Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Plan

The comments to my previous two posts have, as intended, had me thinking quite a bit more about my options--or lack thereof--in the current academic job market. Contrary to what most commenters seem to think is the best plan, I'm going to stick it out for at least another full academic year. Call me crazy, stupid, or just plain blind, but I'm basing my decision primarily on three things.

The first is that, contrary to "Linc's" comment that "Academia is, in the end, just a job," it is much more than that to me. It is truly a calling, a long-time goal, and the end result of the past 7 years of work, sacrifices in time away from family, and living in poverty. It is the thing that makes me happy to get out of bed and go to the office, to spend extra hours meeting with students, to work even when I don't need to or am not expected to (for example, now, when research and presenting at conferences are not in any way factored into my position). I honestly cannot imagine myself doing anything else.

The second reason driving my decision to stay the course is that, on average, it takes 3 years for newly-minted PhDs to land a tenure-track job. That's what I was told when I entered my graduate program, and that's what I witnessed in the job market process of several colleagues from my program. Linc further suggests that if I'm "not getting interviews this season—fresh PhD, publications, good teaching record, at least some jobs being advertised—it’s time to rethink the career path. Unless [my] appeal is about to dramatically change (e.g. your dissertation being reformulated as a book, but NOT just adding a new course taught or another article), [my] marketability is not going to change." I disagree with this. Each semester in my current position has offered a new course to teach, which has brought the opportunity for more learning on my part and more confidence in both my knowledge base and skill set. For example, by teaching Shakespeare and incorporating it into my research work, I'm able to more credibly call myself an Early Modernist, rather than a Restoration/18th c. scholar. In turn, this broadens the number of positions to which I'm able to apply.

The third reason I'm going to hang in there a bit longer is that this year sucked in terms of the number of jobs in my field. There were less then 30 in my field, and of those 30, a good number of them were at very prestigious schools, which are likely to only hire Ivy-pedigreed grads. Several of the other positions were somewhat narrow in their search. For example, the secondary specialty was poetics or digital humanities, or tapdancing, or some other subspecialty that wasn't a good fit for me. That doesn't mean I don't have a wide range of secondary interests, but rather that this year's positions were frequently looking for something else. It just wasn't a good year for my field.

I choose to be optimistic, to believe that something will work out, and that God has a plan for me. I can't imagine that He's brought me to this point--through graduate school in three different states, through 10 years of teaching, to the Middle East and back, to a wonderful advisor, to two very good publications and a dozen conference presentations--only to leave me unemployable in this profession. I could be wrong, and I may occasionally be down about the situation, but for now....I'm not out. I have lemons, and I choose to make lemonade!


Anastasia said...

So I'm going to be the theologian for a second and say there is no reason to conclude that just because you've come this far that God has an academic job set aside for you. I had what I regard as a truly miraculous path to the PhD. By rights, they should have kicked me out (and could have). But they didn't and I felt God's guidance in that and yes, I do think I'm basically unemployable in the profession in which I trained. That's ultimately okay because I'm doing something else I love but it took some time and some anger and some bitterness to come to terms with that--and that's precisely because I pinned all on "God has to do this for me." It's neither theologically sound nor personally helpful.

I think it's perfectly reasonable to give it another year but I would recommend seeking some other options in the meantime just to see what turns up. I also think it's helpful to give yourself a timeline. Because honestly, if you're any good--and I know you are--the adjunct mill is going to be happy to have you and they're going to give you what looks like opportunity after opportunity. My experience is that most of it is a mirage. Don't let them do that to you for an indefinite period. You deserve better.

Anastasia said...

Oh, I would also add that a year ago, I would have said the same thing about academia as a calling. It turns out, I'm a teacher and I'm a writer and I do think that's a calling for me but there are places where I can be that outside of higher ed--and do it more effectively. I'm not saying this is true for you. Academia may absolutely be it for you. But it's worth opening up to a broader notion of call.

feMOMhist said...

I'm hoping it all turns out as you want. It did eventually for me (more or less)!

intlxpatr said...

Friends come along, too. It takes time. When you are still so new and raw, it's hard to connect. I find the lasting friends usually come along later into the second year. You are more grounded, and you begin to exude a different vibe.

In my 20+ years as a military wife, I often faced the employment/underemployment dilemma. I never did work in 'my field', not as a professional, but, looking back, I can see that my training and passion all were fulfilled along the way in ways I never would have imagined. :-)

You're still in transition. It all just takes time.

Lilian said...

I like the upbeat tone of your post and your assertiveness. You have good conviction of what you want and that's great.

I do think you should consider what Anastasia wrote, though -- if you've been following her story you'll know where she's coming from.

linc said...

I second Anastasia's comments above.

If you feel so strongly, giving it another year sounds like a good a idea--especially, if you can afford it financially and emotionally. Just don't be sucked into the myth that the perfect tenure-track job is just waiting for you, and you just need one more thing to add to your credentials. It's a powerful myth that thousands allow to rule their lives. The truth is that the market has been bad for decades when compared to other professions; there are only years in which it is not as dire as others. All of the evidence points to it not improving over the next few years.

Having said that, it is much easier for me to make cold assessments, having benefited from what most would define as a successful academic carrier with comparatively little hardship. Far be it from me to tell you to give up what the good Lord called you to do.

Perhaps the spring market will prove more fruitful for you.