By Anna Maguire |

I have a guilty habit. As I click through my social media cycle and vow to stop scrolling and start writing/reading/getting a life, there’s something that I always return to: property sites. Not just because I am a millennial with no hope of buying a home, but because I am now on the academic job market as well. And as I motivate myself to persevere with applications selling my research and myself, imagining my life in a new home at a new university or city, can offer an additional incentive.

‘Look, how cheap flats are to rent there!’ I think, as I imagine the disposable income I might have or envision cycling into a leafy campus from a ‘well appointed maisonette’, rather than being cramped on the tube at rush hour. I find myself admiring feature fireplaces, built-in bookshelves or that study space I covet with all my heart. I wonder whether it would be possible to commute for that fixed-term fellowship for a year and if not, how much will it cost me to rent a room in a new city?

This sort of procrastination was fairly harmless when I was writing up my thesis, as I imagined the life not yet lived. It was a way of relieving some of my stress about finishing and what came next. But now I am actively looking for a new post and spending a fair amount of time drafting cover letters and reading job packs, this sort of wishful thinking – matching the jobs available to the life I might live alongside them – is much more dangerous.

I am no longer thinking about jobs and lives as a way of escaping the limbo-like position of ‘not a PhD, not yet an ECA’ (to misquote Britney Spears). These are potential and real possibilities that require me to think about whether to renew the contract on my current flat, start saving for the costs of moving or indeed if I can pay the rent in the interim. The precariousness of the job market is combined with that of the rental market, and the possibility of security in both is tantalising. But these possibilities can become too ‘real’, too soon.

While it is important to get a sense not only of a department and university, but also to think about what the area is like when you’re applying for a job, investing yourself too heavily in one position can set you up for some hefty disappointment. A generic HR rejection email zooming into your inbox can shatter your illusions in a moment. That active imagination that adds so much to your research – your ability to create a sense of scene or place, to draw out complexity in your analysis, to add creative flair to your writing – can exacerbate your disappointment. Because this was not just a job for which someone else was a better fit or an incredibly oversubscribed research post from which you can try and separate from yourself. Instead, it feels (even more) personal.

Having learnt these lessons the hard way, I will proceed with more caution when thinking about the lives that accompany jobs as I apply for them, at least at the initial stages. While fully considering what a job entails in terms of how it could change your life, for the good or the bad, is important, but so is self-preservation. We invest so much of ourselves in the work we do – whether that’s teaching or research – that if we can control some of the emotional energy required for job applications, we should.


Anna Maguire has recently completed her PhD on Colonial Encounters during the First World War at King’s College London and Imperial War Museums. She is currently a researcher and tutor at both King’s and IWM. She is Contributions Editor for Pubs and Publications. You can also find her on Twitter