Long story short, in September 2021, I was hired as an associate lecturer at a British university. I was headhunted for the position. Since I was about to finish my PhD and I needed some experience, I decided to put myself forward.

I covered for a colleague who was on research leave. I became the interim coordinator of the MA programme and took responsibility for all the teaching, MA supervision, and administrative work.

The Department repeatedly asked me for many favours (covering for colleagues on sick leave, taking on marking, etc.), usually at very short notice. I accepted, even at the expense of my mental health. I delivered. The students were very happy with my performance and both the head of the department and my colleague were complimentary to me.

So, in November 2022, the department decides to advertise a permanent position. My only colleague strongly encouraged me to apply. It was basically to do the same job I had been doing but permanently. I listened to my colleague and went for it.

A few weeks later, I was invited to interview. Both my colleague and the head of the department were in the panel. I attended the interview and answered all their questions. They said they were really impressed. However, after days of silence and deliberation, they decided to offer the job to someone else.

My colleague got in touch with me shortly afterwards to give me 'a massive thank you' and told me that the decision they had to make was very difficult. Apparently, I was a very close 'second'. I now feel upset and disappointed. I kept the programme running when no one else was available.

I've applied for jobs in the past. Sometimes, I made it to the interview stage. I've dealt with rejection before (it's part of the process), but the feeling here is quite different. I feel I've been let down. Am I being unreasonable?

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    I’m voting to close this question because this feels more like a rant than a question.
    – Sursula
    Dec 16, 2022 at 12:02
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    "The Department repeatedly asked me for many favours (covering for colleagues on sick leave, taking on marking, etc), usually at very short notice. I accepted, even at the expense of my mental health. I delivered. " I am sick of hearing these stories of hardworking people. Hard working is the other side of exploitation. The head of dept can be the nicest person on the Earth, but it remains exploitation.
    – EarlGrey
    Dec 16, 2022 at 12:18
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    What would an answer be? You are upset. Maybe (probably) for good reasons maybe not: we don't know. Dec 16, 2022 at 13:01
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    I don't think this is a rant. It is quite concise actually, and ends with sensible questions.
    – Oliver882
    Dec 16, 2022 at 15:05
  • @Angus: Could you please elaborate on the nature of the "headhunting" process ?
    – Trunk
    Dec 19, 2022 at 13:20

4 Answers 4


You needed experience, you got experience. Sounds like a successful venture to me. You should probably make sure that experience is well represented in your application portfolio, hammering it home by lining up solid recommendations, and then continue applying for jobs.

Be wary of letting your disappointment trick you into burning your bridges.

  • OP is unlikely to trust that department's emissaries again (would you ?) so bridge-burning is inevitable. The rest I agree with.
    – Trunk
    Dec 16, 2022 at 20:50
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    @Trunk -- why wouldn't he trust the department?? He competed for a job and lost. He needs the goodwill of that department for a recommendation. Screwing up that rec, which should have some really nice things in it, like "this junior faculty member had and met substantial responsibilities, such as the acting directorship of our MA program". The original poster's job search will be better for having that strong rec. If he feels like he needs to hate the department for the rest of his life, so be it, but that feeling should be kept close to the chest so as to avoid burning bridges. Dec 16, 2022 at 21:22
  • The reference is a given I think - if only to soften his fall to earth. I don't see OP applying or being headhunted by that department again. Emotional betrayal has consequences.
    – Trunk
    Dec 16, 2022 at 23:15
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    Trust me, the tone and level of enthusiasm of the letter is not a given. Dec 16, 2022 at 23:17
  • Then he may get his white collar union to make it so. And they do in the UK.
    – Trunk
    Dec 16, 2022 at 23:42

This is quite common for UK Universities. They are under-resourced and run off staff goodwill. Covering for each other is a good strategy for established staff, but early career academics on precarious posts often find this exchange a little bit one-sided. You are right to feel let down. Many of your colleagues feel or felt the same at some point.

I am sorry you find yourself in this place. You are not alone.


You were hired in an interim basis to fulfil a job and you were paid to deliver. From the description you delivered well and even exceeded the job expectations. It is difficult to judge what is right or wrong about 'asked favours'. I would say it is inappropriate to expect that favours will ensure you getting a position that was transparently advertised and, hopefully, transparently granted.

How can you deal with it?

  1. Make sure you get a comprehensive letter of recommendation that includes all your work delivered and even highlights the extra work you have done.

  2. Remain on good terms with your superiors, finish your work professionally and let them know that you might provide their contact details as references for future job applications.

  3. If you do not want to 'feel' exploited, set the boundaries of your job and please, do not compromise your mental health ever. Instead, identify tools to better deal with such situations. Whatever you can learn from your current employment will enrich your experience and prepare you better for future situations.

  4. If you deliver 'extra' work, you might be entitled to ask for additional benefits such as a training course, etc. leading to a win-win situation.

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    Are you familiar with UK academia? The answer seems to be written from US perspective. Dec 16, 2022 at 15:02
  • I don’t think the hiring was on an interim basis. I think they took on secondary duties on an interim basis.
    – Dawn
    Dec 16, 2022 at 17:01
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    I would edit some of this. But the boundary setting is good advice.
    – Dawn
    Dec 16, 2022 at 17:02
  • Yes. The reference obtained from that employer must be unequivocally positive about OP's professional commitment and character. It can't have anything hinting at reservations about OP.
    – Trunk
    Dec 16, 2022 at 20:48

I think that in the recent past your having filled in with aplomb would make you a shoe-in for that permanent vacancy.

But today there are so many candidates for each permanent vacancy that hiring departments can always go for the "fresh veg".

You are naturally aggrieved. While no quid pro quo was spelled out in relation to the permanent job, you did everything you could to show your loyalty and flexibility. What's more, you applied for the job after a specific request from a colleague acting on behalf of the department.

Ethically it's the equivalent of a breach-of-promise in the days of our grandparents. But you would be unfair to yourself to brood too much on these kind of people. You have to keep positive for the next opportunity and give the benefit of the doubt to the next potential employer. But you must also learn to protect your own emotional investment in a job and ensure you get what is merited from such commitment. Precisely how to do this is your own call but I imagine very frank conversations must be had before any effort "over and above the call of duty" is to be entertained again.

What deselected you was quite possibly the HoD (and his emissary "colleague" of yours) that didn't want to live with someone who got them out of an embarrassing academic situation rather than any superiority of the chosen candidate.

Right now it's little consolation to you but the carry-on of your last temporary employer will soon catch up with them.

Commiserations and I hope you have a Christmas free of stressful ingratitude.

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    Is it really a breach of promise though? Was there really an unspoken agreement that the OP will obtain a permanent position in exchange for being willing to disregard their mental health and provide unlimited free labor for the department, or was the OP simply hoping that this was the deal? I don't know how British academia works specifically, but just because you never say no (in the silent hope that this will oblige other people to give you job) does not actually oblige anyone to give you a job. Dec 16, 2022 at 22:17
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    No it doesn't oblige them to employ you in any legal sense of course. But the original deal was for OP to replace Prof X on research leave. The many and short-order added work was not part of the original deal. Doing them creates an ethical obligation. It is also a living testimony to OP's flexibility and dedication to academic work. Other candidates will have fellowships and only references to what they can do teaching and supervision-eise. All in all he got used. They hired a willing but disposable staff member. It happens too often and the cynicism of it all is offensive.
    – Trunk
    Dec 16, 2022 at 23:08
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    @AdamPřenosil It does not oblige them. But OP was good enough to replace a Prof in moment of need. And then OP was not good enough to keep them permanently despite excellent performance and commendations. This is wrong. Dec 16, 2022 at 23:42
  • @Trunk I am talking about ethical obligations too. "The many and short-order added work was not part of the original deal." That's right. But nowhere did the OP say that they couldn't refuse this work. Yes, if someone was waving the promise of a permanent position in front of the OP to entice them to take on extra work, then that's highly unethical. But it's equally consistent with what the OP wrote that they didn't know how to say no (as heavily suggested by: "I accepted even at the expense of my mental health") and the idea that this entitled them to obtain the position was their own. Dec 17, 2022 at 0:28
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    Note that we're talking about a period of 1 year here, not someone giving their best to the department for 5 years and then being rejected. It doesn't exactly stretch the imagination that a stronger candidate was chosen despite the fact that they might be less willing to do all this extra work and despite the fact that the OP's colleagues may well have been genuinely inclined to hire the OP. Honestly, not being willing to say no to any request to the extent that it impacts your mental health is in the long term probably not the great advantage at work that the OP imagines it to be. Dec 17, 2022 at 0:41