Sunday, February 24, 2013

Open until filled

I'm counting down the days until the positions I applied for close. It's a fun game of wait and see and check the job wiki. One interview is scheduled already (one-year contract position in a nearby town). I'm really excited. I'm going to knock it out of the ballpark. I hope. This time. Really.

Do you guys know about the job wikis? Frightening stuff, but it really helps you see where most major universities are in the job search process. Of course, you have to take everything with a grain of salt.

It feels like my academic life has been "open until filled." I've tried to figure out what I want to do with this half-started, half-stalled career. The contract positions weren't bad, they just didn't do much for the "career" aspect of the profession.

I think I'll reinvent myself in industry if this year's (half-assed) job search doesn't pan out. I think it's time to grow up and face the fact I didn't win the post-PhD lottery. I'm tired of the anti-intellectualism and outright hostility in my classrooms. I'm tired of the sacrifice.

If I do leave for industry, I will give back my correspondent status. There's no need to take up a spot if I have no relevant misery to share with the group.


  1. Hang in there, Maybelle! I always thought the waiting was the worst part of the job treadmill. Here's hoping you get something good, soon! And yes, jobs outside academia do pay a lot better, and without that dreaded mewling sound...

  2. Knock 'em dead, Maybelle! I'm glad you're considering other options, since you deserve a decent work life, and there is a certain crapshoot aspect to the academic job market these days, but I hope we get to keep you (and I hope that, either way, with or without correspondent status, you report back no how it goes. Tales of escape are, at least as far as I'm concerned, extremely welcome).

  3. Break a leg, Maybelle! All the best to you.

  4. Best of luck, Maybelle. If things don't work out, I hope you find what you're looking for in industry. Just don't come back and tell us how great it is.

  5. Maybell, best of luck! I hope you get something that really suits you and makes you happy, no matter what the career!

  6. In some ways, I want to say that those of us who made it into the tenture-track jobs did it because we persevered and outlasted all our competition... but of course this is another lie invented to make myself feel like I deserve my job. In reality: I got lucky. Each of us did. And all of us with jobs need to remember that each and every day: we got lucky. We aren't better than the ones that didn't get the job, and we might be worse.

    1. I disagree. Luck has very little to do with it. I got this position for three reasons: (i) the information on my vita--degrees, publications, etc.--fit the profile the department was interested in; (ii) someone on the inside in a position of power was personally interested in hiring me; (iii) of the options I had available to me, this seemed the best one at the time.

      For any given department and position, the number of people fitting (i) is usually fairly small. (ii)--a personal contact on the inside--is almost always the determining factor. Over the years, I've applied for faculty positions elsewhere, and again the fact I didn't get an offer had nothing to do with "bad luck". When I find out who was hired, it is usually obvious why I didn't fit the desired "profile"; if it is someone more or less like me, it is also usually clear who their inside contact was.

      It is more or less a deterministic process, not even that hard to understand after the fact, if you have all the information. So no, when I look at the people in my cohort and research area, and where they have jobs, I feel no compulsion to say "I got lucky". At all.

    2. I consider the existence of a position with requirements which I could demonstrate effectively on my vita at the time when I was job-hunting to be lucky, because some years there are no jobs at all in my area (the UK is a smaller market, I guess), or very general trawls where there is no clue about what the department REALLY wants (it may not know itself) so in those cases I consider it lucky if they choose to consider my research field and teaching interests as relevant. I consider knowing someone on the inside at the right time to also be lucky.

      Maybe this is the difference between disciplines, or systems, but I personally would both say that the department had a position which I could fill, based on my vita, I probably did benefit from impressing someone the right way, and yes, that this was an acceptable option. But surely it IS lucky that those things happened to occur when I was job-hunting? Because I was developing my exit plan, and would not have continued to hunt indefinitely...

    3. Grumpy nailed it, I think; it's not a matter of luck *or* ability/preparation; the key is luck (including the luck of having the right connections/being the right "fit" at the right time) *and* ability/preparation. Being willing to subordinate every other decision in your life to the possibility (even the remote possibility) of getting a TT job may also help (but/and I'm not sure that's good news for the hiring departments, which may end up with a disproportionate number of younger members who are very narrowly focused on their individual careers, rather than building/maintaining a department. It's definitely no way to build a healthy personal life, unless one gets lucky very early in the process, and ends up in a department/institution/location/etc. which is a "good fit" in both directions.)

    4. That gets to the definition of "luck", which to me means the occurrence of a favorable low-probability event. Our perceptions of this are, of course, highly sensitive to individual experience.

      In mathematics these days, to have even a chance to land a TT job at a university that allows for research, you need a degree from one of the top 10 (or so) graduate programs and a thesis on a "hot topic" with a well-known adviser, followed by a prestigious postdoc (or two). Others basically need not apply. If you're a woman and satisfy these conditions, you will get a very nice job. If you're a woman and an American (and satisfy the conditions), you can write your fucking ticket (US jobs). (In math, slightly over 50% of US PhDs go to the foreign-born; generally not hired by SLACs, unless they are female).

      Growing up, once I had decided nothing was nearly as interesting as doing research in math (which happened very early) I never even imagined a future other than being at a research place, and pursued it singlemindedly
      until all the necessary conditions above were abundantly satisfied. Unfortunately I applied for TT jobs in the middle of a recession (bad luck) and had to settle for a geographically undesirable place, where I still find myself. Bad decision, should have taken another postdoc, maybe in another country. I did not even consider "serious relationships" until after I had tenure (mid 30s).

      Mathematicians, in my experience, are highly individually focused. I believe very few of us think of "building a department" as part of what we are supposed to be doing. But the reasons for that are a whole different discussion.

    5. My point was that we must remember that those of us with jobs aren't better than those that don't. There are many people equally qualified, equally perserverent, equally good people, who just didn't get chosen, sometimes for trivial or random reasons.
      Too often I see silverbacks pat themselves on the back for being so successful, and dismiss the suffering if others by thinking that cream rises.

    6. Peter:

      Getting a faculty position in engineering isn't much different than what you described. I've seen people being hired for university jobs with less actual experience than I have, even though I spent a number of years in industry and am registered in several parts of the country. I doubt that many of them were ever in the field getting themselves dirty, worked in a design office, or set foot on a shop floor.

      So how did they get hired and I didn't? One reason is that they did their Ph. D. research in "hot" (i. e., lavishly funded) fields. I actually believed that grad students should do original research and I worked on an obscure subject which doesn't attract much interest nowadays.

      Then, where I live, many positions that are advertised have requirements that can only be interpreted as quota restrictions, much as you described.

  7. "No relevant misery!" Hah! I expect "industry misery" would be far worse than college misery. One is still dealing with irrational crap from not terribly bright human beings, except now they're in a position to fire you.

    I have a couple of friends in math/CS with the same PhD age (late 1980s) who went into industry, and they did fine. Sometimes I think I might have had a better life had I made the same decision. Hard to say, and now it's too late.

    The main difference is that in academia we have the illusion (I did, at least) that, in general, your colleagues will behave as rational, well-meaning (or at least neutral) agents and leave you alone. Totally false, the irrationality, backstabbing and small mindedness are the same as everywhere else.

    This is something I've only understood recently: dealing with irrational, adversarial behavior from less competent human beings is part of the definition of "job"; it is almost never about the ostensible "mission", but about where you fit in the social system. That's why people prefer to retire early (especially in industry): not so they'll stop working, but to stop having to deal with the daily b.s.that has nothing to do with work.

    1. You just described much of my career.

      I encountered a lot of people in industry who were educated but thick as planks. Many were my supervisors and, yes, I got sacked by some of them.

      As for your comments about academia, the place I used to teach at was like that. Irrational? Yup. Backstabbing? Lots of that, but I healed quickly. Small-mindedness? It always amazed me that people could exist with something that small between their ears. It didn't help matters that I was the best-educated instructor in the department.

      Much of my time was spent in dealing with colleagues about what you said. There was a lot of carping about where I was supposed to fit in the pecking order. I remember one incident where I was given a caustic tongue-lashing because I didn't want to go to a luncheon for our office area. Apparently, I thought too highly of myself because I had a Ph. D.

      One reason I quit teaching over 10 years ago was that I got fed up with all that malarkey. I looked at my investment portfolio, decided I had enough to head out on my own, and asked myself why I was still there. I handed in my resignation shortly after that.

      I don't miss it.