Keeping My Head Above the Water

Dr Sertaç Sehlikoğlu
4 min readMar 4, 2021


Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

When I was applying to the ERC fund, I was approaching the end of my research fellowship. Research fellowships are temporary research jobs, often underpaid, yet are designed to provide you with the space to advance your academic prospects. When these fellowships were first designed, the academic world was much less competitive. Back then, it was not as difficult as it is today to secure a permanent position at an academic institution — and especially not after completing a research fellowship. Yet, the conditions today have tremendously changed. PhDs feel lucky to have found a temporary position, and even those positions receive hundreds of applications. Receiving one is a matter of luck, considering how there are sometimes over a dozen of excellent candidates in such pools. There cannot be one perfect candidate. The person chosen amongst the excellent ones is the luckiest of multiple perfects.

That was something I felt a need to remind every now and then, hoping that it will help people with close ties to the strongest seniors at the university to question their privileges. That, they are not the best candidate in the pool. It is important to understand this, also to have us ready for future disappointments.

Where was I? Yes, the application year. That year was when there were a number of anthropology jobs opened up and I had applied to some of them -and got shortlisted too. Yet, the already limited number of available jobs, as I have been observing, were not filled by any native scholars nor with women of colours. On a rare occasion when a woman of colour was hired, I had also observed, was when the candidate was already employed in a tenure-track position elsewhere. Having a secured job boosts one’s confidence and definitely helps with the anxiety issues a candidate would otherwise have to deal with in an interview setting. I was genuinely happy for each and every one of the candidates [it also means having colleagues I can collaborate with]. The problem in hiring processes however was quite telling as well. That, I should find ways to extend my research involvement as the job market was not offering a very promising future.

That same year, I also thought about how it would be challenging to notice (and address) the problems in the job market if you are not critical to the system; if somehow you have fallen to the right side of the system — so far. Being a woman of colour often helps to keep the critical gaze on. It would be too easy to be disillusioned into thinking that it wouldn’t be difficult to find a job after a good publication track and good degrees, something that is not necessarily true. It is essential to be able to understand the workings of an abusive system, that it is built on taking advantage of the weakest, the most vulnerable, and the most precarious. One important principle in doing that is to be able to see that those who share their suffering are not failures. It is the system that fails terrific young talents. If you can think this way, you can stop being disillusioned into assuming that you won’t be like them. You can be like them.

An ability to address a systemic problem requires an ability to see beyond the individuals. If you think a certain person of colour is hired as a diversity token, then you are not aware that everyone else at the very same department were hired because they are white. In other words, you are failing to see the systemic problem.

The systemic problem was going to fail me, have me suffered, and that I wouldn't be able to communicate this issue. I have then decided to apply for multiple funds and grants. Statistically, receiving a grant was more likely than securing a job. Moreover, the grant review processes were more colour-blind than the job hiring processes. The success rate in ERC Starting Grant is around 13 %. That is much higher than the success rates of any temporary or permanent jobs and of postdoctoral research positions. It does come with a very heavy admin load yet most of us (precariat academics) are quite okay with heavy admin work.

As I plan to write further on the topic, I will elaborate more on how it is extremely crucial to be able to budget your energy if you decide to hop into this route.

— Hope to continue soon.



Dr Sertaç Sehlikoğlu

Social Anthropologist, University College London. Tr: Ortadoğu, arzu, öznelik ve mahremiyet konularında iki kitabı ve onlarca makalesi bulunmaktadır