Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Game On. The job hunt has begun.

(Guest post from anonymous blogger. YMMV.)

It’s appropriate that my first post is written today as it is also the day that I am submitting my very first academic job application. It would have been better if I could have written a post prior to this to introduce myself a bit, you know, provide a little context, but like so many of you out there, I am a procrastinator.

I suppose I should be more clear: I am incredibly busy with professional and personal projects; I stay up late, get up early, get distracted, and yes also find myself watching videos of baby goats for hours. Sometimes it is hard to get it all done in advance.  So now you know.  Considering that I am blogging anonymously, I suppose the less you know about me the better.

Here’s what you should know about me: First, I am on the job market this year. It’s my first year out there and I am scared. I think this is pretty typical and I hope to talk about this more in a future post. Second, this is a test year on the market. What does that mean? Well, I guess it means that I am getting my feet wet, testing the waters if you will. I could finish my dissertation this year and dive into a postdoc or swim off after the sparkly narwhal that is a job right out of the gates, but I have my water wings on. If it doesn’t work out, I can float around in my university’s pool until kids’ swim is over about a year and a half from now. Why does this matter? Because it changes the way I apply for jobs. Only being ABD and not having my PhD in hand means I can shoot for the moon but I’ll probably just land on that smelly hunk of cheese in the dumpster behind the department.

Taking a test year on the market is a contentious topic in the academic blogosphere and seems to depend a lot on your field (for some links to what’s out there scroll on down to the bottom). There are good points on both sides, which I will summarize as such:

  • Committees sometimes summarily dismiss all ABD candidates so you don’t stand a chance. This seems more common in the humanities and less so in the social sciences and bioanth in particular but it is something to keep in mind.
  • A trial run can be demoralizing (since you may not be at your most competitive).
  • You are taking valuable time and energy away from finishing your dissertation and your post-doc and write up applications (things which you may have a better shot at getting).
  • You might get a job that isn’t quite what you wanted, isn’t in a place that you wanted, or maybe isn’t as good as you wanted and take it because . . . well it’s a job.

  • You will gain valuable experience in preparing an application.
  • You may even generate some buzz about yourself and get experience with a job talk.
  • It will force you to think about your research in a package-able and ultimately more manageable way.
  • You have a chance to gain important insights into the weaknesses of your application and can address them for your second go at the market the following year.
  • You may actually get a job . . . I hear this is great motivation to finish.
  • You can avoid getting steamrolled by student loans without a real salary and the adjunct death trap altogether.

This last point for me is pretty critical. Not because it is my situation just yet, but because it is a pretty dire one that a lot of academics are finding themselves in today. By taking a test year, you give yourself a greater shot at getting a job. You maintain the benefits of your institution while applying (library, research, and professionalization resources) and you still have your affiliation with your graduate university, making you a better candidate. AND you get two years to find something!!!

I am going for it. I have already decided to make a go of the trial by fire year. My reasons for doing so are both structural and personal. My program has provided me with floaties but I am pretty ready to swim on my own. My publication record is okay but it could be better. My dissertation is in good shape and I could finish it in a few months if I had to (this is a must if you want to go on the market). I have a lot of support from my adviser and department to apply (another must as your adviser and committee will be vouching for your capability to finish the dissertation in time to start the job you are applying for. If they aren’t on board, don’t do it). But most importantly, there are a lot of great jobs out there right now for bioanthros, especially for a biocultural like me (we can save this discussion for another day). I just feel like I can’t afford to not try for them.

My parting words to you today are these: If you are taking a trial year, go big or go home. Find your dream jobs and apply for those. Don’t apply for a job that you don’t really want but would be tempted to take just because you think nothing else will come along.  Just don’t put your self in the position where you have to make that choice. Think about what you want from your career and go after it (Think about what this really means to you. It might be more than just getting a tenure track job). Your chances of getting the job might be less but the trial year provides you a safety net. If you shoot for the moon, you might just get it. If you land on the dumpster cheese . . . well . . . there is always next year.

Links to relevant articles about going on the job market ABD: