The life of an academic is all about balancing the scales. The pay isn’t so hot, but the hours are good. Grading is a pain, but they give you money to read stuff. And so on.
But one thing that really does unequivocally suck about being an academic, at least in political science, is the constant rejection – or the existential threat of rejection. Russell Arben Fox captures this feature of academic life quite well (although I wish he didn’t have the need to):
April is the Cruelest Month… especially for academics, and more particularly those who act the part of such. April is when the last, lingering hopes for the efforts expended during the school year are put to rest–grants very definitely not received, promotions very definitely denied, hires very definitely not made.
What rubs salt in the wound is the way the dissemination of information about hires, fellowships, and grants work. Let’s say you’ve just finished your PhD and are applying for jobs. Most likely, you send out a ton of very thick packets over the period from September to November. Then you wait for the email or phone call inviting you to an interview… and the chances are that most of the phone calls and emails won’t come. How do you know that you’ve been rejected? Not because the college or university you’ve applied to is likely to let you know anytime soon. Indeed, I once received a rejection from a third-tier school I’d applied to over a year after I’d accepted a tenure-track job at Georgetown. Most letters never come. So, instead, you either wait and assume a particular search is over after an interminable period of time, or you hear through the grapevine.
Now, let’s also stipulate that you’re in International Relations. The field is relatively small, and many of the “top prospects” from different schools know each other through a network of fellowships. So, in practice, you’re likely to find out when, during a phone call with a friend, she causally mentions that she got an interview a few weeks ago at Prestigious State U., or maybe that a mutual friend did, or maybe that someone a mutual friend knows through their postdoc did, etc. Thus, every conversation with a friend or colleague carries the potential to slap your ego around – you learn to dread them, rather than look forward to them.
I don’t know if things are better or worse in other disciplines, or in non-academic fields, but at least in IR there’s some hope for a smoother process. Some anonymous job-seekers have set up the IR Rumor Mill. The Rumor Mill acts as an information aggregator about the job market and fellowship circuit in IR. it models similar websites in Astrophysics and Theoretical Particle Physics. Better late than never, I say.