The waiting is the hardest part.
In academia, the job application cycle is a six-month ordeal. I put in my first applications in November. So far, I’ve gotten one rejection. It’s only thanks to the rumor mill that I know that at least a few more jobs are interviewing and are probably not going to be offered my way. But it will be at least March and possibly later before I know that I’m truly on the way out.
Grants are even worse. I put in two NSF grants but will not hear about them until May or even June (after my funding runs out). Moreover, if I get them, the money will not flow until September if not later. So I’m facing at least a few months without a salary, unless I can find someone willing to make a short-term hire. And I may have to figure out a way to quit my job and then be rehired or I will lose several thousand dollars worth of accumulated vacation pay come August 31.
I still have no idea what I’m going to do if nothing pans out — which seems about 2 to 1 will happen. Sue has pointed out that we can tread water on her salary and I can try to live my dream of being a novelist — finish that book I’m 60,000 words into or the one 10,000 words in. This seems like the most likely course. But it’s scary being out here in limbo — waiting to here some news, any news. I’m working as hard as I can just in case something does work out. But knowing it may all be for nothing doesn’t exactly inspire one’s best productivity.
It’ll be a pity if I have to leave. This last year has been one of my most productive in terms of papers and proposals. There was a time when I was quite lazy about my work. But that changed when I came to Texas. It’s appearing likely that it will be a matter of too little, too late.
As I said in an earlier post, I’ll have no regrets if I end up leaving astronomy. And I’m sure, with a PhD and a long resume, finding work will not be a problem unless the economy completely collapses. But it’s not an easy time. And that knot in my chest is not going to unravel for a long time.
So you’ll understand if my posts here and at RTLC tend to be a bit vitriolic. Most of the day, I’m working and too busy to fret. Or I’m taking care of my daughter and enjoying the moments. But at night, when I blog, the future looms awfully bleak.
Actually, you know when waiting gets the worst? When you get an e-mail. My work computer will tell me — sometimes interrupting what I’m doing — that I’ve gotten an e-mail and who it’s from. Knowing the chairs of all the job commitees and the program officers at NSF by heart, I instantly recognize when something job related has come down. There’s this moment when you hesitate. For me, I know that getting an e-mail, rather than a call, is not generally good. And I’m familiar with that horrible sense of disappointment — it begins even before I’ve read the mail. It’s at times like that that the universe stops, sounds and sights grow more intense, the hairs on your body stand up. For that knowledge of pending disappointment is threaded with a silver trace of hope. And then it comes crashing down when your eyes, without reading anything else, lock onto that word “regret”. There’s a sense of disappointment, but also one of relief.
Yes, the waiting is the hardest part.
I’ve been through this before, of course. When I applied to grad schools the first time, I got rejected. But I was 21, enjoying college and had a year to build up the resume while working in my dad’s office. The next year, acceptances came early, alleviating any stress. When I applied for my current job, it was offered the position in December. No stress at all. Last year, I knew I had a little grant funding left and could eek out one last year. It was stressful, but too bad.
The only comparable moment to what I’m going through now was my last year of grad school, when I didn’t even get short-listed until February. This is worse. Then, I was 28. Now I’m 35. Then, I was very single. Now, I’m married with a little baby. Then, I was living in a small apartment. Now, I’ve got a mortgage and bills.