I found out earlier this week that my application for a post-doc was rejected.
I wasn’t really surprised by this. The competition for funding is incredibly fierce (this year’s competition had a 23% success rate) and the vast majority of awards tend to go to individuals who already have the PhD in hand at the time they apply.
I put an application in, even though I was nowhere near defending back in October, because every now and then the committee awards a fellowship to someone who wasn’t yet finished at the time applications were due.
It was always going to be a long shot, but I took a punt on it anyway, because the only thing I knew for certain was I wouldn’t get a post-doc if I didn’t apply.
I’m not really sure how I feel about missing out on it.
To a certain extent what I mostly feel is relief.
I’m not entirely sure I wanted to do a post-doc.
I know that I don’t want to be a tenure-stream academic.
I’ve watched Q., who’s been a professor now for eleven years. I’ve seen first-hand what he’s had to sacrifice to make it work. I want to kill anyone who complains that professors “only teach twelve hours a week and get four months off in the summer”.
Despite getting tenure three years ago, despite publishing his book two and half years ago, Q. still works evenings, still works weekends, still works hard enough that I worry he will make himself sick in the not-so-distant future. I don’t joke about heart attacks at forty. I have nightmares about them.
It became rapidly apparent to me after we had E. (right at the same time that Q. was officially tenured) that there was no room in our household for a second career that was going to demand as much as Q’s does. No room at all, unless we were willing to cede most of the raising of our son to others.
That’s a deal breaker for me, and for Q. as well.
And there’s never been a question as to whose career will play second fiddle. We knew from the moment we made the decision that I would apply for the PhD that whatever career would result from that decision had to fit around Q’s.
I can’t move to take up a tenure-stream position, if one were to become available in my field (a BIG if these days given the current state of affairs).
I can’t move to take up a post-doctoral fellowship, or a three-year contract, both of which would keep me on the right track to be competitive for a tenure-stream position.
Academia has a term for people like me: we’re called “trailing spouses”.
I expect I’ll end up teaching bits and pieces, always as a sessional, always hearing at the last minute, hopefully mostly at the two universities in my city, but there are others that are close enough to make it feasible to teach there as well. I will be badly paid, and not at all paid in the summer months if I’m not teaching.
And honestly, I don’t really mind all that much.
Having E. fundamentally altered the way I felt about my PhD and my future career. I WANT to be able to be there when he gets home from school. I WANT to have the flexibility to spend the summers with him. I WANT to be able to put him first.
I am incredibly privileged. I can look at the future and embrace the uncertainty of contract teaching, because Q.’s position, as a tenured associate professor, is probably one of the most secure jobs that exists. He makes a good wage. It doesn’t go as far as we would like in our big expensive city, but we will never worry about how to keep the roof over our heads, or how to keep food on the table, even if I have a semester where there isn’t any teaching on offer.
And the truth of the matter is, I’m not cut out to be a tenure-stream academic.
I have an almost paralyzing fear of failure and an inner critic the size of King Kong. I could be a textbook’s example of imposter syndrome. The thought of having to send my work out to be reviewed and, gasp, published, fills me with anxiety to the point where I fear I might vomit.
I could be taught to get over this. All academics have to learn to culture a little bit of arrogance, just enough to get over the fear (too much arrogance, however, means you become a pretentious asshole, and I’ve met my share of those).
I could get over my fear. But, to be honest, I don’t love research enough to be really good at it. I like the idea of research. I like coming up with ideas and reading lots of things. I even (sometimes) like writing about my ideas. But I fall apart at the endgame (something which I had already known before writing the dissertation but which has become ever more clear to me over the last few months). When it comes to that final ten percent, the point where in order to really get that article finished you have to read the book written by that German scholar in 1880 to add one more footnote to tie up all your loose ends, I just can’t be bothered. There are so many other things I’d rather be doing.
I do love teaching. And I have enough arrogance to know that I am very good at it. It’s not at all, therefore, a bad thing that I know now that I will be spending next year cobbling together bits and pieces, trying on for size the job of “sessional worker”, “contract lecturer”, “adjunct professor”.
Assuming, of course, that there are bits and pieces for me to teach.
And here we come to the one thing that really disappointed me when I opened my letter and discovered there would be no postdoctoral fellowship for me.
It was a guaranteed income for the next two years.
The year before I started the PhD I taught, as a sessional, at my university. I enjoyed it so much it spurred me into deciding to go back to school myself. But it was always a gamble. Sessional work at my university is based around a convoluted system of seniority where having a PhD does get you ranked more highly than someone without it, but not by much. Had I stayed a sessional, I would have had six more years of experience now. The job market is much worse than it was when I applied to do the PhD. There are many more people in my field floating around my city, underemployed. Most of them rely on the contract teaching to make ends meet. Some of them are the primary wage earners for their families. They don’t have the luxuries I do.
I don’t regret applying to do the PhD. I’ve done very well with government funding. For three years in particular I made a very good wage, one that made it possible to persevere until we were blessed with E. without causing much financial hardship. I couldn’t have spent as much time at home with E. as I did if I had been a sessional.
But, now that we are in the endgame, I look at September and I worry. I wonder if we have made a giant miscalculation. I wonder if there will be any teaching for me.
I don’t dwell on it. There’s no point. We won’t know the true state of things until the autumn semester starts.
But one thought did flit through my mind when I opened that letter.
That post-doc would have meant another IVF cycle.
I’ve been moving the goalposts, you see.
I can’t remember when I first realized my feelings had changed, but I think it was within a day or two of that last appointment.
We had said we were done.
We had said this was going to be our last retrieval.
I wanted a 2.0, or I wanted closure.
I didn’t get either of these.
If this cycle had been a clear negative, a bright white BFN, then when (I can’t even bring myself to say if) that last FET failed this coming summer, we would have had no difficulty in walking away. That would have been five blastocysts. Five blasts and nothing to show for it would have been enough.
But it wasn’t a negative.
We got SO close.
Both of the embryos implanted. They just didn’t turn into babies.
So for a number of days now my overriding thought process has been about the possibility of one more fresh cycle, after the dissertation has been defended, sometime in the fall or early winter.
I know part of this is an instinctive means of self-protection. If I’m thinking about another cycle, I don’t have to think about this cycle and what its failure might mean. I don’t have to face up to the reality that this miscarriage, in all likelihood, marks the end of our dreams of a family of four.
But I also recognize that this cycle didn’t produce a result I was expecting. It teased me. It let me get so close, but not close enough.
Two long protocol IVF cycle with transfers of two fresh blasts.
Maybe the third time will be the charm?
I haven’t discussed any of this with Q.
There’s no point, really. Not until we know what I’m doing next year.
When we first started trying for a baby, Q. and I agreed that we would not go into debt to cover fertility treatments.
We’ve stuck to that. We’ve dropped close to $30,000 of our own money (and easily that again on medications which, thankfully, Q.’s insurance covers) on family building. We only have one child to show for it, but we never went into debt. We went without a lot of other things.
I don’t hold a major scholarship anymore.
If I don’t get enough contract teaching, we can’t do another round of IVF.
Now we have to wait to see if our gamble paid off.