Recently, I applied for my first academic job at a small state university. The description for the tenure-track position fit my skill set perfectly. I have to admit, though, the thought of working for a small university close in proximity and within the same state system as my previous (and very negative, see for example here, here, and here) pre-doc teaching experience gave me reservation in even applying. In addition, I don’t have any chapters written yet for my dissertation and it likely won’t be finished until this summer, so it is slightly premature to be on the job market. However, a former colleague encouraged me to apply so I did despite my reservations.
I quickly threw together an application packet, including writing from scratch a research statement and teaching philosophy the day before it was due, and sent it in later that night. Since I didn’t have a chance to have my mentor critique it for me, I didn’t think I would get very far in the application process, but at least I had something written to work with for future applications. I was surprised when a week later I was contacted for a Skype interview.
This was my first video interview, so I prepared by reading a few blogs (here’s a great one, here, and here). The interview felt really awkward at first; I waved and said “Hi” each time one of the faculty members was introduced to me. The interview was brief, and I’m guessing they had a standard set of questions they asked each of the candidates. I thought I did pretty well for my first Skype interview. I emailed individual thank you notes to the chair and the faculty who asked me questions or answered my questions.
Within a few days, I was asked to come for a campus visit to give an introductory lecture and a 45-minute research talk in two weeks. In the meantime, I had to prepare a conference talk and had an unexpected family tragedy that included traveling out of state for the three days immediately prior to my interview. Needless to say, I wasn’t as prepared for the interview as I hoped, I approached it with the attitude that this is, if nothing else, a great experience and doing my best will have to be enough. In the interview, I wasn’t as nervous as I usually am, probably because I didn’t expect to get the position and I wasn’t entirely convinced that I wanted it if I did get an offer. Following the interview, I emailed each of the faculty members and thanked them.
Two days later, the chair called with an offer and gave me a week to think it over.
This was a very difficult decision for me, particularly because I felt like I only had a week to decide once and for all whether I want to stay in academia. In the end, I turned the offer down because it wasn’t right for my family at this point. My husband would have supported either decision even though moving to a smaller community would have severely limited his job opportunities. I want him to be able to get a full-time job somewhere, not adjunct forever. If the department would have been able to do a spousal hire (which I knew they couldn’t), I would have accepted. However, moving for a faculty job in which I would be the sole breadwinner at a point when we’re trying to start a family just doesn’t make sense to me. Academia is shockingly backwards when it comes to maternity leave for instructional staff. It seems like you either teach your full load, or maybe a reduced load without actually taking any leave, or you take the semester off with no pay, and possibly no insurance (e.g. see here, here, and here). Um, that might work if you have a spouse that carries insurance and makes a decent income, but what about those of us women who are the major/sole breadwinners??
Perhaps I could have negotiated for a better maternity leave for whenever and however kids come in the picture. Since I’m not married to the idea of going the faculty route, it just didn’t seem worth it. Maternity leave wasn’t the only reason I turned the job down; more like it was the straw that broke the camel’s back (again, crossroads). I know I’ll likely be the primary breadwinner when I eventually start my career, but I’m not willing to make my husband always be the one to compromise. Maybe another faculty job will come down the road; maybe it won’t. I’m ok with that. The great thing that came from this experience is the opportunity for me (and my husband) to really sort through our priorities, both professionally and personally. Turning this job down might be a gutsy move on my part, but I’m confident that I will find something that works much better for me and my family.