By the middle of January, I had applied to 18 jobs, with "review of application begins" ranging from October 15th to January 15th. I tried to keep a positive outlook, telling myself that fully half of those applications were too early in the review process for me to even guess what I would hear, but the first five responses were far from encouraging.
The first response was neutral, but still discouraging: Search canceled because funding not approved. I didn't really need any reminder that I was on the wrong end of the supply and demand equation, competing with any number of newly minted PhDs for a very limited number of jobs.
Three other responses came in purely negative: Position has been filled. One of these letters declared that over 100 applications had been received, so I knew that my calculations of the odds had been correct, that for any application I submitted I had at best at 5% chance of getting an interview and only a 1% chance of getting the job. Still, I was starting to wonder if there was something wrong with my application, that I would never make it to the top of anyone's list.
The fifth response was incredibly obscure; I couldn't decide how to interpret it. The search committee had reviewed the applications, and had decided to cancel that search and re-open it later with a modified position announcement - but the applicants were invited to respond to the new announcement. I wasn't sure how to take this. Why would I bother applying a second time when my first application apparently didn't meet their intended requirements? It was just strange.
The combination of these negative responses and the stress of my dissertation research led to a very negative outlook on the future. No matter how many times I tried to tell myself to give it another month, to give the various search committees more time to review the applications and make their initial decisions, I felt that I was not going to get a job an was not even going to graduate. It was, to say the least, a depressing start to the new year.
So when I checked my email one Friday in mid-January and saw an email referencing one of my applications, I felt not the least expectation. There was no ceremony or expectation to opening it, merely some straightforward business-as-usual in stepping through every email. And I was almost awestruck to read that the faculty was "most impressed" with my application and wanted me to come onto campus for an interview.
I was even fortunate enough to discover this email at a small local conference, that my advisor had returned from sabbatical to attend; any other day I would have to email her the news, but this one day I was able to speed-walk across the conference room to share the excitement in person. The thrill would last throughout the weekend, although after those first five minutes it was touched by a hint of stress: They wanted me to interview person, halfway across the country, within the next ten days. After three months of interminable waiting, feeling that the search committees were dragging their heels, the pace sped up exponentially.