For job-seeking academics, summer generally heralds one of two things. For a small minority, the final hiring paperwork gets signed and they start off on their cross-country moves to new tenure-track or contract-term positions at institutions large and small. For the vast and increasing majority, however, summer is marked by a renewed flurry of job rejections and fear of how one will pay the coming year’s bills.
Here is a graph that the American Historical Association compiled, showing the divergent trend in the number of new History PhDs vs. the number of advertised faculty jobs from 1973-2017:
The Great Recession caused a huge drop in the creation of new history faculty jobs, and the past decade has seen little-to-no recovery from that fall (disclaimer: I started my History MA in 2006 and my PhD in 2009, just as the bottom dropped out of the market). Nor does this chart show all of the people who stay on the market for more than one year, adding to the backlog of desperate job-seekers even as job opportunities dry up.
Things aren’t any better for people in English or Foreign Languages, either, as this year’s MLA report notes:
Being highly qualified for a position is no guarantee of an interview or job offer; rather, applying for a faculty job is increasingly like buying a lottery ticket, and the gutted market affects everyone.
For many newly-minted PhDs, facing the reality of giving up on a career goal they have held and worked towards for a decade can cause a great deal of mental anguish. This piece by Erin Bartram does an excellent job of conveying the emotional turmoil of the current academic job market. This already difficult process is not helped by the sense of guilt and regret that these scholars face if they decide to pursue other careers outside of academe. Indeed, guilt trips directed at those who have selected “alt-ac” over academic careers are so engrained in our higher ed system that even famous 24th-century Starfleet captains face the pressure. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Chase” (6.20), Jean-Luc Picard relates to Dr. Crusher a conversation that he had with his former archaeology professor, Dr. Galen:
PICARD: I had a long talk with Professor Galen last night. He asked me to leave the Enterprise, to join him in an archaeological expedition which could last for nearly a year.
CRUSHER: That must be tempting.
PICARD: I couldn’t leave the Enterprise. But the offer raised in me certain feelings of regret.
CRUSHER: That you could have been an archaeologist and not a starship Captain?
PICARD: No, not really. I’m not sorry for the path I chose. But the Professor did not choose this figure at random. The many voices inside the one. You see, he knows that the past is a very insistent voice inside of me. This gift is meant to remind me of that.
CRUSHER: And the exploration of space? Surely that must count for something.
PICARD: I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I would still make the same choice I made all those years ago. I just wish that I didn’t have to say no to him a second time.
We need to actively fight against this stigmatization of academics who choose to embark on non-academic careers, and instead cheer them on and celebrate them, even as we also fight to increase the number of available faculty positions. These should not be mutually exclusive endeavors, but rather be taken as part of the same larger mission of higher education.
It is in this context, then, that I offer the following playlist (click here to listen in Spotify):
The Academic Job Market, As Told Through Musicals
GAINING TEACHING EXPERIENCE
WRITING YOUR DISSERTATION
SUBMITTING YOUR DISSERTATION
ADVICE FROM YOUR IVY-LEAGUE-GRADUATE TENURED PROFESSORS
ENTERING THE JOB MARKET
ENCOURAGEMENT FROM YOUR ADVISOR & FRIENDS
YEAR TWO ON THE MARKET
THIRD YEAR ON THE MARKET
FOURTH YEAR ON THE MARKET