Life After the Job Market

At this time last year, I was waiting anxiously for a large research university in Texas to call. At this time two years ago, I was waiting anxiously for a comprehensive university in Georgia to call.I felt like a lovesick teenager, constantly checking my phone, my email, the department website, anything that would give me some idea of what was happening. In both cases, the offer had been made, and I was second choice. Long negotiations left me in limbo for months after promising campus visits. I must have known on some level that this was the situation, but hope and despair take turns running your life while on the job market; neither has a basis in logic. One day, I was sure I had a job, the next, I was sure I would never get one. Both schools kept me on the hook until mid to late April before finally letting me down easy. The second time, I knew I was done. I accepted a job offer at a Community College and have been making sense of that choice ever since.

I love quit lit. It got me through those final months when I knew I might keep trying indefinitely for that tenure-track research job without ever getting one. My diverse set of mentors had a common mantra of “One more year! One more year!”.  Is there a super secret society of tenured faculty where y’all get together and decide to give this advice to grad students? Stories of academic exiles were the antidote to these benevolent but misguided advisors. Mark Bousquet taught me that I was The Waste Product of Graduate Education, and I have never forgotten his incisive analysis of graduate student labor. Anne Helen Petersen showed me that critical talent has little correlation with job market success. Rebecca Schuman made me brave enough to critique the very mentors who had been my idols until I tried to join their ranks.

Now I have been off the job market for one year, and I have a few things to report.

  1. It’s going to be ok.
  2. While my graduate training did not prepare me to teach in an open-access environment (or really to teach if I’m being honest), I have a big, fantastic brain that adapts quickly to new challenges.
  3. The job market took up so much time that I could have spent advancing professionally in other ways such as publishing or learning to code or building a non-academic professional network.
  4. It is really nice to know that I can stay where I am for 5, 10, even 20 years if I want to. This has helped me invest in relationships with colleagues and friends in a way I had not been able to while job searching.
  5. Going into debt to get a job doesn’t really make sense. Financing my job search with credit cards was a completely non-sustainable and crazy thing for my field to expect candidates to do.
  6. Having a job (most any job) is better than searching for the perfect job.

For those people who are searching still, or getting ready to move on, or finally getting into dream jobs that make it all worth it, or adjuncting with little hope of advancement- I hope you make the right decision for you. And I hope we can all be a little more honest about academic labor with ourselves, our advisees, and each other.

5 thoughts on “Life After the Job Market

  1. In the post-PhD job search here, and things are looking bleak. I just feel exhausted and burnt out. And scared. It feels like a permanent state and its hard to remember what it felt like to have any sense of security or stability. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Similar to you, I quit the job market after three years of doing a postdoc, and partially funding my self on credit cards. I have since joined a engineering consulting firm, and while I still feel the pang of regret on what could have been, I have found comfort in working with good people, on good projects, and in a location of my choosing.

    To all struggling out there, it does get better. There is life outside of academia.

  3. Leaving the academic job market when my nonacademic husband got an offer that he couldn’t turn down has been the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. It wasn’t until I left that I realized the toll that the toxic climate of funding scarcity, uncertainty, and tunnel vision in academia had taken on my mental and physical health. As much as I love science, academia was stifling my curiousity and creativity. For those who thrive in that environment, more power to you. It wasn’t for me and I’m so glad that I finally figured that out.

    I feel no shame about leaving, but I do sometimes feel guilt about the amount of my family’s resources (time, money, manpower) that I invested in pursuing what I thought was my dream career.

  4. As someone who recently accepted a faculty position, I cringed when I read your first paragraph because I went through exactly the same experience on the job market last year! Yet, I will propagate the tired message of “keep at it” because as it turns out, this year (my second year on the job market) I was successful in securing a position. In fact this position is such a great match to my research background (and in a great location too) that I’m almost kind of happy that last year didn’t work out for me. I will also say this – if I hadn’t secured a position this year, I would have gone on the market again next year. Yes, it is extremely difficult to get through the months long experience without an offer in hand, but if/when you do secure one, you know that the perseverance was worth it. Good luck!

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