#Dispatches: COVID Career Impacts, 3 – Emotional Impacts

In our Dispatches series, we crowdsource responses to questions we see about the academic job market and career.

Two weeks ago we posted the question: How has COVID19 impacted your career planning? We got 70+ responses in the first 24 hours! In total we now have 90+ responses, far exceeding any previous questions. Week One theme was “Leaving the Academy. Week Two theme was “Job Security and Planning” This week we go into Emotional Impacts. There are so many responses that I am not going to try and weave them into a narrative with my own comments, as has been my practice. Just sharing.

These are of course loose categories with LOTS of overlap.

You can keep contributing responses. See the link below. And, for now, I’m retaining the Questions that individuals contributed after their substantive responses, so you can also see the linkage between them.

And one explanatory note: We ask respondents to provide any personal identifying information in their own words that THEY consider pertinent to contextualize their responses. Some of them go to …. interesting places. We only lightly edit them, and I think it’s worth contemplating what people feel is important to share about their identities.

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Emotional Impacts

Response: I’m absolutely terrified about the future. I have not completed anywhere near as much of my benchwork as I needed to for writing my thesis, and even at home with a paper manuscript to write, I haven’t been able to get anything done. I’m supposed to be moving in the fall to start my PhD at an R1 institution with a prestigious government-issued fellowship. I am worried about my funding falling through with the economic crisis sure to come (already coming?), and I’m also very worried about finding a safe place to live for me and my partner when we have to move during a pandemic. Not only that but even if my partner and I survive the next few years, I don’t know what to expect afterward. The job market in academia is already so volatile, and now that hiring freezes and funding cuts seem to be happening across the country, I can’t imagine it will recover in a few years’ time. I’m worried I’ll never be able to secure a PDF after my PhD if I even make it that far. Particularly not sure how I’ll explain a drop in productivity for (likely) the next year to potential research groups without disclosing far too much personal information about myself and my spouse… It’s a whole mess. Long story short, I’m not even sure how to begin to plan around this, but it’s truly destabilized my immediate and future plans in a way no other hurdle has thus far. [Grad student, STEM, 23-year-old white transgender man in the last term of a thesis based Masters in Chemical Engineering. Married to a WOC with severe immunodeficiency]

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Response: My NTT colleagues are terrified. Many of them assume they will lose their positions. The large research institution where we work has given no indication that it will provide any kind of security for contingent faculty. As a 20-year NTT employee in a department with few TT faculty, I have some seniority and a leadership role that *may* mean my position continues, but I honestly have no idea what the coming academic year will bring.

Question: What will tenured and tenure-track faculty do to rally support for NTT faculty and grad students? [NTT, Humanities, White, cisgender female, bisexual, partnered, age 50. MFA, 20 years in one NTT position]

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Response: I can’t move anymore. I moved transatlantic – itself totally traumatic – for a postdoc and *this happened*. I can’t imagine moving transatlantic again. Even though “good short term” option in my sub-field are still appearing in the US, I can’t muster enough confidence in my ability to MOVE to apply well or at all. My funding runs out in September but I figured out I can live till December on my income from this AY without touching my savings. So basically, my career plan is … give up any ambition that would require me to move back to the US. Stay in my safe apartment trying to find any remote work at all. Maybe try to get back to my home country where I can stay with a friend and continue looking for any meaningful work that allows me to stay still in one place. [Post doc, Humanities, white, queer, single, migration = European (not Italian) with US PhD now living in Italy (which was a totally unknown country to me)]

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Response: I am supposed to write my dissertation and submit by the end of summer 2020, and 1/3 of it is done so far. I am also supposed to be looking for a post-doc position but have been unable to do any of these two tasks. The uncertainty of the academic job market’s future has destroyed all my motivation. So I have suspended everything and I am progressing with writing very slowly. I worked for 4.5 years on this project and finishing seems so impossible right now.

Question: If you are in a similar situation as I am (writing up a PhD dissertation and having lost all motivation to do so because of the crisis), have you found any useful methods and tricks to ward off depression and this motivation-less state? Do you have any advice on how to get out if this?[Grad Student, Cognitive Science, I am a 32 years old female from a European country, writing up my PhD dissertation in cognitive science at a US-accredited university. I am unmarried but in a long term relationship with a person who works in the same field (and who recently defended their PhD, too).]

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Response: My career planning has been heavily impacted by COVID. I am taking a leave of absence from my grad program to take care of my baby and to move because my husband is starting seminary. As such, I needed to find a full-time job to support my family, and I wanted to find a job at a university. But now I’m worried that I won’t be able to find any job at all and my husband and I don’t know why we’re going to do. [Grad Student, Humanities, I am a married white female in my mid-twenties, and I am currently 34 weeks pregnant with my first child]

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Response: Few jobs are out. I’ve had 3 interviews and 1 virtual campus visit, which was 3 weeks ago and no updates yet. I’m not even sure if I should ask for an update. I’ve been building my CV, getting experience that would be most important for an academic job (assistant professor). Of course I could apply for industry jobs, and I have. I was contacted by a couple to schedule an interview. But then the COVID outbreak happened right during that time and I ended up not getting an interview. Am not able to celebrate finishing my phd the way I should with everything that’s been going on. Haven’t been able to focus and work on publications. So I just feel lost. [Grad Student, Humanities, 32, Asian, female, heterosexual, married, graduating with a phd in May 2020]

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Response: I feel completely trapped. I work in academic affairs in a community college (admin-staff) and was getting a PhD to go TT – that’s clearly not going to happen. But I also feel it is nowhere for me to go in any direction in Higher Ed right now. I can’t even use my doctoral degree for advancement in my current admin-staff space. There are hiring freezes (which WILL result in these positions never coming back – I’ve seen this before and now it’s on an even greater scale). I’m completely defeated. I have nowhere to begin to look for other alternatives. All I’ve known is higher ed (I’ve been working in colleges and universities since 2007). Also, the structural gendered inequalities in cis-gendered, heterosexual marriages have put the burden on ME doing 80-90% of the childcare and household management functions so I’ve found it next to impossible to be any broad definition of ‘productive’. All of the publishing projects and dissertation writing have been put on hold. I’m doing the BARE MINIMUM in my day job to not get fired (basically responding to only urgent emails and zoom meetings). [Grad Student, Social Sciences, White, female, mother, married (to a man), working FT while getting a PhD, ABD]

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Response: I am in the midst of a difficult divorce. And a parent was diagnosed with cancer recently. I feel like this pandemic arrived at the worst time (emotionally and psychologically) even though I recently got good news (successful federal postdoc application). I’ve been struggling to make progress with my writing even though I should have all the time in the world (according to my family). I met with my postdoc advisor and we made plans for me to start my position later than anticipated. All the conferences I was to attend have been deferred for a year, so my next project is on pause. I’m financially strapped because there are fewer teaching and research opportunities available and my savings are depleted. Due to my focus on writing and the support of scholarships I don’t qualify for COVID-19 funding assistance.

Question: What additional support might be offered to graduate students during these challenging times? Is there enough mental health and financial support available for grad students to achieve their goals? [Grad Student, Humanities, I’m a late-stage queer femme PhD student (last stretch of the dissertation) with a postdoc position awaiting me]

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Response: I signed a job offer for a new NTT job in a professional/healthcare field in early March (I realize I’m one of the lucky ones). The day after I signed, I started hearing about hiring freezes and rescinded job offers, and I’ve been a ball of anxiety ever since. I checked with the department about whether my job is ‘safe,’ and received written confirmation that because I signed my offer right before the freeze started, they will not rescind it. But the constant news about the job market is making it difficult to trust even that. I procrastinated about giving notice at my current job and putting my home on the market because I’m so nervous that I’ll be left jobless and without a place to live. But now my home sold and I gave notice, so there’s no turning back. In the short term, I’m going to just go ahead and move across the country, and in the worst-case scenario that I still lose the job, I could do clinical work, giving up on academia for now (even though I’m almost finished with my research doctorate). I realize how lucky I am both because I signed an offer on time and because I have a fallback career. I don’t understand why I’m still so anxious though. [NTT, Professional, 37 y.o. single woman, no kids]

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Response: My partner (tenure track) and I (non-tenure track) were on the job market but several searches were canceled due to the coronavirus uncertainty. We were hopeful this would be the year we escape our current positions. We wanted to find positions together where we could have it all – both of us having fulfilling careers. So far, everything we have done has to lead to one of us being under-employed and we haven’t found a good solution despite many years (six!) of trying. However, in light of the circumstances, we are grateful to both have employment. [NTT, Social Sciences, 37-year-old white, married female who took partner’s last name (I think the last name thing is important because women are judged regardless of their choice on the name)]

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Response: Can’t find time or headspace to write. [Assistant Professor, Social Sciences, 39-year white old female. Married with 5 children]

Question: How to handle isolation in rural places far from family and friends during this time. Normally, I leave for the entire summer. [Assistant Professor, Humanities, Single woman, 36]

Response: I am in a job that I absolutely hate. I took it knowing I wasn’t going to like it but figured I could do it for 3 years and get vested in my retirement account before moving to another state system. I made it two months before aggressive job searching because of how incredibly insane and backward it is here. I have no friends at work or in my personal life here in this small (~2,000 people) town. I can’t relate to any of my peers. I have been covering student activities, reslife, conduct, title ix, student orgs, Greek life, RHA, and have chaired committees and searches and have run myself ragged even trying to do the minimum for each of the aspects of the TWO positions I’m covering. My supervisor has never worked in student affairs prior to starting here a month before I started last summer. At the time the virus broke out, I had applied to several mid-level positions all over the country. All of those searches have been postponed or canceled. I am stuck here. I really should be grateful I’m even employed (for now), but my mental health is at the worst low it’s ever been at and now because of this virus, I am going to be stuck here until the job market straightens out, if it ever does. [Administrator, Professional, White cisgender gay American-born man, single, 32, master’s level professional with 7.5 years of professional FT experience in higher ed plus 2.5 years of graduate-level experience]

Thanks to all our respondents. Find the latest question HERE.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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