A few comments, conversations, observations that have been circulating around me in the last week have made me realise that the fundamental reason why I am in the situation I am in now is: I didn't know what I was getting into.
Had I known, I would have done things MUCH differently.
And come to think of it now, this is the feeling that has plagued me pretty much since finishing my PhD. That there is/was so much I don't/didn't know about what an academic career really involves/d.
I dug myself out of the hole created, on the whole, by a system that is geared towards getting people across the line without much thought for what happens to them afterwards. While there are some folk in the system who are great mentors and prepare their students well for career success, it wasn't until after I finished my PhD that I found a great mentor. All of my post-PhD success I owe to this fabulous mentor. I had a very step learning curve in those years. Whenever I get the chance I also return the favour, by mentoring other people so they don't have to go through the same process.
But while it might be easy to blame my lack of mentoring for the struggle I have gone through, I now realise that the larger issue is that I just didn't do my research. In short, I had only the most naiive idea about what my career would look like.
I KNOW I was not alone in this. And I know that the system doesn't do much to correct those misperceptions. Why would it? More students equals more money. It's not in the interests of PhD programs to disillusion their new recruits.
Ultimately though it was my own naiive fault. Interestingly enough, it took running into a former undergrad from the same program to make this clear to me. This student had apparently had her heart set on the bright lights of an academic career. And then she went to a function where she had the opportunity to talk to staff about what it was really like. That's when she heard there were no jobs. Sensibly, she changed tack.
I finally reaslised - I didn't do that. I didn't take any time out to find out what it was really like. I knew from a very young age what it was I wanted to do, but didn't actually do any research.
I could say this is the fault of the career advisor I did ask many moons ago, who said in response to my uncertainty about how one goes about deciding what kind of a career one should choose "oh, you'll figure it out". That's it. No flyers, no brochures, no suggestion to talk to someone. Nothing. Not even a chat about the things that interested me. Just the promise that I would figure it out. Less than one minute and he was done. We didn't even sit down.
So I picked some courses that I thought I wanted to do. It turns out that I didn't like any of those, so spent some time as an undergrad flailing about wondering what to do. I eventually found something I like and have stuck with that ever since. But my visions of the future were always hazy. Because I didn't make any effort to find out.
Anyway, so it was my own fault. I didn't do the research. This time round, I will take a different approach.