Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Academia and the Rule of Four

I've always liked 4 as a nice number to explain academia. It takes 4 years to go through undergrad (we are thinking through all this at the neat and tidy theoretical level here) and it took me 8 years to go through grad school, which made for a nice explanation that it was twice as hard as undergrad and therefore should take twice as long.

And I've also been thinking lately that 4 makes a nice limit for the academic job search. This is my fourth year on the market and I have had so little interest from search committees all those years that I might as well have not applied. Except for all that lost time, expense, and heartache, plus all the time spent in grad student/unemployed limbo while people I knew had steady jobs where they moved up their career ladder and put money away for retirement.

Besides, when you put it into the rule of 4 and realize you have been searching for a professor job as long as it takes undergrads (theoretically) to get a degree, you start to realize that's a significant chunk of time you have put your life completely on hold.

Now, I'm not totally out of the running yet --- there are a lot of places (especially the women's studies jobs; nobody knows what is going on with them on the wiki) that have not made any decisions, according to the wiki, but then again there are a lot of places that called for writing samples and I didn't get any emails from them, so I've put a little star next to them in my spreadsheet preliminary to writing them off. I have a lot of stars already. And about 5 rejections. Although I haven't been rejected from any of those postdocs yet, even though the wiki says that quite a few have sent out a first round. So I still have hope, but considering my (now sizeable) previous track record I am doubtful that anything will happen between now and christmas besides me waiting and worrying.

And it feels weird to be reading introductions and taking notes and looking at peoples' book proposals when I might be dropping the entire project very soon, but I might as well keep working on something right now. Sitting around doing absolutely nothing feels wasteful.

Unlike the rest of my family, my sister has been wonderfully supportive all summer and fall, listening to my complaints and making sure I call the fam and have some human contact semi-regularly, and when at thanksgiving I happened to say how I felt I had gotten nothing done over fall quarter she jumped in right away with "but you've been working so hard!" and then listed off a big pile of things, which not only cheered me up but I'm sure it averted another fight with my parents.

Last spring I told her my multi-step plan, which involved revising and publishing and doing things and then doing one last year on the market, and she thought that was a great idea. And when I've been calling and talking to her lately, she has been pushing that reminder on me very hard, cutting off my slightest musings that I could do x or y to try another year's run at the market with the statement that I just need to cut the ties and get out.

Sigh. She's probably right. And I'm going to need all her willpower to bolster mine in order to do this.

So I've been poking about a bit looking at jobs --- she suggested something called a "corporate trainer," since I have teaching experience and that might be the easiest way to transition into the business world (to make my cv recognizable to them, I mean) --- and trying to figure out who and where is hiring near my family, since if I'm going to take some crappy hr or business job doing stuff I don't like and just focusing on supporting myself, I'm not moving to fucking podunkville middle America. No big full-bore push as yet, and I haven't made up my mind about another community college job run first (if there are any job openings in the CA ccs this year, which is doubtful), but I'm starting the process. I'm in this weird place where I have a million different forking paths and each one has a heavy to-do list on it, but I don't know which tasks I'm going to have to start working on because I don't know which of the paths will be mine.

So if you're on a search committee and want to give a cog a job, give me a call already! My heart does not thrill to the thought of checking product specifications for comma splices for the rest of my life.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I am thoroughly with you. This is only my third year on the market, but still... I can't live like this forever. It makes me crazy.

Maybe a week or so ago, I had a dream that I was driving my car in a parking lot. I found a convenient space, pulled in, and turned off the car. I turned around to look at my 3-year-old son behind me, and he pointed to the front of the car and said, "Look, a truck!" I turned around to see a monster truck driving up over our car. And as the truck was smashing my car and killing us, all I could think of was my husband, my son, and my yet-to-be-born son. I didn't have a single thought about Shakespeare, about my job, about the market, about friends... nada. I woke up thinking that perhaps my priorities have been a little out of whack.

Now, we need me to have an income. That's becoming more and more clear as time goes on. But I wonder if giving my life to this market has made me neglect the things that 9-5 workers tend to prioritize: family, friends, having a life outside of work, vacation, being able to leave work AT work (not being a slave to prep, reading, grading, committees, student emails...).

I don't know, Sis. When I'm on my death bed, I don't think I'll have a menagerie of student faces flashing before my eyes. Likely, I'll be more concerned with who is holding my hand right there at the end.

Morbid? Morose? Wistful? True.

Anonymous said...

Two things:

1) Do you know WRK4US? The job postings seem mostly to be for historians/people with quant skills, I think, but there's occasionally something interesting. And a network. And it's free.

2) The career center at either your doctoral or undergrad university might have staff (often PhDs who left academia) who counsel grad students about how to transition out of academia. I have this fantasy that they have job leads too; this might just be a fantasy. Maybe you've tried them already?

But I hope you get lucky this year and none of this is necessary... fingers crossed.

Also (in light of comment #1, which is now visible): I think about leaving constantly, and one of the biggest reasons is the profession's massive failure to take care of its members, on so many levels. However, close friends have assured me that the whole world works this way and at least I like what I do. I assume my response to that would be crushing despair, if it weren't for these powerful antidepressants...

canuck_grad said...

You know, I have no idea how to get into anything like this, but I hear writing instruction manuals is supposed to be a good job lol.... if you find some secret company that likes to hire displaced PhDs, please let me know!

Psycgirl said...

I hope this is your year Cog. I have had my fingers crossed for you.

Sometimes I wish I would get hired based on my blog. That my bloggy friends would hire me and keep my identity secret forever ;)

dance said...

Be sure to check out the book So What Are You Going to Do With That, which is very helpful on remaking the CV and redirecting your skills and giving a sense of the big landscape of possibilities, and the Leaving Academia blog.

I am sporadically blogging about this under the category Transition, but not very usefully.

medieval woman said...

Hmm...well, it took a friend of mine 5 years on the market to get a t-t job. I'm not saying it *should* take that long or that anyone should hang in there that long, but it does happen. I think it's totally good and rational to consider this one of the last years you do this - if not the very last. You do need to have an income and something to DO rather than marketing - I understand this time of malaise.

I know the thought of more school must make you cringe, but what about law school - or even cooking school? Something with job placement at the end of it! I've often thought that if I couldn't find a position in academia that I'd go to a culinary institute somewhere...

I, too, hope it's your year, Sis - but it's such a shitty market that I can't in good conscience tell you not to try again next year as well - you could get a job working for the man and just check out the job listings next year and see if you want to give it another go...

All I can do is give a bloggy-hug and beg you to keep us updated when anything develops.


Anonymous said...

Delurking to say: one industry to hire PhDs is textbook publishing (Bedford/St Martins, Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw Hill are the biggies. I think Bedford is especially inclined to hire PhDs.)

That being said, I very much hope that this is, indeed your year. Sorry that this is such a painful process.

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued by the Rule of Four -- although I think it's dangerous to use the 4 undergraduate years as a measure for *anything* else in life.

I also think that while the Rule of Four may be the right choice for you (i.e., only hit the job market 4 years), it isn't necessarily the right one for others. I know of one person who finally landed an amazing tenure track job on her SIXTH year on the market. I'm not relating this as encouragement for staying on the market -- I think it's really risky, especially in this economy. Plan B is probably the much wiser choice -- but just to say, it's different for everybody. Just as the "Get a PhD, Land a Great Job" model rarely works out for anyone -- so too do you have to craft your own new direction.

I've got my fingers crossed for you!