I’m not going to sit here and go on and on about how I approached the job market. I’ve already done that, so if you’re interested in logistics of how to manage being on the market, go read this or this.
The logistics and mechanics are one thing, but the feeling of being On the Market is completely separate. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m an incredibly organized individual, so the fact that I could create and follow a strategy for approaching the job search and finishing my dissertation was not surprising to anyone who knows me, I’m sure. And I don’t care if you don’t think you’re an organized person – you can totally approach these two monumental tasks the same way.
But I can’t give you advice on how to approach the emotional aspects of being on the job market.
For me, being on the academic job market was one part enthusiasm, one part possibility, and two parts anxiety and – well, not worthlessness, but the feeling that it was impossible to get it right by some point.
I loved the process of creating my application packet, of trying to express why I would be perfect for a job I’d begun dreaming about. Advisors will tell you not to apply for jobs you don’t want, and this is spot-on. For me, I would’ve been happy to move practically anywhere, and with every opening I found I’d experience this combination of elation over “ooh, they would want me to teach THAT subject?” and “oooh, look at that campus!” and “wow, how fun would it be to live in THAT part of the country???”*
And all that gives way to silence. Sure, there might be a confirmation that “we have received your application,” but mostly you spend your time waiting for some sort of news – and the closer you get to the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in January, the more nail-biting things get. And of course, you stay on top of The Academic Job Search Wiki because it’s better than nothing. It can be demoralizing and you have to take EVERYTHING on there with a mammoth grain of salt, but it can also be helpful when a school simultaneously rejects all applicants with an auto-message 12 hours after the application deadline. (Without the wiki, I wouldn’t have known immediately that it must’ve been an error.)
One of my advisors likens the academic job market to the lottery. You can do EVERYTHING right, he says, and still get nowhere on the academic job market. This past year, I lost that lottery. And in the middle of it, it was devastating. As people I knew slowly got AHA interviews and I became the only job seeker in the department withOUT an AHA interview come January, well, it sucked. I’m sure there were plenty of people whispering about it behind my back.
And you know, it utterly and completely sucks to put yourself out there and get nothing. One of the rumors going through at the AHA was that a lot of schools hiring in American history were simply throwing out the applications of anyone who didn’t have a PhD in hand (not entirely true, as two of my colleagues got interviews at the AHA). I suspect, though, that this WAS a common occurrence this past year, and I also suspect that my interdisciplinary position – an American history dissertation topic, but one focused on women’s history and straddling military history – might also have been a difficulty.
Look, if you’re going on the job market for the first time or approaching it in another year, I don’t say all of this to freak you out and demoralize you. I was gung-ho, I was as positive as anyone could be. I still think I did everything within my power to position myself to the best of my ability.
At the end of the day, I know and my advisors know that it wasn’t me, per se. Of course, it’s awfully hard to really wrap your head around it when you’ve been rejected (explicitly or implicitly) by 50+ schools. (You’ll hear back from some schools. Others won’t ever acknowledge your existence.)**
Going all-out on the academic job market was an experience I wanted to try, but I never, ever planned to spend multiple years straining for an academic position. I told The Spouse and my advisor and other professors flat out that I had no intention of adjuncting full-time just so I could be in academia – it wasn’t something I ever had an interest in doing, nor do I think I have it in me.
For me, pursuing “academia at any cost” has never, ever been worth it. Tomorrow I’ll talk about how I came about my new job and my move away from academia.
*I have things to say about being a married person on the academic job market, but that is for the next post. For the time being, I’ll just say that The Spouse and I mostly worked through which jobs/locations he’d be okay with. If I had gotten offers, theoretically they were all at places where he would’ve been willing to go.
**I suspect that if you have a killer year and get interviews by the dozens, then the job market experience looks a lot different.