jobs

28Feb11

I’ve done abysmally badly on the job market this year. Bad to the point where there’s a very good chance I might be working a non-academic, dead-end job next year (book store, coffee shop, the like) just to pay the bills.

To be clear, I didn’t apply to anything and everything I could have. I have a salary in mind that I won’t go below (the number’s different for jobs or postdocs). There are areas of the country I’m not willing to live in, my concern being less geographical and more refusing to live somewhere else that’s in the middle of nowhere. I won’t adjunct, except at an institution close to where I am now. I’m not going to move somewhere for a one-year (or one-semester) gig with a paltry salary and no benefits. And, since I’ve spent this year living in an area where I’m enjoying life a bit more than I did last year, I’m in no hurry to leave. Add to that the fact that I have moved every 2-11 months over the past 10 years (moving in and out of dorms, moving to and from another country twice), and it made my selection process pretty easy. Since leaving home at 18, I haven’t spent a full year in any single living situation (dorm room, apartment, etc). This peripatetic lifestyle has grown tedious, and among many other things, is a pretty significant factor in my perpetual singlehood.

All that said, I applied to a fair few things, and all I’ve gotten is a steady stream of rejections (actual and wiki). No conference or phone interviews, only one request for additional materials. It’s not that I’ve been rejected once folks have looked at my meager “additional materials” (although now they’re not so meager). It’s that I’m not standing out in any fashion. Being black isn’t helping…so much for affirmative action. And, to be an elitist for half a minute, I didn’t go to my graduate institution and work with the advisor who’s made my life so unpleasant not to make it to the “more materials” phase of the job search at more than one institution.

Given the emotionally cataclysmic events of last year, I’ve remained pretty calm about the whole thing. I’ve already seen my institution for what it is: an institution sitting on its laurels, convinced of its own inherent worth (as though students learn simply by breathing the air) while simultaneously doing absolutely nothing to establish even a baseline of graduate instruction. It’s an institution that prizes itself on its “generosity” to students, but yet nickels-and-dimes students and seeks out ways to claw back money from its students. (Yeah, it’s a sore point with me that I wrote the department a check for $1000 of my own money for reasons they fabricated.) All the while, the institution repeatedly refuses to deal with basic and significant graduate student concerns, on the grounds that the money that they’ve provided makes up for every other failing. After all, since we get so much money, it’s okay when “computer errors” mean that we get our money two or three days late; it’s okay that they say one thing about funding and mean something else, and when you go in to figure out why suddenly you’re down $5000, they use funky math to insist that the money lost is somehow a gain. No folks, I’m really not kidding.

So I saw the institution for what it was, and the fact that I’ve done so poorly on the market (despite the fact that a faculty member mentioned to a seminar several months ago that the name of our institution puts us automatically into the top 20 — number, not percentage — a fact that I never believed for a minute and now know to be hilariously untrue) hasn’t really surprised me. What does surprise me is that some of the people that I’ve known for years, who have watched me be dicked around for years, who say they would never recommend someone work with my advisor, who go on and on at length about how I’ve been done so wrong — what surprises me is that these same people are now completely undone by their similar lack of success. Suddenly I’m the one listening to rants against the department and the university, as though my own horrific experience didn’t somehow suggest that there was something rotten going on.

I don’t really know what to make of this. In some respects, I feel vindicated. It wasn’t just me, it wasn’t just my personal failings that made me vulnerable to the piss-poor treatment I received. Nope, there’s been something funky from the start. There are systemic problems that allowed my situation to occur and for it not to be resolved appropriately (and although things are better, the underlying assumptions about my performance haven’t gone away, nor have the implications that I’m woefully behind my colleagues). So on that score, this is good.

On the other hand, it’s profoundly depressing that people watched my graduate career almost go up in flames through no fault of my own, sat by while I was victimized by a professor and virtually accused of stealing thousands of dollars by another, and saw how the supposed go-to person in the department cared more about minimizing hir discomfort in directly addressing the situation than protecting me, a defenseless grad student — that people saw all that, somehow made it in their eyes all about my failings, and continued to assume that all was right in the department. As long as they didn’t have to deal with any of the bullshit, everything in the department was right. The institution wasn’t a right fit for me, they said, without wondering how things could get so bad. Only now that they aren’t getting jobs is there something wrong in the department.

It’s yet another bitter pill to swallow. Thank goodness there are only another 6-8 months of this bullshit.

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5 Responses to “jobs”

  1. It drives me really freaking crazy that any institution is still feeding graduate students the “our school name is so awesome that all of our grads get jobs” line. It just isn’t true. Not for Harvard, not for Yale, not for Stanford, not for any school in the world. I know a lot of great people in top departments who have ended up dropping out of academia because the market is so tight. And, like your grad program, mine was frustratingly clueless about how bad the situation really is. Part of me feels really guilty that my “success” at obtaining a postdoc at a mediocre university will be counted as “placement” by the department and touted in their statistics. Barf.

    No advice here, just solidarity. And also, congratulations on being so close to finishing!

    • 2 thefrogprincess

      Welcome to the blog, petite chablis. I really don’t understand why these institutions think it’s okay to keep peddling this line. Wouldn’t students all be better off if they knew early in their graduate careers that the market’s hideous, and not likely to get significantly better any time soon? That way, at the very least, they could be a bit more strategic in their planning. Now’s really too late for me to realize that I would be better served if I’d published an article. And summers could have been put to better use doing some internships in other related industries–publishing, museums, public history, etc. But nope, they pretend all the way up to the end that we’re destined for jobs, and when we don’t, then we get smiles, fake assurances, and are comforted with the words, “oh nobody’s really hiring ABDs right now…you’re not competitive at this stage.” Could somebody have mentioned that to me three years ago when I could have maybe done something about my competitiveness?

  2. I cringe almost to say this but…welcome to the club. You’ve had a pretty good idea for a pretty long while that the emperor had no clothes; now you know it for sure, because you can see him and smell him for what he is. The denial and peddling of lies continue, yet people are all too wiling to believe that we’re, as you say, “destined for jobs.” That destiny thing gets me, too — a year out, two times on the market unsuccessfully, and people are still trying to sell me that line, and the saddest part for me is that, unlike in your situation, these are people I actually otherwise like and respect. How can they be so clueless?

    But they are, and here I am, a year out from my defense and a month into my job as a secretary. One thing I can say about my new job is that they don’t tolerate bullshit around here, even when they’re the ones producing it. I work at a think tank that is, um, politically at odds with my own beliefs. When I catch lies in the things I edit, I point them out, and my boss laughs, “Ha! You caught the lie. Follow the money, and you’ll know why!” Maybe there’s something in that disillusioned academics could use…

    Well, congrats on being almost done. It does feel good for about a day.

  3. Sadly….welcome to the club. Yes, the Emperor has no clothes. Sadly, people will continue to sign up for PhD programmes in the belief that they might be lucky…and destined for a job. This will lead to the creation of a large pool of highly qualified people who university adminstrators can continue to draw on as ‘adjuncts’ until the people in this group say ‘no’. There’s just too many people with PhDs, who’ve been unable to find jobs in the university system, for that line ‘ we’re “destined for jobs” to be true.

    However, congratulations for being so close to finishing!! Yay!!

  4. The job market in North America is very bad. But, there are some countries overseas where universities are expanding their humanities faculties. I am currently at such an institution. If you are willing to relocate outside of North America and Europe then the chances of getting a decent academic job are much better. Granted not everybody wants to move to Africa, but I think the only way a lot of US humanities PhDs are going to get jobs is to take them in countries outside North America and Europe.


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