Monday, June 24, 2019

A short apology about the job market

In years past, I have written on this blog about the job market--advice about cover letters, about where to find resources, and about the MLA statistics on trends in hiring (spoiler: it's grim).

I've never said those preposterous things that are apparently clichés from senior professors, as in "there's a t-t job for everyone if you work hard enough" or whatever other nonsense they supposedly spout.

I spent years as an adjunct and know better than this. I've done what I could at my institutions to argue for equity in hiring, written and argued for more lines, created as much stability and as many benefits as possible for non-tt faculty, etc.That still doesn't create tenure-track lines, which come from the upper administration.

Because of all those adjunct years, I know that in getting a job preparation is involved, but so is luck, a lot of luck. But in hopes that advice about preparation would be helpful, I did write those posts.

And now I am seeing all over Twitter that any kind of job advice is a microaggression or just plain aggression against people who don't have a job and that even posting advice is traumatizing to applicants. A common theme is that tenured senior faculty ought to just plain shut up. There's a lot of anger about this.

Anyway, I debated about leaving the posts up or taking them down and decided to leave them up, figuring that if people didn't want to read them, they wouldn't.

This is sort of a two-part apology. I'm sorry about the job market and will continue doing what I can to make conditions better. And I'm sorry if those initial posts were upsetting but will try to stick to other topics in the future.


gwinne said...

I mostly don't read Twitter anymore. Some of that is just me making different choices about my 'free' time. Some of it is exactly that sort of thing. I could go on a whole rant about the use of the term micro-aggression...

Yeah, the market SUCKS. I really hate the conversations that I now have with undergrads who want to go to grad school because they want to be professors feels so hypocritical to tell them not to want what I have but what I have is, yes, so much luck and slightly better market conditions.

Bardiac said...

I don't read much twitter, so I've totally missed this. It didn't occur to me that a blog post with job advice could/would be read as aggression or micro-aggression, since one chooses to read or not. (Unlike, say, unsolicited advice in an elevator or classroom.)

I, too, spent time as an adjunct, and more than a couple years on the market, and it sucked. I think at my department, about a third of the students I knew ended up with tenure track jobs. I'd hazard a guess that it's way worse now.

Is it just too painful? Does it feel even more like a crapshoot, so that it's not worth hearing/taking advice.

(Like you, I try to act ethically in my department to make life as decent as possible for our non-tenure track colleagues and for job candidates for our jobs. The systemic stuff is crushing. I wish I knew how to really make it better.)

pat said...

I haven't seen that twitter stuff, and have to leave it up to you to judge which tweets deserve attention. But yeah, a lot of the stuff I used to read on academic blogs about travails of the tenure track now looks like Marie Antoinette complaining about the precise shade of her pink parasol. And job advice in a buyer's market is bound to become either inaccurate or depressing af.

The idea that tenured faculty should shut up has a little merit. Perhaps we tenured faculty who are not involved in producing PhDs *should* shut up for a while, because we can only confuse the issue by putting ourselves in the same 'tenured faculty' category as the PhD supervisors who are accepting so many more students than the job market will take. To solve a problem, you first have to zero in on the contributing factors, and we may be distracting from that - as well as covering up the almost deafening silence from that quarter.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I always thought advice for how to craft your letter etc. wasn't so much to help individual job seekers (it is, after all, a zero sum game for most of these positions), but to help the employer (your hiring committee, for example) get information on the best person. Like, if they don't put the right stuff in their letter then you could be missing someone who is a great fit. And if they don't put the right stuff, then it feels like the committee is wasting time reading them. I don't think there's anything wrong with a bit of self-interest when you're reading through dozens or hundreds of applications.

Though I am also well-aware that people who didn't suffer through economics graduate school think I should shut up because I chose a field that has a reasonable unemployment rate over a couple of fields I might have liked better that didn't.

undine said...

gwinne--I hate to have that conversation with undergrads, too. It's upsetting to us and more so to them, but we have limited power to make it better.

Bardiac, we try to act ethically, but it was a new one on me to see people getting so savage when someone posted any kind of tip for the job search. Maybe it's just as well that the Chronicle is shutting down its most valuable feature (forums) about this. Maybe, too, because Twitter just flows in front of your eyes like a river, info about jobs is inescapable if you follow any academics. I wonder what Karen Kelsky has to say about it.

pat--it's not a bad idea to shut up about the job market, and that's good advice to follow. The Catch-22 that I see is that if senior faculty don't warn about it, we're accused of not telling people the realities; if we do, then we're upsetting people.

nicoleandmaggie--I had never thought of this as helping hiring committees, but that is a good way to think about it. I don't think you should shut up!

pat said...

I don't think we should ever shut up about the job market. I'm just thinking of all the long, long comment threads on this issue that are full of tenured faculty - but when you ask 'Why are you producing so many PhDs, then?' they all say 'Oh, we're just teaching faculty.' People have heard pretty much all that we teaching faculty have to contribute. Except that we can always say 'where are the PhD supervisers in this room, and what do they have to say about this?'

gwinne said...

@ Pat: It's a complex issue, to be sure, and it varies by discipline. I do work in a PhD granting department (in English); the program (not individual faculty) accepts students and generally only as many as can be fully funded through stipend/fellowship (like 5/year). We have a comparatively remarkable placement rate. But I would rarely advise undergraduates to pursue graduate study in my field due to dismal market conditions.

Given that most positions ARE in teaching-intensive institutions, I don't quite follow that "teaching faculty" shouldn't offer advice; faculty at R1s are often blind to the realities of what most jobs look like. Shouldn't we all be doing what we can to support those grad students, contingent faculty, and junior faculty to make it through the ranks?