I ran across this link the other day - another post from the job market rumor forum for my former discipline of sociology. I admit, I've been checking the rumor mill from time to time this year, both because one of my close friends is on the market and my curiosity is getting the best of me ... but also, I admit, out of a more general curiosity about how this year's market is shaping up.
This year it feels like there has been a slight uptick in the number of people who are starting to "see the light" about the job market as compared to previous years - they're writing about how they're starting to realize it's all a crapshoot and that their chances of getting a good job are pretty miniscule. I've written about this before, to some extent. So far, most of the commentary has just been generalized worry about how the market "feels worse" or something similar - no one's really talking in earnest about the need to seriously think about a Plan B career.
And that's fine. The social science markets haven't contracted so much that absolutely no one is getting jobs. So I can definitely understand why some people might maintain their optimism. That's all good.
But I have noticed one thing in these "worried" threads that particularly irks me. When someone expresses concern about the job market or starts doubting their chances of landing someone permanent, there will often be a few other commenters who chime in, agreeing with them. "The number of jobs look the same, but it just feels worse," they'll say. "Surely the backlog of Ph.D.s is starting to play a role. Maybe we should start thinking of a backup plan."
But then - then! - a "wise" commenter will inevitably swoop in to reassure everyone that "everything will work out," or something similar. Because, you know, they managed to land a job a few years ago despite having a crappy publication record and only sending out five applications. "Don't worry," they'll reassure everyone else. "It's discouraging, but someday it'll all work out."
Sure, they admit, these days you might have to take a post-doc or temporary position for a few years, but this is just what the market looks like now. There's no sense in worrying about it, dontcha know?? There's certainly no sense in thinking about leaving ... why would you EVER do that? Just take that postdoc like a good little grad student and then it'll all work out (What's that? Your partner has a stable job so you don't want to move away to take a temporary job? What kind of undedicated slacker are you???)
And with that, the (justified) worry and critical thinking about academia is stopped. Because if one professor says it'll all work out, then it'll all work out. No need to worry!
This sh*t infuriates me. Not because I think everyone should leave academia - I hope I've made it abundantly clear on this blog that I don't think that.
But because I believe that when people can't get a job that makes them happy in one field, they should be encouraged to look at other options. So if they're making their third trip on the market with no success, they should be encouraged to look at other options. If they don't want to take a postdoc or a temporary position but the current market says that they "have to?" They shouldn't "have to." They can look for other types of jobs.
Why is this a hard thing to understand and advise people to do??? This is not hard. If your friend said to you, "I really want to be a doctor, but I've failed the MCAT six times and haven't gotten into med school in five years of applying" ... you might start encouraging them to look into other careers in medicine, right? Sure, they might get in on that sixth try, but in the meantime you don't want them to be discouraged and poor and unemployed, right? So you'd suggest other options.
And yet, when you see an academic talking to someone who's making their fifth or sixth go at the academic job market without success, you hear the same old crap. "Oh, just publish another article. Keep working. Next year will be your year! It'll all work out!!!" There's never any acknowledgement that this might not work out or that it's okay to consider other options. Never. And that shit absolutely infuriates me.
So onto the particular comment at the forum that sparked this rant. The thread in question tallies the number of jobs that are being posted this job market cycle, for reference and comparison purposes. The general consensus this year seems to be that the number of jobs will be about the same as in previous years ... in other words, not humanities-level terrible, but not terrific either. Some people will get jobs, but a lot of them won't ... and will be scrambling around for another year's salary come April and May.
So in this thread, someone notes that job listings are moving pretty slowly, and this seems worrisome. That's it! There's no mention of writing a resume or of leaving academia. Just a general comment about how the slow pace of new postings is kind of "worrisome."
But we can't have that kind of negativity in the magical thinking world of academia! No siree!!! So in swoops commenter "archivist" to save the day. Zie is the person who's been counting the number of job postings over the past few cycles for reference at the forum.
And here is his/her wisdom for the worried folks who are starting to be (rightfully!) concerned that even 600 jobs (the same number of jobs as in previous years) might not be enough to spread around the thousands of ABDs, VAPs, postdocs, and assistant profs who are looking for new jobs this year:
Regarding some of the angst expressed about the pace of new postings, I would suggest that "The Serenity Prayer" is a useful tool here, particularly the first clause about acceptance. Personally, if I see a few positions that would be ideal for me, I'm thinking it's a great season so far, whether there are 600 jobs available or just 60.Oh, come onnnnnnn. *eyeroll*
Let's break this Pollyannaish pile of crap down for a minute. (Do I sound angry? Well, I am. Sorry.) Let's look at the Serenity Prayer that we're supposed to use when we're staring down the barrel of the job market gun at 400 applicants per job and a silent phone and empty inbox:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.Now, is there good advice there for job market candidates? Absolutely.
But not just "the first clause about acceptance," archivist. You freaking nitwit.
By telling people feeling hopeless about the job market to just focus on the first clause - to just "accept there are things they can't change" without any other steps? That is terrible fucking advice.
By doing that, you are telling these people that they are in the black hole of the academic job market where they're unlikely to get a job ... but that there's nothing they can do about it and no point in trying. They just have to quietly accept it and keep on plucking, because they can't singlehandedly change the academic job market.
No. Just, no. No no no. Did you hear me? NO.
Now, it's definitely important for job market candidates to understand that there is little to nothing they can do to ensure that they get a job - that the process is mostly out of their hands and that they are not to blame if they fail to get a job. If they fail, they do need to accept it, because they can't change it and because the crappiness of the academic job market is not their fault.
But they can't stop there. No, no, no. Once they accept the hopelessness of their situation, they need to realize that they can change it.
No, they can't change the market. But they can change how they react to it and where they go from there. That's the difference they need to have the "wisdom to know."
You can't change the academic job market. So instead - especially after the first job market strikeout - you should start thinking about writing a nonacademic resume. You should start thinking about careers you would like that aren't in academia. You should start thinking about transferable skills. Maybe schedule a career services appointment at your university.
Will you need to leave? Maybe not. Can you go on the academic job market again if you want? Of course. Go on it five more times if you want to! But for Christ's sake, make it an informed decision. Don't pretend that there's nothing that you can do to change your situation. Because there is.
In other words, don't listen to this Pollyannish fool. Accept the situation you're in; sure! The market sucks, and you're in it, and that's all true. But don't forget - you do have the ability to make a change in your circumstances if you've had enough.
Oh, and part 2 of the ridiculousness of that comment - the idea that it's a "great season" if there are jobs that look ideal for a particular candidate, no matter how many total postings are out there?
What nonsense, again. What magical thinking nonsense.
Look. When you are on the market - any market! - with 2000 other job candidates, your chances are infinitely better when there are 600 jobs posted than when there are 60. To paraphrase former president Bill Clinton, I'm not saying anything groundbreaking. It's arithmetic.
It doesn't matter how many job postings are out there that look "ideal" for you. What matters is that there are enough job postings out there for you to have a realistic chance of actually getting picked for one of them.
In academia - particularly in the humanities and to some extent the social sciences - there just aren't. If there are 60 jobs and 2000+ candidates, you are not going to get your "ideal job." You just won't. But if there are 600 jobs? You have a better chance. And that's a better market.
Not rocket science. Just arithmetic. Arithmetic.
God, I swear. Is it too much to ask that these academics just be a tiny bit logical and realistic??