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.