Saturday, December 20, 2008

Well, That Sucked

By "that," I mean my academic job search for 2008-2009. (I can't think of anything nicer to call it than "that." Nor can I figure out why a bunch of hyper-educated graduate students in the humanities refer to anything relating to the job market as "job stuff." Maybe the stress just obliterates any articulateness that we might have had).

Anyway, I just heard my last "no, thanks," so it seems that my first season on the job market has ended without my getting even one preliminary interview. To be fair, I did get long-listed (in the final 6) at a school that does not do preliminary interviews, so that is perhaps the equivalent of getting one preliminary interview, but that was it. And I did not get short-listed (in the final 3, who get on-campus interviews) for that job.

Some background on the academic job market in the humanities for the unitiated: The fall before a humanities Ph.D. student will get his or her dissertation, he or she typically goes on the job market. He or she doesn't typically get anything, since schools don't like to hire people without completed dissertations. Instead, he or she generally gets a preliminary interview or two at the annual meeting of his/her discipline's major conference and emerges, dignity more or less intact, with some materials to use next year when no longer A.B.D. (All But Dissertation). Meanwhile, students who have graduated from the same prgram in past years get jobs, thus preserving faith in the overall viability of the job market, while at the same time taking the new job-finders off the list of the colleagues the A.B.D. will have to compete against next year. A.B.D.'s often get postdocs.

That was before the market fell through the floor.

This year, two of the nine jobs I applied to had hiring freezes before they even thought about interviewing anyone. Two were not exactly in my field (I would have had to interview at a different conference altogether) and came under the "cast a wide net" just in case they have no other candidates they want and would hire a Jew to teach a subject that Jews don't normally teach). So, that left five. That's not very many, considering that the top five programs in the country (mine included) will be graduating about 15 Ph.D.'s this year. That does not account for people who went on the market last year and now have postdocs. One long-listed me, and the others . . . nothing. Well, I got a fairly nice rejection e-mail from one. The others didn't get in touch, but I learned from other people that those schools have been in touch with THEM, which is as close as prospective academics get to rejection. That's a post for another day. Many in my field, including some who are a year out, are not even getting preliminary interviews because they are competing against Ph.D.'s who have been on the market for a few years and may even already have book contracts. That increases competition for postdocs and for jobs next year.

You might be thinking, "Katrina, if the market is so bad, and everyone is getting slammed, why are you so upset? Also, didn't you know this might happen when you started grad school?" I have this to say:

1. It's very hard not to take this personally. I had to write letters to schools telling them about my work--often giving samples of my work--and my approach to teaching, and my next project. Note all the "my"s. I have been working on my dissertation for 3.5 years. If no one even wants to talk to me about any of this at a conference they will be attending anyway, it's personal. Of course there are other factors--maybe they want to hire a specialist in a different country than the one I study--but clearly my work has failed to wow.

2. I'm embarrassed. I have a bit of a reputation in my department as a superstar. I'm not 100% sure where this comes from. Part of it is the confidence I exude, because I believe one should exude confidence about one's work, even if one doesn't feel it. And I do think that I am erudite and do fine work.

3. Relates to 2: I don't like to seem vulnerable or uncertain about my work, even to friends in my department. People aren't going to know the extent of my sucking--people only find out if you got an on-campus interview or not. But I will, and now I have to fake it. Also, my advisor knows, and I think this must diminish her view of me, even if she would never admit it.

4. I go to a top-five program in my field. Depending on who you ask, it might be a top-three program. That's supposed to be worth something at job-searching time. It doesn't get you a job in a top-flight program, but, again, it should be good for something, a small, second- or third-tier liberal arts college looking for academic polish. Maybe a preliminary interview there? (To be fair, only one liberal arts college had a job and no hiring freeze, and it wasn't in my subfield, but I applied anyway. So it's not a representative sample). If I seem obsessed, I kind of am, but this is much worse than I expected to do.

All this is made worse by the situation with TF. He is looking for a job, and now it looks that my only postdoc-ing options may be at my current university. That puts a lot of pressure on him to find a job in my city, where he doesn't currently live, in another difficult market (he's not an academic, but all job markets are bad right now). He is looking for a job anyway, but my city isn't a natural choice.

So I am sad and mad and feel bad and don't feel like I can really talk about it, except to my parents and TF and BFF. And you guys, since you don't know me. If you do know me, please don't mention this, since it's pretty painful right now.


Miryam (mama o' the matrices) said...

oh, man. That did suck.

I watched people bang their heads on the job market, year after year, and finally toss the hot-shot PhD in the crapper. And head off for law school.

Can't speak for others, but I never thought any the less of them for it - and I certainly thought better of them for being pragmatic.

But it still sucks.

Miryam (mama o' the matrices) said...

okay, let me try that again, without the excuse of little chaos-bringers happily disentangling crucial wires from the answering machine.


Oh, but the academic markets are shitty. They have been shitty for so long that it's one of those goes as unsaid things, and yet, right now are shittier than usual.

Your adviser and committee should know this - bet they do - and cannot hold it against you. Even rising stars get gobsmacked by hiring freezes.

but it still sucks.

Shira Salamone said...

Bummer. Good luck.

Tzipporah said...


OK, that was just me having a flashback to grad school and worrying about all this stuff.

From my current cozy post as an editor in the for-profit world, all I can say is, really? Is it REALLY worth all this, all this struggle, to end up facing a room full of self-entitled, allowance-wielding, keg-drinking college students and try to engage them in something you think is important?

For me, the answer was clearly no.

But I sympathize. And empathize. And really, it's not YOU or your work that sucked, just the job market. And frankly, that's hitting everybody, in or outside of academia.

katrina said...

Thanks, MotM, Shira, and Tzipporah, for the suppportive comments. They really helped. If someone is reading this blog and wondering whether to comment, please know that an "I hear you, Katrina," means a lot.

Tzipporah--what does it mean to be an editor in the for-profit world? Do you mean in publishing? I thought there were no jobs there any more, either. Or are you in another industry?

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