Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Some Horrible and Original Content that Really Happened

Jesus Horatio Christ, it's been a summer. You want some original content? Here you go, in all its horrible glory.

I sort of lost my shit at the conclusion of my last job interview in the spring.  Normally I'm fine with rejections, but I don't like being part of the stage show the SC felt the need to put on just to hire the long term adjunct/spouse of the full professor department chair.  Thank your inept admin for cluing me in on my lineup of competitors, the day before I flew in to interview.  A quick Google search, CV download, and the pieces came crashing together.  Now I was in a situation where either a) I wouldn't get the job and just wasted two days of my time or b) I would get the job and immediately have one pissed off motherfucker of a department head.

I never did get to meet anyone in the department or the department head during my interview, which was probably for the best.  The cherry on top was my meeting with the Dean. It was a special hour of crazy we shared. Dean telling me I probably wouldn't get an offer.  Dean complaining about how little s/he was paid.  Dean telling me inappropriate personal stories.  Dean comparing the current batch of job seekers to cheap televisions in those big box stores ("So many to chose from! If we don't like one, there is another on the next shelf!"). Dean letting me know how s/he had just decided to restructure the department I was applying to, a decision made just in the last few hours. Each new utterance was worse than the last.

The horror show finally ended and on my ride back to the airport I was encouraged to, "Go ahead and ask the really honest questions now.  I mean anything. " (Aside here to novice job seekers.  This comment, from anyone you meet during a campus interview, is a trap.  Anything you say can be used against you.)

I almost unloaded everything.  I probably should have, but I wanted my travel reimbursement.  So I played dumb and kept my mouth shut. Three weeks pass and I got the reimbursement check (at least you were professional about something!). Two months pass and I get the thin letter, no phone call. But that's alright, as we all know cheap televisions don't have feelings.

It was the last of a bad job season (my 3rd and possibly last).  I don't know why, but it hit me harder than the others.  Maybe because I was so excited for my campus interview, and it turned into one of the most painful and ridiculous experiences of my life.  Immediately after my interview (and before the letter) I returned to my domicile, sat down on my couch, and spent the better part of an hour staring at the bare walls and reviewing the decisions that had brought me to this low point.  The crux of the matter was if I thought three more pubs as a postdoc would make the next job year any better than the last. 

Suddenly I couldn't handle my shitty apartment anymore, hundreds of miles from my spouse, my family, and my friends.  I hated where I was at that moment and I hated the poor choices that had brought me there. I started packing up my apartment that night and quit my postdoc the next day. I just couldn't bring myself to restart the cycle again in September. It felt fantastic to take back some small portion of control over my own life.   

Months have passed now and things are immensely better.  I had the whole summer to look for adjunct gigs and I landed a bunch.  It's probably not like this in every field, but I've had department chairs actually begging me to teach classes.  I almost laughed out loud at these moments:

"Of course! All I had to do was not be tenure track and suddenly you need me in the worst way. Hey, I'll get back to you in two to three months.  Oh, you need to know right now?  I'm sorry, upon the advice of my council, all I can tell you is that my search is still progressing."

So yeah, that really happened.  How was your fucking summer?


  1. Oh, dear, Bison. I'm sorry the year's job search ended that way, but thanks for sharing the misery in all its resplendent putridness. My institution seems to tend more toward the "get an outside offer" than the "do a fake search" model when it comes to hiring spouses, which may be somewhat preferable (except of course then somebody, somewhere is left with two searches in which their first choices didn't pan out, and which probably stalled for a time while negotiations to stay were underway. As the Dean pointed out, they probably still have other, good options, but still, there's got to be a better way to deal with this issue).

    For whatever it's worth, I think the decision to choose spouse, family, and community over doing whatever the job market seems to demand is a good one. I chose, now over a decade ago, to settle in a community to which I already had connections, rather than take any job, anywhere and "write my way into" a better one (the standard advice at my grad school). I adjuncted for five years, then landed in a full-time non-TT gig that is frustrating at times, but better than some TT jobs I interviewed for (another side of the cheap-television analogy, even when I was on the market, was that schools that once tenured M.A.s for teaching were now requiring not only a Ph.D. but also a book for tenure, even though most of the senior members of the department, though often excellent teachers, barely knew how to place an article or a conference paper proposal. And yes, the 4/4 (often 4-prep) teaching load continued unchanged, and they were eagerly looking forward to fobbing off some of the most onerous service duties on the new hire). There have definitely been tradeoffs (mostly security, both job and financial -- my salary still doesn't equal that of an entry-level TT professor fresh out of grad school), but who knows whether I would have gotten a TT job anyway? My only advice would be, if this isn't already the case, to consider moving to a low-cost-of-living (but still higher-ed-intense -- a tricky balance) area.

    Is publishing out of the question without the postdoc (e.g. do you need a lab/research team)? If not, make time for it, even if you have to cut a corner or two with the teaching.

    And yes, this is one of the most frustrating parts of the whole picture:

    I had the whole summer to look for adjunct gigs and I landed a bunch. It's probably not like this in every field, but I've had department chairs actually begging me to teach classes.

    Although the picture is different at some institutions (where TT faculty are coming under pressure to teach more/teach more required courses, and so are displacing adjuncts, and/or where classes are simply being canceled because there is no money for adjuncts), for the most part I think this is still the norm. If there is a Ph.D. glut, it's much smaller than the full-time job statistics would suggest. The work is out there, as long as you expect a living wage.

    1. that should be "*don't* expect a living wage." Freudian slip, anyone?

  2. May I ask how you tracked down the leads for the adjunct positions? I know someone who has had a more difficult time finding posts, and would be interested in different strategies.

  3. First of all, welcome to the new CM. My name is Yabo and I'm the new moderator.

    Dear Bison, I'm sorry, but we're going to take your post down. For the past six months all we publish here at Mediocre Misery is reprinted articles from other sources. Don't be foolish thinking we want any real content.

    The New Moderator of CM

    1. Hi everyone. I'm sure you've guessed, but Yabo ain't the new mod.


  4. O Bison. Whereas this all sucks beyond the beyond, I am impressed that you chose life.

  5. Man, Bison, I feel like you're my spirit brother or something. Or maybe I have that wrong and the bison is my totem animal. Whatever. Anyway, all those thoughts have gone through my head at some time or another during the job search, and I've hit that point where I had to honestly weigh my desire to keep doing what I do against a potential lifetime of underemployment and grinding resentment.

    The realization that the long-term job seeker has to come to eventually, I think, is that not everything hinges on landing the ideal job. You look at the stories over on the jobberwiki of people who are winding up their nth year of disappointment on the market and they're crushed. Everything is going to hell for them. They talk about how much they sacrificed to get to where they are now (and all for naught!), but don't seem to realize that they can have a lot of those things, like living in a place you like near your family and friends, back if they just stop banging their head against that stone wall.

    With all that said, I made the opposite decision than you did, took the much worse contingent position for less pay and longer hours just to stick with it, and in the end gainful employment did come, from a very unlikely source. But I know that the vast majority of people who made the same choice as me are holding out for a miracle that almost definitely won't come.

    Anyway. Bravo, man.

  6. Dang, the reply function is not working well on my POS lappy right now. Will have to do it the old fashioned way.

    @Cassandra: spouse and I have settled in an area we love and want to stay. It's not super cheap, but there are lots of adjuncting opportunities. Spouse's career is going fantastically too, which was one more straw on the national job search poo pile.

    @Alan, lean on your professional and personal networks as hard as you can. I emailed everyone I could think of that I knew in the area with a quick rundown of what I was looking for (teaching, lawn care, etc). I also cold emailed some department chairs and let them know which specific courses I could teach for them.

    "I am impressed that you chose life."
    I fucking love this.

    @Dr. Collosus, I feel the love here. I knew the fellowship of CM would understand. I might take one more local TT stab this year though, we'll see.

    1. Sounds like a good balance. Sometimes, it can actually help to have your options limited. If spouse's good job in a location you both like = no national search, but an expanded local search for all the various sorts of things you might be able to do (and find rewarding, in various senses of the word), that might lead to a much happier ending than getting back on the academic-job-search-only hamster-wheel. In extolling the flexibility and job dedication embodied in a national or even international search, sometimes we forget how narrow an academic job search really is.

      Maybe you'll be our second escapee from the academic compound. Wombat made it, and sounded like she had all kinds of fun things planned (I wish she'd check in and tell us how it's going). And BurntChrome and MiserableAdjunct (I think; or was it somebody with another "adjunct" handle?) are making plans to escape. Maybe one these days a chair will put out a call for last-minute hires, and nobody will answer. That would be cool.

  7. And fuck yeah for post of the week status from Fab.

    Let my misery be your entertaining life lesson.

  8. You have been very brave: congratulations. I still hang on in not so quiet desperation. With every year it gets harder to let go. Best of luck....

  9. I am sorry this happened to you, Bison. But congrats on having the guts, or just the common sense, to choose life.

    Peter Feibelman was also burned by academia, early in what would be a distinguished scientific career. He writes about it in his book, "A Ph.D. is Not Enough." As he points out, "I harbor a secret hope: If enough of you start to act rationally, the system may eventually become rationalized....the price of being an assistant professor is much too high."

    The treatment you got on your interview-from-hell may sting now, but imagine what might have happened if you'd received an offer? Tenure at that place would indeed be a booby prize, a life sentence to work with those people, not to mention the dreadful students they must serve.

    A serious advantage of choosing life is that your relatives won't know the difference. They won't think of you as a frustrated academic, far too common these days. None of them likely ever dreamed of becoming professors, or even considered the possibility. They'll think of you as their smartest relative, particularly if you stop adjuncting and use your science background to get a real job for real money and benefits. Do that, and they may even call you a professor, since most people don't know the difference between "mad scientist" and "nutty professor" anyway. Even better, anytime your uncle says, "We don't have tenure at the factory," you can reply "Neither do I!" and grin.

  10. Sounds like you have perspective--which may be your saving grace. Stay strong, Bison!


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