Tuesday, October 11, 2011

This Year's Market ... Is Not For Me

Over the weekend, out of the blue, I started to feel kind of down about the whole postacademic thing.

I've been peeking from time to time at the job market forum in my discipline, just to get a feel for how the market was shaping up - if it looked better or worse than last year, or if any of the jobs I applied for were re-posted this year. I paid some attention to where the jobs were - if my Dream Job in Dream City opened up, after all, there'd be no harm in throwing my hat in the ring. I hadn't seen anything intriguing, though, and was just noticing (without a lot of emotion) that the market seemed to be about the same as last year. I was happy not to be one of the anxiety-ridden job seekers posting on the forum, however!

But on Sunday I happened to see a job posting from the department where a former grad student colleague is currently on a one-year appointment (presumably, a job intended for him), and also learned that another student in my cohort who I thought had also left academia actually took a one-year VAP position at another university. This officially leaves me as the only candidate on the market from last year who didn't have "something" this year - the only true "failure" on the job market, in terms of how my department would view me. (Of course, I was offered a one-year post, but I turned it down ... and it's worth noting, I was the only grad student who had a consistent source of income outside academia when I was on the academic market. I don't think those two things are unrelated.).

Still, though, looking at the listings and thinking about how my entire department must assume I'm sad and lonely (note: I am neither) since I "failed" on the market last year got me a little bit down. Not because anything in my life is wrong, mind you. I was just having some irrational thoughts about how perhaps I *am* making a mistake by just leaving rather than giving the market one more shot. (This is a relatively common mindset, by the way ... PostAcademic in NYC writes about something similar here. It can be hard to avoid thinking, from time to time, that you "should" take another stab at an academic career ... even if you know it's not right for you).

But when I rationally think about that now, my reaction is basically ... really, JC??? I mean, I've been gone for about seven months now and haven't for *one single moment* felt sentimental about leaving or any longing to go back to academia. I haven't felt inclined to contact my department or to start working on my dissertation again, or to seriously consider any of the multiple emails I got this spring inviting me to apply for various jobs. But suddenly this weekend, apropos of absolutely nothing, I think I'm might secretly be a failure who secretly misses academia? Wow.

So just for fun, I decided to go through the posted job listings in my discipline and take a look at what's out there. What are these big opportunities I'm missing out on, and what jobs would I actually take if offered? RecentPhD did this a few weeks back, but I didn't think I needed to. But apparently it couldn't hurt. So ... I looked around, and thought about the opportunities out there. And I wasn't impressed.

Now, I do somewhat interdisciplinary work, so there are undoubtedly some jobs in other disciplines that I could have applied for if I were truly on the market this season. But last year, about 75% of my applications went to programs in my discipline, who were either running open-ended searches or looking for someone in my specialty, so I have no doubt that the same ratio would apply this year. Also, there will be job listings being posted for at least another 4-6 weeks, so no doubt I'd see a few more jobs if I looked again in a month.

But still ... by this point, the vast majority of academic jobs are posted, so I can get a decent idea of where I'd stand if I was on the market.

So what's out there in my field? With a quick perusal of the listings, I came up with 32 jobs that were either open hires or looking for candidates in my area of expertise. Right away, I can eliminate 5 of them because they are jobs at prestigious research institutions that I am tremendously underqualified for (and, might I add, where I'd be miserable ... myself and an R-1 institution would not be a happy marriage).

So that leaves 27 jobs. I also eliminated 4 because they are too far away. While I was on the market last year, I tried to limit myself to jobs that were no more than a day's drive away from where my parents live. To some academics this may seem like a frivolous consideration; however, I am close to my family and have no desire to be so far away that I would be unable to rush home in an emergency or to visit more than once per year.

So now we're at 23. Three of the schools explicitly state that they have a religious test for new hires - one that I would explicitly fail and would be unwilling to feign conformity to. Three more were non-tenure-track positions, which I'm simply done applying for.

So now I'm at 17. One actually listed a salary in the job ad (which is rare), but the salary was $35k for a job in a moderately priced city. My quality of life is better in my current job than it would be there.

Four more are in cities/towns that are in the middle of nowhere in cities with populations under 30,000. My partner works in an industry that makes those types of living situations impossible for us. Those four are out.

So now I'm left with 12 jobs. And of those 12, I can say that there would only be 2 that I would be genuinely enthusiastic about taking, if offered. The rest would either be a type of school I'm not particularly interested in (elite liberal arts schools, schools with religious undertones), or in geographic areas that I would accept but wouldn't be enthusiastic about. And included on this list of 12 are four jobs at community colleges, for which a Ph.D. is not necessary.

So that'd be it. If I was on the market, I'd be throwing my resume out there to a whole slew of jobs I wasn't excited about (probably expanding my pool to some of these schools that were "too far away" or "too small" just to improve my chances...even though I'd probably be miserable in those locations), competing with hundreds of other candidates for a shot at the two jobs that I think I'd enthusiastically accept. And in the end, I may very well get nothing ... or perhaps a community college job - which I might love, but for which the Ph.D. that I've hated working on would be totally unnecessary.

It's funny how much different the market looks, when you're not thinking "oh my god, I need a job" ... but instead, "what jobs would I actually want?"

I genuinely wish everyone well who is on the market this year. Certainly, people whose criteria are less strict than mine or who genuinely love the work of academia above all else will find a lot more to love about the job listings in our field. But for me? Despite what other people might tell me about what I *should* want as a grad student, I have to remain focused on what I *do* want. And the academic jobs out there are not what I want.

And to those of you considering the possibility of leaving, I urge you again to take an hour or two to read through the ads in your discipline. See what's out there, and how many jobs you'd actually be qualified for and that you would actually want to take if offered. Don't let the job market blindside you when you're ready to come out and start looking for real.


  1. Yes 100% to this: "It's funny how much different the market looks, when you're not thinking 'oh my god, I need a job' ... but instead, 'what jobs would I actually want?'"

    That's always been my philosophy, even when I was more ignorantly optimistic about my chances of getting an academic job. While I've winnowed things down a lot this year, the most I ever applied for was during my first search ABD when I applied for about 27 jobs -- but I knew people in my same sub-field that year who applied for over 100 positions, including all the generalist, non tenure track, and other ones I ruled out.

    Other people's attitudes just seemed so ... unrealistic. And of the people I know who have landed academic jobs, there's only one I can point to for sure who is happy. Why? That person got a position in what was for hir a desirable location, got a tenure-track spousal hire for hir spouse (in a different department), and is at an institution with low research demands (ze got tenure without publishing a book, which gives hir freedom to do normal, "real life" stuff, like spend time with hir spouse and kids).

    So, yeah. And that was after two years of postdoc misery back in the early 2000s when the market wasn't _quite_ as bad as it now is. What are the odds for the rest of us today?

    The sane part of me says, "Who cares?" There is ZERO payoff to all the anxiety people expend on a job market that's rigged against us from the beginning.

  2. I think that recent PhD is right!! I'm often looking at the job market but while I see lots of jobs I can't see anything that either (a) appeals to me or (b) that I wouldn't have to pretzel myself and my academic interests into inorder to apply for it.

    I'd also agree with you about those colleagues of mine who are in tenure track jobs that none of them appears to be remotely happy. I've even checked out their faculty photos on their respective pages and they look downright depressed! What's with this?? Maybe its a genuine..ie in "in" look. I dunno.

    Oh well, the sane part of me still says...whoowhoo..since I know that I can't do the pretzel thing myself.