaningful to you, then it makes the knock-backs so much easier to take.
2. Focus on factors you can control
Job-hunting is hard, it’s competitive out there and there may not be enough jobs for everyone in your chosen field, other people will be more qualified, more intelligent and simply better than you. This is all true, but it’s not something you can control and so you shouldn’t waste energy fretting about it. Focusing on external factors that you have no control over, other people and the layout of the job market, is a path to exasperation. Instead you must focus on your own actions, and set yourself achievable goals. Instead of thinking “I’ve sent out 30 applications, but I’ve heard nothing back! It’s just too competitive out there”, think “I’ve sent out 30 applications, whilst I’ve heard nothing back, this is just another step towards my goal”. Say to yourself you’ll send out so many applications on a day and focus on making these good. How good your application is, is something you have complete control over, unlike what the employers will think of it. You can get much more satisfaction from focusing on these things you can control, than worrying about stuff you cannot. In addition, be critical. If you haven’t heard back after so many applications, think about why this may be. Have you communicated your skills effectively? Are there gaps in your CV? Instead of despairing on how hard it is out there, focus on what you can control.
3. When reality sets in
Of course, the above two points may sound perfectly fine to someone who doesn’t need a job immediately to pay the bills. You can be introspective when you don’t have the bailiffs on the doorstep. So perhaps you’ve taken, or are thinking of taking, a job that isn’t really in the career direction you want to go in. In this case it can be hard to keep motivation, because it’s difficult to put time into meeting your career goals. In the first instance, it would be worth considering how this job could help you further your aspirations. Sure, it’s not really in the right field, but are there are any skills you can gain that would be useful to what you want to do? Are there any activities you can take part in that will help you refine skills or make useful contacts? You also want to be judicious with your spare time. It may seem difficult as you may work long hours, but try to put aside some time to focus on your career. Where do you see the next step? How could you get there? Perhaps a hobby will help you gain the required skills?
Of course, none of this is easy. Changing the way you think about thinks is not a trivial task and putting aside time in a hectic world is never straightforward, but that’s where we come again to the first point. If this is something you really want to do, you’ll do it. You’ll make yourself put aside time and try to focus on those things under your control. If not, then what do you want to do?