Saturday, February 13, 2010

Keep your head above water

Episode #1: While doing something or other at the department some weeks ago, I ran into a faculty member with whom I have the closest thing to a friendship of equals, among our faculty.  (Of course, zi isn't on my committee.)   I asked hir what zi thought I were supposed to do if the academic year draws to a close, and I have no job offer at all.  Zi nodded sadly and said, "Well, I didn't get any jobs myself, my first year out of school.  I worked in a law office for a year, and tried to keep my hand in."  Then zi rushed off to attend to work, before I had a chance to ask how one "keeps one's hand in" when one has no formal affiliation with any academic institution.

Let the record show that this prof is no slacker; zi is still pretty young, as tenured profs go, and is about to publish hir fourth (fourth!) book.  Zi's also something of a name in hir sub-field of our discipline.  It sort of stunned me to hear that zi had no academic position at all, a year after getting hir PhD from a highly respected program, and being something of a wunderkind.

Episode #2: As has been my wont of late, I was in my department's front office yesterday for a while, updating the dossiers of job opening info that I send to my letter referees and putting some more addressed envelopes in their boxes.  I greeted a recent departmental hire as zi came in, and zi asked me how things were going.  I probably said something like "Surviving," which is fast becoming my standard response -- "Fine" would be a baldfaced lie -- and explained that I was trying to finish up my diss.  Zi jokingly asked if that's what I was doing on my computer in the main office, and I explained that, in fact, I was also trying to obtain a job for next year, which is what I was doing at that moment.  "Ah yes," zi nodded sympathetically, the sarcastic smile fading, "for the first few years, you just have to try to keep your head above water.  I got rejected from 47 jobs before I found one.  It's tough even in a good year, let alone this year.  You'll get a burst of energy, though, once you finish your diss."

Holy shit.  This, from a big fancy prof we poached from another school, who earns more money per year than I expect to make in the next three years, at the least!

It's both encouraging and disheartening to know that current big cheeses in my department (and, really, my field at large) were once as economically vulnerable on the market as I am now.  Encouraging, because it reassures me that I'm not just some loser whom no one would ever hire, and that my .000 batting average on the job market thus far is simply par for the course.  Disheartening, because I fear that I am neither the theoretical giant of Episode #1 nor the research maven of Episode #2.  And if both of those profs spent the first few years after graduate school just trying to keep body and soul together, what fucking chance do I have, unless I make a pact with the Devil and transform myself into Faust, PhD?


  1. Gods frakking damn it, I wrote a whole thing here and lost it to some content-eating interwob beast.

    Point: yes. I hear this. But also, our perspectives are skewed by our departments. Elsewhere, folk have different stories.

  2. Oh, and Faust? Would do excellently well in American higher education.