Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Does the Academic Job Market "Fit" You?

Of course, right after I posted my manifesto on the academic job market yesterday, PostAcademic in NYC wrote a great post ... not about how the search committees will view you, but about how you feel when you consider the available jobs. When you see the listings in your particular field - regardless of however many or few there are - do you feel excited? Enthusiastic? Confident? Eager to send in your application? Energized with the thought of working at these other colleges/universities?

Or do you feel a nagging sense of dread? Nervousness that's out of proportion to how you normally feel when facing a new or high-stress situation? Sick to your stomach? Are you having trouble mustering up any enthusiasm for the posted jobs, and feel like you're just going through the motions when you're writing up your cover letters?

When you're contemplating the market, I echo PostAcademic's advice to listen to your gut: attention to that feeling in your gut. One of the first steps to knowing whether you should leave academia is being able to separate what you want from the desires of others.
This is tremendously good advice. As I and the other postacademic bloggers have written in the past, grad school sets you on a distinct track toward a particular type of job - an academic job. It may be that you started out in grad school thinking that you'd consider a wide range of jobs after graduation ... but you're going to just "test" the academic job market because that's what graduating Ph.D.'s do. Or it may be that you came into grad school thinking you'd be a professor (or with no particular career goals in mind), and now that you're graduating, you're going on the academic market because that's what graduating Ph.D.'s do. You may have never considered any other options or stopped along the line to consider whether you still want to be a professor. It's just what people in your line of work do, so you're going along with it.

Now of course, there are people who go on the market because they're truly determined to be a professor and are tremendously excited to start applying. If that describes you, then I wish you well. But if you're looking at the job ads and you aren't excited? If you're abnormally nervous or depressed or feel sick over the whole thing? Give yourself some time to think about what that means before you start going full-bore into the academic job hunt. Chances are, you haven't had much of an opportunity to think critically about academia or about what other jobs you might be able to do. But now that it's up to you to decide where to apply? Now is your chance to put some thought into what you want, not what other people tell you you should do.

Okay, it's time for a personal story. I've never been someone who gets overly anxious or nervous. I like trying new things and meeting new people, and I'm generally confident in my abilities and eager to pursue new opportunities. I've never been someone who gets sick with nerves before an interview or who has trouble getting enthusiastic about new things or selling myself to others.

Until I went on the academic job market last year.

Words cannot even describe how unenthused I was about the jobs I was applying for. Writing cover letters bored me - I had to feign enthusiasm for the jobs, and it was a chore - not something I was excited about. And when I started prepping for interviews, I was physically sick for weeks. It wasn't just that I was nervous about how I'd do. I couldn't even sit down to prep. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, and I flat-out could not make myself sit down to prepare. I didn't want to. I wasn't excited, I wasn't enthusiastic ... I was miserable. I did not want the interview or the job. I could feel it. But I had to go for it ... because I was lucky enough to get a call.

Of course, I didn't get any of the tenure track jobs (boy, did those departments dodge bullets, huh?) And when I got the last call and learned that I wasn't going to be a professor in the fall? I was never sad or upset. I was elated. Overjoyed. Thrilled. It felt like a thousand weights had been lifted off my shoulders. I had an out. I had "failed" ... and could now do what I wanted! It was a wonderful day. And since then, I've had a few nonacademic phone interviews and haven't felt the least bit nervous while prepping or doing them. If you ask me, my gut was trying to send me a serious message.

Man, would I have saved a lot of time and heartache if I'd listened to it from day one ... when I was looking at those job ads with dread.

PostAcademic speaks the truth. Listen to your gut.


  1. First, I wanted to thank you for beginning this excellent blog. I've been reading many similar blogs by those fleeing the ivory tower (or contemplating so doing), but you are in exactly the same position as I am it seems (i.e. second year on the market, had some "success" on it last year, but never really wanted the jobs for which I had campus visits). This year, as the job season starts, I'm very much dreading it. There aren't that many jobs for which I can really apply anyways-- two TT positions at the moment-- and I probably will apply to those as well as doing a non-academic search (I've stayed a student this year, but am working non-academic part-time jobs). I think I'm afraid that because the economy is so bad, I'd be foolish to burn all my bridges. Obviously this logic is kind of questionable, but why is it so compelling? And how are you marketing yourself to non-academic positions?

  2. Wow, you do sound exactly like me ... down to the part-time job!

    I'm still nominally affiliated with my department as well, and I understand the nagging feeling that you shouldn't burn bridges, shouldn't totally cut ties, etc. I'm somewhat dealing with that as well ... I'm still officially "enrolled" and am finishing up a paper that I'm writing with a colleague (as a courtesy to that colleague). Every now and then, I'll find myself thinking that maybe I should just stick with it. Maybe just start writing again and send out a couple of CVs and see what happens.

    I think it's leftover academic Kool-aid talking ... a little bit of the residual "academia is the best job in the world and you'd be crazy to leave!" thought process that gets beat into us. Every now and then, for a split second when things don't seem that bad, it's easy to fall back into "well ... maybe I should stay after all" mindset. I think it's normal and understandable given the complete mindscrew that academia gives us. And in my experience, as you get further and further away and more aware of how much happier you are? The occasional second-guessing happens less and less often.

    As for how I'm marketing myself for nonacademic jobs. I'm basically marketing myself as a professional in the field I'm currently working in who ALSO has a great deal of research and teaching/training experience. I wrote about this quite a bit in a post called "An Update on my Job Search" ... basically, at this point I'm more concerned with getting to a geographic area where I want to be, and then I will try to find the best possible job I can get through networking. So my situation is a bit different than some others.

    Last piece of advice on this very long comment ... go sign up for and peruse the forums. There is a TON of great advice in there about different careers, writing application materials, and how to market yourself. It's a wonderful, wonderful source.

    Good luck!!!!!

  3. I stumbled across your blog and I am glad I did. I applied for my first academic job and now 3 weeks later, I discovered that the position was pulled due to funding cuts. I was disappointed but relieved. I applied for another job yesterday (it part because I want to practice a job talk that I've already prepared) but there are a bunch of red flags with that position and now I'm dreading getting a call for a campus visit. Maybe I should just put that dread away and consider the whole thing a learning experience.