"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Analysis of This Year's Academic Job Market Insanity

A it turns out, the Academic Jobs Wiki has the job listings up that I was grousing about in my previous post (I tend to overreact to things that piss me off), and, based on my ability to compare the wiki to the JIL last year, I think it's pretty accurate. At least, I don't think I'm missing anything important.

So, here's my take on the job situation this year (which was what I was going to write about earlier, had I not had to confront yet another slap in the face from Establishment Academe):

Barring comp positions, generalist positions (although I may give these another look later), VAPs, and postdocs, there are exactly 28 jobs across the U.S. for which, broadly speaking, I am qualified to apply.

That's about what it was last year, and, no, reader, that is not "good." That is not even kinda sorta OK. If there were 30 or 50 or even 200 people seeking these jobs, then maybe it would be OK. But last year, I got letters back saying I was one of 450, 500, 600, and in one case, 700 applicants. That is not "OK." That is .... is there a word that means bleaker than bleak? Because, in addition to everyone that didn't get hired last year, there is now a whole new bright-eyed, bushy-tailed crop of ABDs and recent PhDs headed out on the market.

Now, as if that weren't bad enough, all of those 28 jobs are not actually a good "fit" for me. The post-academic blogosphere lately has been a-buzz with discussions of what constitutes "fit," but on the simplest level, "fit" is about your sub-specializations. Those 28 jobs are grouped together on the job lists by nation and time period, and based on ONLY nation and time period, I am a good match for all of them. Indeed, in a "normal" job market (was there ever such a thing?), you'd expect that someone with a Ph.D. in a particular language and literature would have a chance at getting hired for a position that had a concentration in EITHER fiction or poetry. Or drama, for that matter. And certainly, in terms of my teaching experience, I could make a case for my proven ability to teach in any of these areas. But, alas, my dissertation and publications only deal with one of them. And so, in a candidate pool of (let's be on the generous side here) 600 people, my application is getting tossed out -- no matter how brilliant I am -- right off the bat if my specialty is fiction and the job specifies poetry and 300 of those 600 applicants wrote their dissertations on poetry. Why would I waste my time and money and effort? (And yet, that is the advice job seekers are given when advisers say, "Apply to anything and everything for which you are remotely qualified -- you never know!" Bullshit.)

Add to the poetry/fiction/drama distinction specialty indications in various more narrow time periods. Instead of the 19th c., for example, an ad might specify "the 19th c. with preference given to those whose work focuses on the Romantics." If your dissertation is on the Realists or Naturalists, you're fucked and you should just not bother, even if you know a thing or two about the Romantics and wouldn't mind taking your research in that direction. And, further, there are preferences expressed for specialization in various regional and ethnic literatures. Even if you have an interest in X, taught a course with a unit on X, wrote a chapter of your dissertation on X, there are umpteen hundreds of candidates who did their whole dissertations on X. Don't waste your time.

So, let's recalibrate. The new number of jobs for which I am qualified to apply, readjusted for these various sub-specializations, is 13.

That's right, kids, a whopping 13 jobs for how many hundreds of applicants?


Here are a few more things worthy of note:
  • Among those original 28 jobs is one at Grad U, a job in an area in which there must be at least 50 adjuncts who would kill for a chance to prove themselves on the tenure track. Grad U, you motherfuckers, why don't you promote an adjunct, somebody that already has a proven track record of teaching in the department?
  • Of the 13 jobs that "fit" me, only 5-6 actually interest me (a variety of idiosyncratic reasons).
  • Salaries aren't listed for most of the jobs, but there are some. These jobs describe themselves as "competitive," but, from where I'm sitting right now with a glimpse of the Great Nonacademic Beyond, they seem more pathetic than competitive, especially if you're asking somebody to pick up and move across the country. You know who a salary of $50K for teaching 4/4 might seem "competitive" to? Burned out, impoverished adjuncts, that's who. You see how this works? This SYSTEMIC problem of labor exploitation is already affecting assistant profs, the group that comprises the next step up in the hierarchy after adjuncts. If you're comfortably situated on the tenure track now and don't think the problems of current job seekers are relevant to you, think again. If you care at all about the future of the profession, you should be getting involved in changing the system.
So, here's where I stand: There are a couple of jobs that seem like a good enough "fit," from my standpoint at least, to be worthwhile applying for, and I will apply for them. One -- and this is now at the top of my list -- is even close enough to where I live that I wouldn't have to move (though it would be a serious bit of a commute). Also, this is NOT an "elite" school. It is very much within the realm  of possibility in terms of likelihood to hire someone from someplace like Grad U.

However, friends, while I may be casting about one more time, I really have no expectations. As I've said before, I like teaching, I like research, I like writing. I would like to be able to do these things as my job -- and to get paid for doing them as my job, well, let's start with at least as much as I'm earning as a secretary ... and that ain't much!

For all that I might like such a job, I am also more than well aware -- now much more so than I was the first time I went on the market (this is my 3rd time) -- that this profession is seriously dysfunctional and that taking such a job in certain environments is ethically unsound.

So, we'll see. Some afternoon when Think Tank Boss is on the road, I'll put together my 5-6 applications and send them out, and then I will forget about all of this nonsense. If something comes of it? Fine, we'll take that step by step. If nothing comes of it? Fine. I will be done with this parody of a profession once and for all. I will cast my career lot elsewhere and pursue my research and writing interests independently.

And, friends, this is about as sane a take as I can possibly hope to offer you on the insanity that is the academic job market.


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