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Academic Job Search: Rejection pie.

While my application was officially rejected by many fine institutions, it was unofficially rejected by nearly as many.  Forty-five percent of my applications have not been officially rejected more than a year later.  I’ll represent this poor record of conveying information with a poor method for displaying information.  A good old fashioned academic rejection pie chart, made with a bitter blend of two flavors of 100% pure rejection: official and intuited.  Artificially sweetened by expressions of interest.


Maybe some institutions don’t have the tech support to figure out how to send a couple hundred emails.  Maybe HR prohibits communication, or makes it difficult or full of legal pitfalls.  Maybe the search fails and the committee is too busy or exhausted to officially close it.  Maybe there are administrative reasons to technically keep a search open. Interestingly, even a few places that expressed interest never bothered to get back in touch (you’ll notice that thin white sliver of pie).  But although it’s true that I never officially heard back, I did, eventually, get the message.

In some respects, it is pretty amazing that I heard back from more than half of the places I applied.  I suspect that is relic of an earlier era – one where each position didn’t garner hundreds of responses.  My impression is that people in other fields don’t expect to hear from a company that isn’t interested in their application.  Receiving that rejection email  stings, but at over half of the universities honored the time and interest I put into applying and wrote back.  Delicious!



NCOD: Professor Edition

Today I attached an HRC logo my laptop before I lectured.  In honor of National Coming Out Day.  I am out professionally and have been for over a decade, so I was surprised when I felt nervous.  I hesitated.  I’m still finding my place here, teaching evaluations count, and this campus is much more conservative than other places I’ve worked.

I set up my laptop and lectured with the HRC logo peeping out over the podium.  Today’s subject material is some of my favorite to teach and I had a new set of visuals to try out along with a little module at the end that I’ve taught enough times to have honed the comedic timing.  The lecture went well and it was fun to give.  And now, I feel a little like an asshole for hesitating about the sticker, because after class, three students let me know they got the message.

My fears are stupid, but valid and I resent them.  With time, I hope that I’ll feel secure enough to be bolder.


Academic Job Search: More rejection.

When will you feel the worst about yourself?  Probably in March.


While I reached peak rejection rate during an action-packed week in mid-January, there were still plenty of applications out there and I was still applying to new opportunities.  I averaged a rejection every other day for the last half of February and the entire month of March.  Even if you’re successful on the academic job market, that much rejection can get you down.  I’d suggest taking a moment now to think hard about what makes you happy, and then plan some of that into your schedule around that time.  Attend a meeting, go on vacation, visit a collaborator, sign up for that week long intensive course on truffle making, whatever. Plan on having an existential crisis in March and build in reminders that life can be joyful and that you have worth both personally and professionally.

Also, try the following bit of reverse psychology.  Tally up all those rejections and celebrate once you reach particular numbers.  If you do that, you might find yourself perversely excited when yet another university figures out how to do a mail merge and drops that form email in your inbox.

Next: enough rejection to bake a pie!

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.

Academic Job Search: Rejection.

It’s not all unicorns and airplane tickets: Delay from application to rejection.
Range: 6 to infinity days
Average: (of the 55% that responded) 122 (+/- 69) days
Median: (of the 55% that responded) 113 days.


I’ll note that this much rejection stings much less if you have recently earned preferred status on a major airline.  I included rejection dates from places that I interviewed with in this plot if they sent an official notice.  I didn’t record dates for phone rejections or dates for places I rejected. 

In the odd world of the academic job search, the “no news is good news” adage is simply untrue.  You’ll hear good news about your application months before you’ll hear anything bad (p=1.2e-6).

Next: More rejection.

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.

Academic Job Search: It ends as the next season begins.

How long could it possibly take?   Total delay from application to interview:
Range: 26 to 176 days
Average: 66 (+/- 43) days
Median: 49.


Over half of the time, I was home from the interview 7 weeks after the application date, though there was that one interview that happened half a year after the application went in.

How long could it possibly take?  From start of the application season to last interview:
Application range: August to March.
Interview range: November to April


I had gone on half of my campus visits before January.  You may want to compare this figure to the figure of application due dates as you consider your pacing.

The process was both blindly fast and painfully slow and took an entire year.  I submitted my first application of the season on August 31st, finished up my last interview the first week of April and then went through second visits and negotiations.  I started my new position almost exactly a year after I sent in that first application.

All this talk of invitation and interviews is very exciting, but not at all representative of what academics is all about.  In the next post, I’ll look at the epic amount of rejection that this process entails.

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.


Academic Job Search: Be prepared.

How much time do you get to prepare?  The delay between being asked for an interview and the interview date:
Range: 6 to 84 days
Average: 24 (+/- 22) days
Median: 16 days.


You’ll have plenty of time to freak out.  But usually not really enough time to prepare well if you don’t have good starting materials.  Delays that spanned the last two weeks of December are in gray.  Once a committee decided they were interested, they wanted me on campus as soon as possible.  The places with longer delays wanted the interval to be shorter, but earlier dates weren’t possible either due to my schedule or key faculty availability on their end.

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.

Academic Job Search: Your fate is (pretty much) sealed after 6 weeks.

Official interview invitation: The delay between application due date and being asked for an interview (skype/phone (3) or on campus (10), both (1)):
Range: 12 to 124 days
Average: 41 (+/- 31) days
Median: 32 days


By all means, maintain hope, but if you haven’t heard anything six weeks after the application deadline, the search has either failed or you didn’t make the short list.   You can remain optimistic for eight weeks if the six week delay spans the last two weeks of December when many universities are more or less shut down (gray bars).  That 124 day delay is exceptional.

Of my three skype/phone interviews, only one resulted in an on-campus interview.  That invitation came a few hours after the skype call.  Only the delay for the skype interview is included in this histogram.

Next up: How soon will they want to see you?

Sample preparation and data collection in Materials and Methods.