A year on the International Relations academic job market
Updated: Aug 15, 2021
I got the email inviting me to interview at Queen's University Belfast in May about half way through my three month stay in London. The first thought I had was 'I'm not sure I can take another rejection so soon'. Since going on the job market in October I was invited to a total of three interviews which then lead to three rejections (two at a place where I was currently a Visiting Fellow!) and the gauge on my tank of courage was teetering near E.
But the timing for the interview invite was remarkable. For the first time in my life I was going to be in Ireland in June visiting for a conference. My interview in Belfast would be two hours away from the conference during the exact same week. I opted to see it as a sign.
Sticking the Landing
I finished my research agenda presentation feeling confident. During this first part of the interview I shared my research about how it matters to think about queer lives in peace and conflict studies greeted with nods of support along with curious questions from students.
Afterwards I went for a walk before the second portion of the interview and stood in the rose garden, grounding myself in the day. I was buoyed by words of support from feminists friends and family who assured me I was right where I was supposed to be.
A few hours later I returned for the second part of the interview where I made a case for myself as a member of the Queen's University Belfast research community in 7 minutes. With those interview minutes I imagined queerly how the university would be different after my contributions, where I would go with my research, how I could contribute to not only the campus community but also International Relations as a whole. I showed up to my interview as the most confident queer feminist killjoy I could imagine myself to be.
The nitty gritty
As you have gathered from the title of this post, I was invited to the job (the next day!), which I then began in September. Incredible, exciting, validating, exhausting! #HiredAndTired
While I was in the middle of negotiating details about the job, I took the time to crunch the numbers for my job search. I applied to International Relations jobs in the US and UK quite broadly, with about five of them being specifically about gender and international relations. Below is the breakdown of the jobs I applied for prior to my June 2019 interview:
I found most of the jobs I applied for posted on the International Studies Association job board, but I also looked at the American Political Science Association job board, HigherEdJobs.com and relied most heavily on jobs.ac.uk.
I asked for help with my cover letter and CV. I asked to see a few samples of job application materials from people I know who were hired within the past two years in Political Science and International Relations. I read the The Professor Is In. I revised, revised, and revised. At a certain point I then revised my materials all over again having forgotten who I was after reading myself through so many other people's applications. For some of the applications I made sample syllabi. (Here's hoping I teach that 'International LGBTQ Politics' course someday!) I wrote one UK module but fortunately that labor was not requested until I was actually invited to interview.
I got rejected when I asked someone to write me a letter of recommendation. That rejection was one of the things my partner comforted me over that brought me to tears on the job market. There were definitely others.
Shortly after my first invitation to interview I recorded myself practicing my job talk to get feedback which was absolutely mortifying. I decided to be humble rather than humiliated which was actually not terribly hard considering we made those video recordings in different public libraries around Providence. I am forever grateful to you Matthew Clowney - an actual professional who took the time to do this with me last November. You can see his fantastic photography at his website here, which fortunately does not include a link to my job talk.
As life would have it my first academic interview was in late November on the one year anniversary of my dad's death. It was an interview at an R1 institution for a permanent job. My flight was delayed so I missed the dinner and didn't make it to my hotel until nearly midnight. Day two's itinerary included 11 meetings, a lunch with grad students and a 40 minute job talk. To make it through this day I carried around affirmations my partner wrote for me. I got a form rejection two months later.
Fast forward what felt like several academic life cycles later, I presented at the British International Studies Association Conference in London the week before my interview in June. At the conference I gained words of support from feminist academics including Toni Haastrup who was immensely helpful in guiding me through the UK job interview process. Interviewing in the UK is also a very different experience (see: REF) than what I'd prepared for with US interviews so I got a helpful crash course from some of these folks about what to expect.
Turns out I got the last job I interviewed for this year.
To market to market
We are not our jobs but the job market totally consumed me. My rejections shaped who I was when I walked on to campus for my interview in June. If you've made it far enough to be rejected for an academic job, you probably have some things you need to process. In my experience it matters to talk to people while you are out there, and by people I mean feminists. Find your feminists to talk to as you wade through the interview morass.
In order to keep showing up for the job market I had to continually imagine myself, make a case for myself, present myself as a person with a future in academia. That is hard. The academic job market is broken, do not let it break you.