So far, I've applied for faculty positions without success, but I still hold out hope and relish the possibilities.
Five years ago, halfway through graduate school, I was in a car accident. While I was driving on a country road, the driver of another car fell asleep, starting a chain of events that ended with my being trapped in the wreck of my car, pinned beneath a tractor-trailer and buried chest-deep under tonnes of rock salt. Through the incredible efforts of emergency medical technicians, volunteer firemen and an off-duty policeman, I was pulled out of the wreckage within an hour. I lay in the helicopter, looking up at the sky through the blur of the rotors. I was happy and calm.
Remarkably, I had only a few scrapes and bruises. In the eight hours I stayed in the hospital, as the doctors and nurses X-rayed this and stitched up that, the feeling of calm happiness continued. All of the petty worries of my life — my dissertation, my upcoming trip to Calgary, the course I was teaching — faded into the background. I was just happy to be out of the wrecked car, to be free from pain and, most of all, to be alive.
A year ago, in my first Postdoc Journal entry, I wondered where I would be today. I imagined being on the set of a game show, feeling my heart pounding as I stood in the bright stage lights, frantically trying to decide my future. Now I find myself on stage, the cameras off and the stage littered with rubbish as stagehands take down the set. I have no answers, simply an invitation to come back tomorrow. The initial excitement has worn off, and I am tired and a little let down.
I started the year full of hope, sending off eight faculty applications. In each of these applications, I described how my research fitted with the department of interest and I suggested potential collaborations. As I wrote, I imagined myself as a professor and I became excited. But that excitement slowly faded as the months passed and I heard nothing. Finally, as the rejection letters arrived, so much time had passed that I hardly cared. Rather than finding a direction for my future, in the past year I have learned a great deal about what sort of faculty positions to pursue, how to write a job application and how to conduct myself in an interview. Although this information is surely valuable, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. I started off with such high hopes.
Now I am preparing another set of faculty applications. I am beginning to worry. If I don't get a job this year, how long can I stay in my current position before my funding runs out?
When these feelings of anxiety get overwhelming, I see the pale scars on my hand. I think about that afternoon I spent strapped to a backboard. Although the future of my scientific career sometimes seems to govern my life, thinking about the accident helps me realize that worries about the future are actually quite a luxury.
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Walcott, S. Gaining perspective. Nature 463, 2 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nj7278-4