Tuesday, 27 February 2018

How heartbreak took me to Italy (Nicholas Anthony)

Taking a selfie in Genoa, as you do.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas Anthony.
It seems like only yesterday that I was talking about my great experience using Career Ready in a blog post I cunningly called “How I became Career Ready”.

I ended that post with a throw-away line about getting a job.

What I didn’t say was, even with Career Ready, getting a job isn’t that straightforward.

So, let me tell you a bit about my experience.

I left my Career Ready appointment with two things. The first was a list of things to fix in my CV and cover letter, and the second was the confidence to apply for two jobs I desperately wanted.

To me, these jobs were perfect; they were at a well-known research institute, used the skills I’d developed in my PhD, and matched my interests perfectly.

So, not wanting to waste the motivation, I sat down that afternoon, did my edits, and enthusiastically sent off my applications, dreaming of the job that would soon be mine.
Life rarely works that way, right?

I proceeded to never hear from the company past the “we have received your application and will let you know of the outcome” email. This hurt. I had put so much into the applications. I'd finessed every word, sent it to colleagues to make sure I answered things properly, got my mother to read over them to make sure there were no spelling mistakes. To not even receive a rejection…that stung.

So, I did what is ‘healthy’ after a failed romance (or job application). I complained about the betrayal to friends, and was determined to seek solace in getting a job that would make that place sorry they didn’t hire me! Take that, nameless organisation!

I may be exaggerating a bit here, but rejection is hard.

I'm sorry to have to say this but searching for a job has a lot of rejection. This was not the first, or the last, rejection I got in my job search. Some rejections were warranted, such as when I applied for a medical researcher position with literally zero experience. Others, like this one, left me feeling lost and undesirable. I mean, I had the experience, why did they not even treat me like a human and let me know they didn’t want me?

Luckily for me, I’m stubborn and enjoy procrastination. So, when thesis writing got to be too much, I’d go back for more punishment. I'd search the likes of Seek, ResearchGate or LinkedIn, looking for a job, dreaming of my thesis-free life.

Slowly, and with a pinch of desperation, I expanded my searches beyond what I thought I wanted. That’s when a job popped up for an Italian research institute. It sounded interesting enough.

I had my application process down to a fine art by this stage. I looked up the institute to check if it was legit, read about the lab head and a few of their key collaborators, and checked out their recent publication history. It seemed like a good gig, so I applied for the job.

Next thing I knew, I got an email inviting me to interview with a handful of other people. After the initial joy, our friend Imposter Syndrome set in. A quick stalk of the others in the list showed people who I believed were far more qualified than me. I felt truly out of my depth. However, even though I had convinced myself I’d never get the job, I interviewed anyway. What harm is there in getting a bit more experience?

I did more research, interviewed, and it went passingly well. I was told I’d hear by Friday. By Sunday, I still had not heard anything. I had resigned myself to not getting it.

Come Monday, I got an email inviting me to a second interview. Strangely, my first reaction was annoyance. I thought to myself, "Why were they wasting my time when they were clearly going to hire someone else?!"

Regardless, I did the second interview in which I was told, again, I’d hear back by Friday. Wednesday came around and, as I was frantically trying to print my thesis for my supervisor to take on a plane in 2 hours’ time, I received an email offering me the job.


Many thoughts went through my head and, needless to say, I was 5 minutes past the deadline for giving my supervisor a copy of my thesis. What followed was a whirlwind of processing just what had happened. I hadn’t told anyone I had applied or interviewed, and here I was with an offer to move to Italy. This made for some interesting conversations.

The crew at the Italian Institute of Technology, Genova, Italy, with special astronaut guest Samantha Cristoforetti (centre, in striped shirt) | Photo courtesy of Nicholas Anthony.
After all the angst, self-doubt, a mountain of applications, and more than a few rejections, I had a job offer.

I’ll skip the boring stuff that follows accepting a job overseas; the plethora of documents I had to sign, the farewells, and the waiting for the other shoe to drop, and skip to now...

I started my job 2 months ago. In that time, I've started to settle into a life on the other side of the world. I have met some great people, spearheaded my own research project, and am slowly realising that this is real and not some prank.

You may not get the first, fifth, or even tenth job you apply for. All those unsuccessful applications helped me tune my skills. More importantly, they helped me realise what I did and didn’t want out of a job. Those dream jobs now look a whole lot less tempting.

For me, and for most people, getting a job is not smooth sailing. However, I promise you, the first bite of pizza (figurative and literal) is well worth the hassle.


Nicholas Anthony is a postdoc in the Department of Nanophysics at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genova, Italy.

His research is in label free imaging of biophysical processes working within the Nikon imaging centre based at the Institute.

Prior to taking up his postdoc, Nick submitted his PhD at La Trobe University.

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