Thursday, May 18, 2006

Getting an Academic Job

My parents would very much like me to get a job closer to them (well, OK, they really just want the grandkids close to them. Where I am or my job is matters not), so they find it mystifying that I don't come work near them. They say things like, "Why don't you get a job at Tiny Nun-Run College a Few Minutes Away?" and when I reply that they don't have any full time faculty (and it would be a step WAY down for me, anyway), they look puzzled. Then they say things like, "Have you put in a resume at Extension Campus of Large State School, or at Famous Private School?" and don't understand that I can't just send my resume around to schools that don't have open faculty lines.

No, my parents aren't stupid. It's just that the whole academic hiring cycle is such a bizarre and counter-intuitive dance, no one would believe it who hasn't seen it. The practical result is that when you need a job, there aren't any out there (or you are competing with literally hundreds of other applicants), and when you are hiring, there aren't any qualified candidates. As my department chair Bill likes to say, "It's a wonder anyone ever gets a job." Having been on both sides of the hiring process, I have to agree.

The account Mark Bauerlein gives in his misleadingly-entitled "Systematic Indoctrination" is about as accurate as any I've seen. My favorite part:
There is no more miserable creature on earth than the post-doc looking for a job. You’ve spent your twenties reading books and writing papers, taking classes from advisors who wonder when you’ll be off their hands. You have no prospects, and you can’t do anything else. You can barely pay your rent, but every hour at a part-time job derails your ambitions. At the annual scholarly convention, you join a thousand other wannabes scrambling for a few plum appointments. Your clothes are a bit threadbare, your posture slouches as if you aren’t sure of getting a rebuke or a reward. Your face is wan, but your eyes dart.

Yup, that about describes it.

In an unrelated note, does anyone out there know of any other non-academic magazine that keeps a blog on education, or is National Review the only one?


  1. We used to have the same problem with my in-laws. It took literally years to convince them that one didn't just get an academic job where one wants one.

    I think ternure finally quelled the debate more than anything else, as that was more understandable that the arcane nature of the academic job market.

  2. Make that "tenure".

    Althought I will say that even "ternure" is easier to understand than the academic job market.

  3. is about as accurate

    Where do you stand, then, on his conclusions about "conformity by passive selection" in which "the less adventuresome and strong-minded one[s]" get weeded out, with the, I guess, Howard Roarks and Harrison Bergerons left by the wayside to make room for milquetoasts like Peter Singer?

    It doesn't strike me that Bauerlein's conclusions, such as they are, can be limited only to academia. Each profession has its pressures to conform: e.g., Wall Street traders lacking machismo probably won't survive long. Same holds true for any society.

  4. Karl,

    The reason I said it was "misleadingly-entitled" is that I don't think the post itself has much to do with his conclusions, one way or the other. It might have been better entitled, "Seeking an academic job in the humanities is really terrible."

  5. Fair enough. How about "Seeking an academic job in the humanities is really terrible + a conclusion I had cluttering up my floor."

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