If you follow me on Twitter, you have likely noticed the uptick in Tweets complaining about my job search over the past few months – most likely before either unfollowing or muting me (and frankly, I can’t blame you!).
With my current contract ending in a few months and lacking the legal entitlement to any form of unemployment or financial aid due to my migrant status, avoiding gaps in employment is pretty important for me, so this has already been an anxiety-inducing situation. What has amplified matters even more so has been the fact that this is my first proper job search since graduating with my PhD – in a weird way, it really felt as though I had something to prove?
And perhaps that’s one of the many reasons why this has been a demoralising, miserable experience – my mindset heading into this job search has arguably set me up for failure, especially when I do know, deep down, that having a difficult time finding a job post-PhD isn’t an uncommon experience, particularly in a field like archaeology.
I really wanted to reflect upon this a bit in a blog post, not only to help myself navigate these feelings but also in the hopes that it’s useful for anyone else in a similar position. So, I want to take a look at what I’ve now identified as the three major feelings I’ve had lately: entitlement, bitterness, and grief.
It’s important for me to start off with the feeling that has arguably brought out a rather ugly side of me that I really need to work on. It’s difficult to admit, but part of me absolutely bought into the false premise that being a PhD was the key to career success. And, to be fair to myself, this propaganda has been strong throughout my life – my father, whose own academia career suffered after dropping out of his PhD programme to care for his ailing father, had always instilled this notion in me that no one would take me seriously without a doctorate. Similarly, I spent most of my undergraduate degree being told that there was no real way to have a career in archaeology without a postgraduate degree – something I obviously took to heart as I barrelled through without any breaks from my undergraduate to my doctorate.
So yes, it’s unsurprising in that light to observe an undeserved level of entitlement in feeling as though I am guaranteed a job simply due to a piece of paper! And again, I know from friends and colleagues that the job market is difficult and that many (all of whom are much more talented and smarter than I am, by the way!) have often gone through hundreds of rejections before landing a poison – why would I be any more special to warrant an immediate job?
I should note here that I have actually been applying to a wide variety of jobs, not only in archaeology or heritage sectors, but more broadly in research and EDI professions. And the only places I’ve actually been shortlisted for jobs has been in these latter professions – I’ve never been remotely close, it seems, for any archaeology job.
This constant failure to even get to the interview stage of any archaeology or heritage job has also brought up another unpleasant emotion that I need to work on – bitterness. In some ways, I guess it’s the reaction to not achieving what you feel entitled to, and it’s arguably not particularly deserved here. Not only because I have never been entitled to a job to begin with, but also because it ignores the real limitations of my skills and expertise – there are real reasons as to why I’m not getting the jobs I’d like to get, and I need to be better at identifying those reasons and working to build those missing or lacking skills and experiences.
That being said, there is a component of bitterness that perhaps isn’t entirely unwarranted here – as many know, I have previously spoken out about the lack of diversity in British archaeology. There is a bitter irony, in that case, that while I have several papers in review discussing the structural obstacles to a more diverse and inclusive archaeology sector, I’m most likely facing a future outside of the field anyway.
And I think this is when real feelings of grief start to sink in – with the context of how non-diverse the field is, it’s devastating to realise that I may in fact be another statistic falling by the wayside, that my inability to remain in the field is ultimately a “win” for the field to remain as staunchly white, cis-het, able-bodied male as it’s always been.
And, in turn, that becomes feelings of failure as well. I so desperately wanted to remain in the field as a stubborn obstacle against the continuation of a non-diverse, colonial endeavour and actually fight for change. But as I continue to get rejections from archaeology positions across the sector, it feels like I’ve failed – as an archaeologist, as a person who wanted to see the sector change, as someone who did three different degrees to gain expertise…I have failed to prove my worth to the field and now I’m no longer in it.
I feel as though I’ve wasted the past decade of my life – because how can you spend so long studying in a field only to not even seem employable? I feel as though I’ve wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans on degrees that will never see use. And perhaps the most painful failure of all? I’ve become a sort of hypocrite, writing constantly about ways to change the field when I’m not even in the field myself. I’ve ended up in such a depressive episode that it’s been hard to find the motivation to continue to try, which exacerbates the problem as well.
I wish I had a happier way to end this blog post, but here’s the truth: I’ve applied to nearly 100 jobs in the last five months, a mixture of archaeology, heritage, and other research jobs. Of these, I have had 7 invitations to interview – none of them archaeology or heritage jobs. Indeed, all of those jobs have been outright rejections so far. I’m resigned at this point to spending the next few years in non-archaeology or heritage roles, and with every new rejection, I inch even closer towards completely leaving the field altogether.
I wanted archaeology to be my whole life, but now it’s likely to become more of a hobby. And while I am happy to try and remain in the field as best as I can, I’m also preparing for a future where I’m just not able to. And it breaks my heart.
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