Rejections

originally posted on LabSpaces

I’ve always heard most TT search committees don’t bother contacting applicants with rejections, but that wasn’t my experience last year. I received formal rejection letters, by snail- or e-mail, for approximately 75% of the applications that I sent out last year, and all but two of the remaining jobs informed me of the rejection when I requested an update in August. A few of the committees even updated me on the status of my application as it moved through the screening process. So it seems that, at least in my field, search committees are pretty forthcoming about TT applicant status. Undoubtedly, this is good information to have as I move forward with this year’s search, for better or worse.

Last week, right on time, I received the first rejection letters for my current TT job search. I’ve received three so far, out of about 20 jobs for which I’ve applied. While it’s disheartening to receive these rejections, I know this means that the search committees are meeting and triaging, and there’s a chance that at least some of the committees have moved my application forward through this first screening. Additionally, the current rejection letters seem to be distinct from last year’s, which were mostly vague, only stating that they had decided not to continue to pursue me as a candidate/applicant. This year, the rejection letters are providing a much more detailed account of the search – how many applications were received, how many were selected for further review, etc – as well as a statement of how impressive my application was. I’m not sure what this means. Is my application really that much more impressive this year? Or do the current search committees/chairs just want to make all their applicants “feel good” about their rejection? Did everyone receive this same “feel-good” letter? Or did the committee send out a letter that says “Sorry, but you suck” to those who were in no way competitive for the position?

The TT search remains a black box. Sure, I have networking connections that can give me clues as to how my application fared, but I’ll never know the whole story. This is probably what makes the whole process so frustrating. I have no idea what the committees are looking for – sometimes they don’t even know. All I can do is make my application as convincing as possible – examine the ad and departmental website thoroughly, talk to people familiar with the department about unspoken aspects of the search, address what they seem to care about most in my cover letter, make my CV and research (and teaching*) statement(s) as strong as possible, and cross my fingers as I send my packet out into cyberspace. It’s a total crapshoot, but the only way to get into the game.

*Teaching statements are suddenly becoming a more common requirement this year, at least according to mine and others’ experience (total anecdata of course). Still, only about half the jobs to which I applied requested a teaching statement in addition to the research summary.

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