It is the time of the year when those on the job market are receiving, and considering, their offers. To those who are disappointed for not receiving an offer from one of their top choices, I would like to offer the story of my first job search.

In the Fall of 1997, at the beginning of the wonderful year I spent at MIT, and still undecided whether I wanted to go back to Italy or not, I sent out a few applications for post-docs and tenure-track jobs.

By February, the rejection letters were pouring in. Some of them were written by Dogbert himself.

At one point, I received a letter from the Institute for Advanced Study. They regretted that they were not able to offer me a post-doctoral fellowship. That was quite all right, except that I had not applied for it! What was that? A preemptive rejection? Did they mean to write: “Dear dr. Trevisan, we hear that you are on the job market, and we are pleased that you did not apply here.”? What worried me was that I was going to break a record, and receive more rejections than applications, or having a negative number of job offers, as I preferred to think of it.

As it happened, in another few weeks, I received the DIMACS post-doc. In their acceptance letter, they also mentioned that they had forwarded my application to the IAS, and that the Institute would inform me at a later point of whether it was going to offer me support for a second year.

This not only explained the mysterious letter from the Institute, but also suggested that the IAS bureaucracy worked faster than DIMACS’.

Late into May, or perhaps already in June, I got a call from Columbia. Having apparently gone down their list of top candidates, back-ups and back-back-ups, they wanted to offer me a job.

I was delighted to move into my faculty housing apartment in New York (which I still miss) and to work in a very friendly department with very smart undergrads. I loved Columbia, and I loved New York. I would have stayed there until retirement if Berkeley had not made an offer that I could not refuse.

So what’s my point? There are two points, actually. One, New York is wonderful. Second, don’t take rejections too hard. In the long run, things even out. (And, yes, I know what John Maynard Keynes has to say about that, but it typically does not take that long.)

Update: Oded Goldreich has written an essay in response to this post.

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