Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ned from North Norwich Gets the News. A Job Season for Naught.

I didn't go in to the job season with high hopes, but when the first job ads started appearing last September, I was encouraged. I've been adjuncting for the past three years; the only full time teaching gig I ever had was right out of college, a visiting assistant professor spot. I'm 31, single, and not tied to any geographical spot.

I went through the same process we all do, with letters and vitae and teaching statements. I had a good response and made quite a few second steps with writing samples, sample syllabi, and transcripts.

Then when the year-end national convention came around, I was astounded by a total of 4 interviews. Those all went well. I felt positive; I got good feedback through them. I scurried home during the winter break and waited, and then got three flyback visits.

I staggered them to allow me to keep my own classes going, and made visits from mid January to mid February. Each was a pleasure. Each 1-2 day event was well planned and thoughtful. The jobs felt so different to me, different cities, different states, a rural town, a big metropolis. One job featured an emphasis on teaching, the others were more like my grad school, a focus on scholarship.

The people I met were friendly, bright, and welcoming. At one interview, the chair of the department walked me around the beautiful and hilly campus and said, "I can see you here in the fall!"

Although it was against my better judgment, over the past couple of days I've looked at homes for rent and lease in these various spots, imagining where my stuff would go. What would my view be? How would I get my boxes and things there? In which direction would the job compass spin, and in which direction would I be headed? I imagined cleaning out this apartment, cleaning the carpets one last time, getting that security deposit, closing the cracked and peeling front door on my life as an under-employed academic.

I talked to some close friends about my search, weighing the pros and cons of each job, which one looked the best, which one would be the most work. I sat in a chair on my patio and thought, "If I could pick which 2 offers to get, these would be them."

Then over the past 2 days it all came to a crashing end. One email and two phone calls later and I was out of every search. One place hired someone within the department. Two others had hired people "freshly minted." I was told I had done well in my visit, but that the other person's profile was a better fit. One of the people told me he was sure I would not be on the market long.

But of course he was wrong. It'll be another year of adjuncting for me, of course, another year of putting aside money in order to pay for the job season. Another year of wondering if I should stay in the game, despite the fact that I'm in debt to my loans, my credit cards, and - embarrassingly - my parents.

I'm miserable.


  1. That's too bad, Ned. It's not an uncommon tale, but I know it feels crushing at this moment. You've obviously done some good work, hence the collection of interviews. So keep your chin up, though I know it's hard.

  2. Ugh, my stomach hurts in sympathy. I was on the market for 5 seasons-- got one-year gigs 3 of those years (from one coast to another), and then nothing one year except a single adjunct section (living in parents' basement, ugh), and every year with plenty of successful-feeling conference and campus interviews. It feels so much like dating-- staring at the phone, daydreaming, being crushed, wondering whether anyone will ever really love you, wondering when to call it quits and enter a conven. . . switch careers. Finally won our little low-payout lottery and am in second year t-t, but that's no consolation to you. I remember feeling very jealous of the petty whining of my friends who'd landed positions: what I wouldn't give to be able to hate my shitty office! Pick me!

  3. Ouch! Sincere condolences! My department just yesterday voted to offer a TT position to one of our three very qualified top candidates. Although I do feel like our pick is the best fit for the position overall, I hate to think of the other two not getting the job (since I'm confident that they would be great at it). I sincerely hope that they, and you, find great positions soon and don't beat themselves up too hard over the unpleasant rejections.

  4. What burns is if you don't hang there for another season, you'll have this absence to explain when you do return (unless you fill that time with "consulting" or publishing, or--as I did for a few years "off season"--grading standardized tests & teaching English abroad). So sorry. It's so disheartening to be led to believe (I can see you here in the Fall) that you're a top choice and to feel you made a good impression, then to be told you were great, but not for them. I remember one year interviewing at eight places (back when there were eight places with jobs) and not getting a single one. That was rough on my credit cards and psyche. I'd like to say hang in there, but that feels trite to me. Sorry buddy!!!

  5. Want to live near Humpshack University? I have a couch. The weather is nice. You could even pay a bit more rent and have the bed, and I'll take the couch.

    I have nothing to add to your tale of woe other than the fact that I recently learned my parents gave my younger brother $40, 000 so that he could buy part of a regional airport. These are the same parents who paid $50,000 less for my college education than they did for his, and who told me two years ago that there was no way I could live with them or borrow money from them since they didn't have any.

    That doesn't help you very much, but if you want? Just pretend you're borrowing from my parents, because apparently if you're a boy, they're loaded.

  6. "One of the people told me he was sure I would not be on the market long."

    These are the people I get mad at, because they've found a way to delude themselves into thinking that they haven't thrown you to the wolves.

    But they have. In this job market, every time they make a call, they're dooming the other candidates. There have been some good movies with "List" and "Choice" in their titles about this kind of decision. You doom the ones you don't hire. No, that shouldn't change your choice. No, that's not your fault. Yes, you did it.

  7. "you won't be on the market long"

    Is the job search equivalent of "You'll be a wonderful spouse to someone someday."

    It doesn't say anything helpful, and makes you want to punch the person in the face.

  8. Ugh, I am so sorry. I was on the market 5 years before landing a full-time TT job. I could paper the walls with rejection letters I got.

    I'd say this: define the finishing line for yourself, i.e., I'll be in a full-time TT job by age X or X year and if not, I will walk away from this profession. That way, you are in control of at least some decision, even if it's not the one you want to make. The minute I had made that commitment to myself, I got a fellowship and a job. I'm not saying it's the magic bullet, but it is psychically freeing.

  9. " have nothing to add to your tale of woe other than the fact that I recently learned my parents gave my younger brother $40, 000 so that he could buy part of a regional airport. These are the same parents who paid $50,000 less for my college education than they did for his"

    -As we say in my culture, some people complain they don't have enough to eat while others complain that their diamonds are too small.

  10. I am so sorry to hear it! How miserable. I second Frog and Toad. Deciding "I will be out by year X" - having an exit strategy - will make you feel much less helpless.

    Still. Sorry you've had such a lousy experience this year.

  11. Third F&T's advice to set some limits of your own. After several years on the market, I decided to choose a community to settle in, since it was clear that the market wasn't going to choose one for me, and having roots in a community (literal, since I like to garden, and figurative, since I tend to form relationships slowly and keep them a long time) is important to me. That decision has limited my choices (though a family crisis at a really bad moment -- just after I finally defended -- limited them more, by distracting me from publishing), but I don't regret it, since I have at least some parts of the life I wanted. I may eventually rethink my priorities, but that's my prerogative (and if I do go back on the market nationwide, it will be with a fairly clear idea of just what constitutes, for me, a "better" job than I have now, and how good it would have to be to make me give up what I've built here. That's very different from trying to follow the "take a job, any job, and write your way into a better position" advice that I was getting as an ABD, and which was landing me, year after year, in exactly the state you describe).

    Your limits will almost certainly be different from mine(it sounds like moving around might be more appealing to you), but the core questions are probably the same: what do you/did you hope to get out of an academic job? is there any way to find any of it elsewhere? (for me, stability and being a contributing member of a community/institution, with a voice in that institution's plans and priorities, was a big part of the appeal of academia, and, though I really miss having that at work, I do get some of it through participation in church and other community organizations). How important is the money? the location? the (relatively) flexible schedule? the chance to perform particular research and/or teaching activities? What about the jobs you were hoping to get this year, and the places where they would have taken you? Do your reactions to them help you refine your picture of what you want?

    Right now, you probably want to drown your sorrows in your chosen substance and/or activity, and that's probably the right thing to do for a day or two (that, and keep up with your grading, lest you become more miserable). But eventually there's something to be said for making some choices (which can, of course, always be changed), if only for the sake of feeling a bit less at the mercy of that job compass.

  12. I am so sorry. I remember how it felt. I was an adjunct for 5 years before I got a job and every March for 5 years I cried myself sick, felt foolish and embarassed, and wondered why I bothered. My heart goes out to you.

  13. I'm so sorry, Ned. It sounds like you really rocked your interviews. Try to hang in there. There are two things I was told that sometimes help: first, the fact that you're interviewing means you're marketable, and that something is very likely to be in the pipeline for you soon, and second, that it takes 3-5 years on average to land a tenure-track job. Take care, and explain to your folks how very pressing it is that they purchase a 40-ouncer of your heart's desire. (I recommend the Balvenie Doublewood, but if budgetary constraints are an issue, a nice bottle of Jack never goes amiss.)

  14. Ned, I'm sorry to hear this. I know the feeling all too well.

    I also know the feeling, all too well, of being led on by silverbacks or other out-of-touch people in comfy positions, with nonsense like, "I can see you here in the fall!" or, "You won't be on the market long," or the one that was repeatedly sprung on me: "If you work harder, we might offer you a permanent position." Is it even -legal- to do this?

  15. Ned, it DOES take 3-5 years for a lot of us. My limit was 5 years, and I got a full-time TT job in Year 5. But otherwise I'd have left the profession.

    I remember trying so hard to fight the shame, and now, from where I finally stand, I know academe is just not a meritocracy.


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