Monday, April 18, 2011

The Frustration of the Last Minute Job Opportunity

I just got an email from one of the faculty members in my grad department, who is not technically my advisor, but is someone who's been generally supportive and helpful throughout my time in school.

Since I am one of the remaining students on the market who hasn't landed a position yet, he'd been sending me all of these email listings for a number of these late-appearing one-year positions around the country. VAPs in Idaho, adjunct positions in South Carolina, etc. I never applied to one year positions while I was officially on the market, since I didn't want to pick up and move for one year, just to do the academic job hunt dance again in less than a year. It would be different if I didn't have my part-time job, of course, but since I do have a job and I'm in a top program, it just wasn't something I wanted to do.

But as the spring semester went on, he kept forwarding these one-year positions to me. Last month I finally sent him a long email, letting him know that while I knew I had "failed" on the market, I wasn't upset and actually had made the (positive) decision to look for jobs outside the academy. I told him I had a "pay the bills" job and that I was feeling excited and happy about having some control over where I would live and a wider pool of jobs to focus on. He seemed to understand.

Today, I got an email from him basically offering me a one-semester gig teaching at a nearby college. UGH.

Now, don't get me wrong. I appreciate his help. This position is close enough for me to commute every day, and since it's just one semester I wouldn't be locked into a contract until next May, so I could keep looking for other positions. I'm definitely not upset at him for thinking of me, since it fits in with what I told him I wanted (nearby, not a full year, etc).

I don't think I'm going to take it, though ... simply because I don't want to. The money's decent, but I'd have to cut back on my other job and pay extra in gas money to get to this other college. Not to mention doing two new preps, grading two classes' worth of papers, etc. I'm not sure it would be financially or emotionally worth it. I just don't feel like I want to do this anymore. I don't feel compelled to teach right now, and frankly, I'd rather the position to go someone who really wants to stay in academia.

However, this brings up one interesting thing I've noticed in a lot of people's stories about working in academia.

Person after person who I've talked to and whose blogs I've read have told stories about the desperation of hunting for funding in grad school (and once they've graduated but haven't landed a tenure track job yet). These people often talk about how an "acceptable but not great," often temporary position always seems to appear, just before they're forced to go find a job flipping burgers at a fast food joint. They'll have struck out on the job market, struck out on fellowships, and their department has denied them another semesters' funding. They're freaking out and panicking and nearing the end of the last semester they have funding, envisioning going on food stamps and moving back in with their parents ... and then, like a knight in shining armor, a one-year position two hours away opens up, and they get it!

Sure, it requires them to pick up and move/commute, and then adjust to a new program and teach 6-8 courses before going on the market or doing the funding dance again the following year ... but it's a job, right??? It's worth it!

I've heard so many of these stories now that I'm starting to think that it's deliberate by universities. I mean, sure, there are undoubtedly programs who have an opening suddenly appear when someone decides to retire or something like that ... but I'm starting to wonder whether some schools do this on purpose. Do they know they're going to need someone to teach a few classes the following year but save posting these (comparatively) crappy job opportunities for the end of the schoolyear? After all, by the end of the schoolyear there are hundreds of desperate graduate students and VAPs out there panicking about being able to pay their bills, many of whom will take any job that pops up. (For the record, I don't blame or think anything negative about the people who take these jobs. I blame the system that creates a plethora of these 1- and 2-year positions rather than just hiring new tenure-track faculty).

I know there are happy adjuncts out there, but I cannot understand what the attraction would be of a one-year adjuncting position in Idaho paying $10k per year for five classes. (Unless you live in Idaho already). A position in a metro area where you can scrape together a decent living at a few schools is one thing. Doing this at one school only in the middle of nowhere? I don't get it.

But the fact that there is this point by which you "should" have a job, or "should" have funding for next year, makes these positions look more attractive. Hell, when I got the email today I thought I should take it ... even though I'm not sure it will benefit me. I appreciate someone thinking of me, but it (1) doesn't offer me funding into the spring semester, (2) doesn't offer healthcare, and (3) will eat up extra money in gas dollars. And given that I've already taught six different classes in graduate school, I really don't think that adding two more is going to help my CV that much for next year.

I think I've made my peace with the fact that I'm leaving. I'll always miss teaching to some level, but not enough to loan myself out as a hired teacher for low pay, living semester to semester, for the rest of my life. It's just not what I want. And frankly, I'm starting to view the whole system as incredibly exploitative.

I want out.

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