Academic Job Market Retrospective, Part 3

If you’ve read all the way through my last two posts, you might find yourself wondering if I simply gave up on academia because I had a crappy experience on the job market last year. You wouldn’t be the first to ask that question, and I suspect you won’t be the last.

Several years ago, another grad student in my department left the program with a master’s and took a position teaching at a local independent secondary school. I took comprehensive exams that spring myself, and it was also a particularly rough spring – I miscarried nearly 20 weeks into my first pregnancy, which is a topic for another time altogether. I was disappointed that this grad student was leaving, but very intrigued in her new position. I told myself that I’d have to remember the independent school teaching option for down the road.* So when the same person alerted me to an opening at her school for the 2011-2012 school year, I was DEFINITELY interested in applying.

While I kept my other application efforts going, I poured everything I had into this job possibility – for several reasons. First and foremost, I was very, very attracted to the idea that I could get a job teaching in my two favorite subjects (history and English). Secondly, I really liked the idea of independent schools as communities – and the possibility that I could be part of such a community environment, contributing not just as a teacher, but as an advisor, coach, etc. Finally, I admit that practicalities played into it a little bit – and by that I mean geography.

The Spouse has lived his entire life in the St. Louis region – with the exception of his time at college (which was still in the state of Missouri). If you don’t know any native St. Louisans, all you need to know is that they tend to be very connected to this area. You’ll meet exceptions, but most St. Louisans I know are utterly attached at the hip to this place (and frankly, they have good reason to be). The Spouse and I spent years discussing my pending job market experience, and I it wasn’t always harmonious discussions. There were places he simply didn’t want to move, and he was seriously worried about transitioning his career. He knew his company had offices in nearly every state, but he had very real concerns about getting a transfer – and I don’t blame him.

People write about and talk about the dual-career academic couple, but I’ve not frequently encountered pieces that focus on the dual-career couple like my family. At the end of the day, if you’re in a long-term committed relationship, there may be choices you have to make when it comes to your career.

What this all meant for me is that I wasn’t really interested in one-year positions or 1- to 2-year postdocs. They weren’t practical for us as a couple. I could’ve commuted, and we thought about it and talked about it – but as those types of positions increasingly became the only ones emerging in the spring job ads, I couldn’t bring myself to apply to many of them. I came to the realization that if I wasn’t willing to adjunct full-time just to stay in academia, I wasn’t really willing to leave my home for a year or two just to go on the academic job market again and/or hope that the short-term position became permanent.

So yes, I loved the idea that I found an attractive job that was already close to home.** But I really loved that I could teach my two academic loves. I gave that job application everything I had. Upper School Humanities Teacher became the job I wanted more than anything else. I networked, I went to an independent school job fair (in part so I could try to connect with the people managing the job search, and in part so I could explore other local possibilities, too), and when I got the interview, I put my heart and soul into preparing.

I accepted the position two days before I defended my dissertation, and I spent the next month encountering questions from colleagues and professors about whether I would go on the academic job market again. Many people wondered if this would simply be a short-term thing, something to tide me over.

The short answer is no. The longer answer is that I have no interest in going back into an already-saturated market just to go through the same stresses again. Maybe I’d do better this year, but why bother? Why should I invest the time and the money (because folks, sending out materials is not cheap, fyi) – particularly when I have the job I want?

Choosing a career outside of academia has not been necessarily the most popular choice – meaning that I didn’t exactly get a lot of kudos from people in my department. Three of us who went on the academic job market last year (from my department) got jobs: one is about to start a postdoc, one is a new assistant professor, and I’m teaching high school. I won’t lie: it took some time to get over the feelings I came away with from the department as a whole. The further out I’ve gotten from the university, the more confident I’ve felt in my decision. It’s not easy when people are second-guessing your choices or asking why you won’t at least keep your eyes open on the market this next year.

But I’m really, really happy with the way things turned out. Every new job – whether in academia or not – is a bit of a gamble and a hell of a transition. I spent the past few years in a place where I had an established (good) reputation, and I’m making the move to a place where I get to start over and have to learn how to fit myself in. I’m excited about this, and I’m confident that in two weeks, two months, two years, or even two decades from now, I’ll still look back and say that this was the right path to take.***

*Ironically, this isn’t the first time I’ve done something like that: my first job in the St. Louis area came about from similar circumstances, when one of my friends told me about her job and how it entailed lots of writing and research – things that were right up my alley.

**Note: this was certainly not the first job in this region – I’d applied to two community colleges and another private college, all hiring for someone in my field on a full-time basis. I heard nothing from any of them.

***All of this has been to say, I suppose, that I think it’s a good thing to be flexible about your career plans. There’s more out there for you than you might initially think.

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13 thoughts on “Academic Job Market Retrospective, Part 3

  1. Hi Tanya, Thanks so much for writing this! As a 4th year grad student and someone in a dual-career marriage with location issues, its nice to read about someone else’s experiences. You know even though your new career is “outside of academia,” i have trouble thinking about it that way. It seems very much within academia if outside of the technical academy’s walls.

  2. Thanks for being so candid with this experience. I’m sorry that there were people in the department who didn’t support your decision, or give you the congratulations you deserve. I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t count you as one of the department’s successes. I still live by the motto WWTD: What would Tanya do? I can’t wait to see your new school.

  3. So sorry the traditional academic career didn’t work out for you. The good thing is that you found work that you find meaningful, be it for a year or for the rest of your life. Career paths take strange routes. And I think sometimes those faculty members who haven’t been on the market for 5 or 10 or more years forget that it’s a very different world from when they were out there. Good luck!

    • Thanks, Kathleen! I’m actually on day one of the new school year today – and so far, so good. I think I found a good place for me, and in the end, I think that’s what matters, no matter what the level or position.

  4. Tanya, excellent posts on your decision. What I am most struck by is your thoughtful reflection on how the “two-body” problems is actually a “two career” problem that impacts a working family unit. I cannot wait to read more posts on that. I find myself in a similar ship. Perhaps, we should dual blog about it.

  5. Tanya, my spouse is also an academic (two-body problem!), but he is a scientist in a lab (read more corporate) job. So, when the jobs come out in my field each year, we negotiate over what I would work with his career also, which means one year visiting stints are out as well as post-docs. Thus, I apply for the elusive TT jobs each year. Currently, I am a lecturer at the university in the same location where my spouse’s job is. I’ve been “on” the market for three years now, and each year, it is the same tired song and dance because both of our careers matter to us.

    This is a long way of saying: Yes, let’s blog-dialogue about this. I think most conversations I have with academics are always about applying (and applying) and going wherever you get a job. I think that completely ignores that some of us are very attached to our partners and their work lives too.

  6. This is a fabulous blog…I am glad that I came across it. My husband was kind enough to quit his job (in industry) to follow me for the past 3 years (3 postdocs, three locations, one international). I was on the TT job market last year until I was offered another postdoc in January. I am prepared to apply for more TT jobs this year. Fortunately, my prospects are better than last year (more prestigious lab, more good pubs, etc.). However, it is still going to be very difficult to obtain a permanent position. The truth is that you must be willing to move to any and all locations if you really want a TT position. I am happy to say – after years of agonizing over it – that I am no longer willing to uproot myself or my family to pursue a traditional academic position. My private life (my family and friends, access to the outdoors) is very important to me and I want an occupation that supports rather than competes with it. It is a difficult decision for me because I’ve invested so much in my academic career, but I also feel that the skills I’ve acquired will not be lost. For the first time in a long time, I am looking forward to finding a job in a location that is ideal for me and my husband. It may not be possible for us to regain what we lost prior to my first postdoc (a high paying job for my husband, a close community), but I am hopeful. Congrats to you, Tanya! I look forward to hearing more on your first year of teaching!

    • Thanks, Kelly – nice to meet you! I agree: for a TT position, one needs to be willing to move anywhere. Or in a relationship, both members of the relationship need to be willing to do so or make an arrangement about handling long distance. That’s so awesome that your husband has been so great through the searches! Good luck this year – hope it goes well!

  7. Hi Tanya,
    Great post! I find myself in a similar position – partner with an academic type research job, facing my first year on the job market in European and world history, aiming for a teaching-centric institution (small liberal arts, community colleges), and increasingly unwilling to chase the white whale of a TT job considering the impact on my family and sanity. When I think about what I want my life to look like in the next 20-30 years I see three things: family, time to continue to get outdoors, and being in a classroom. I myself am a product of an independent school and would like to add independent schools to my job hunt. I love the idea of being able to teach multiple subjects and join the extra-curricular communities that are associated with independent schools. Teach world history and help with the school play (like my high school history teacher)? Yes, please! My fear? That as a PhD I”m not qualified for secondary school teaching (daily lectures/lesson plans, secondary school class management, pedagogy, etc). How did you prepare (both yourself and your CV)? Did you take education classes? Or just read material? What about course design? Any suggestions for other people, such as myself, who would be making the transition from college level teaching to secondary level teaching?

    • Hi Kelly, and thanks for commenting!
      Did you do any teaching assistantship with your PhD preparation? I did not take any education classes. I was a teaching assistant for several years during the PhD, and that was enough. Many independent schools take teachers with BAs or MAs not in teaching but in their subject area. From my perspective, daily lesson prep is easily teachable (and lectures here generally stay to a minimum – maybe 10 minutes in my sophomore classes at most?). Class management is something I’m working on as we go.

      I did do some good reading – The Intentional Teacher by Peter Gow is a great resource, for example, and I read most of that before my interview. I also prepped a resume, rather than a CV, since the lengthy CV isn’t really appropriate for a teaching job search like this. On the resume (which I kept to 2 pages), I emphasized my teaching experience and range of knowledge to tap into that (world history is particularly great for that). It also helped that I did a lot of teaching workshops during grad school, which showed my commitment to pedagogy, I think (and I won a teaching award during the PhD). Hope this helps a little.

      • Hi Tanya,
        Thanks for the detailed and speedy response! I have 6 years of teaching experience -14 different teaching assistantships, and 2 self-designed and -taught college history courses. I am very comfortable with course design, preparation, and delivery. My conference presentations have also included papers on pedagogy and course design (specific to world history), and I’ve also won teaching awards from my university. I feel prepared with the classroom experience, but am also aware of my inexperience working in a secondary school classroom. But it sounds like I may be more qualified than I recognize :) Again, many thanks for the response and suggestions!

        I’m very interested to see how the rest of your year goes! I look forward to reading your thoughtful posts and wish you the best of luck.
        From another Whovian,
        Kelly

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