I'm behind on just about everything recently, so why should blogging be any different? For work related reasons I haven't been able to keep on top on internet goings-ons, so only briefly saw a flurry of activity on twitter around the #postdocalypse hashtag. Since I missed the origin and reason, it looked like the typical venting of the postdocalytes, which, sure, I get it. It's a stressful time.
At some point I caught a link to the post associated with it, from Ethan Perlstein's blog. I've interacted a bit with @eperlste on twitter and have a sense of where he's coming from, but I found this post interesting. The main thing that caught my attention was:
Almost every single assistant professor I know has admitted that it was dumb luck, idiosyncratic departmental tastes or plain old academic tribalism that landed them their job, because they all had impressive CVs, stellar recommendations and solid proposals.
Let's talk reality for a second. As I mentioned in a comment on my last post, the perception of luck dominating a search decision only exists outside the decision making process. There was a time when I held this believe to a certain extent too, but then I got involved in the hiring process. There's nothing random about hiring, but it is subject to the needs and desires of the faculty members with a say in the process. This isn't transparent to the candidates, which might make it look whimsical, but I promise you that is far from the case. Whereas I have never been at an institution that is involved in "boys club" hires, and thus can't speak to those situations, the facts are simple: segments of the committee or department may have different interests, and those may be in conflict, and are almost certainly unknown to most job candidates. So let's put the randomness rumor to bed and accept that much of this is actually dependent on factors you are not aware of. There may be some luck as to which jobs come up in a year you are primed for the market, but search committees ain't flipping a coin in the back room to decide who to offer the job to.
"Dumb luck" is a great excuse if you don't want to think the situation through. Odyssey can give you a math lesson if it helps, but the bottom line is that even ticking all the boxes you thought you should does not guarantee you the job you want. Treating the process as waiting for that job people owe you is not going to help your efforts to obtain said job. At all.
Another typical disgruntledoc talking point is the insistence that only a top 10 department would be worthy of their presence. Anyone who has been around long enough to remember YFS will be very familiar with this mindset. The reality is that those jobs aren't for everyone and not every ivy-bred researcher is a special snow flake to be cherished. If your idea of a job search is applying to a handful of the very best departments in the country every year, you need to own the fact that you are playing a high stakes game with the odds stacked against you. If it doesn't work out, don't pretend that your downfall is economic, luck or unrecognized brilliance. Recognize that it is arrogance.