I managed to get a tenure-track academic job in the last month. While I'm thrilled and relieved to have secured employment, I feel somewhat guilty about it. The current employment situation is dire, due to the Covid-19 pandemic (it wasn't great before...). Many of my friends and colleagues are extremely worried about their career prospects, facing unemployment, or being forced to leave academia. I don't think I'm necessarily more deserving of a job than any of them. I can see that my experience fits well with the department I was hired by and was fortunate that they were pressing ahead with hiring.

Perhaps calling it "survivor's guilt" is too extreme. I certainly don't intend to minimise the experience of those suffering due to much more severe circumstances. But I don't think Impostor Syndrome quite describes it. I suspect this feeling may be common in academia, in particular at the moment.

How can I support my struggling colleagues/friends and mentally handle the guilt that comes with surviving in academia (at least so far!) when so many others are facing an unprecedented crisis?

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    Be sure to distinguish between empathy for the misfortune of others and guilt for your own good fortune. The former is good and appropriate; the latter is self-destructive and inappropriate. Limit guilt to times when you have done something wrong. Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 15:34
  • I wouldn't feel bad that much tbh. Academia is not the end goal and pinnacle of success and impact, at least in this day and age. Smart and deserving people will find their path in one way or another and will reach their potentials eventually. Don't worry about them.
    – user35129
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 19:25

2 Answers 2


Congrats on your new job! One way you might be able to turn these feelings into something positive is to use whatever influence your position affords to help the students or non-tenure track faculty in your department. You can't fix the limited availability of positions, or competition for them, but maybe you can play a role in making your department as supportive as possible for those experiencing stress from this situation.

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    Give to your students the idea that doing a phd (and an academic career) should be fun and not the only thing in life. They should always have hobbies, friends etc. and keep their eyes open for non-academic jobs (do not tell them (as many profs do) that all but academic is "evil"). People who have other things in life (friends etc., non-academic opportunities) will less likely burn out. After all, you cannot predict that somebody will succeed in academia anyway, too much luck..
    – user111388
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 18:00

One way to deal with it is to turn it to work. If you feel you do not deserve to be there, or are not more deserving than others, prove yourself wrong and start working on a high quality paper, prepare a great course for next year or be engaged in something new.

If you come across even the slightest opportunity of employment pass it on, even if it along the lines of hourly paid marking. Since you are an insider and they are outsiders, try to get them back in, sustain their network and pass their names around just in case (both inside and outside academia, if possible). Also keep in mind that someone's perspective might be skewed when it comes to decisions (e.g applying for a semi-to-non-relevant position or taking a leap of faith), so the advice and support you would normally provide as friend might need to be a bit different.

It is unfortunately an awkward situation among one's social circle, but just showing you still care with actions, no matter how small, can go a long way.

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