|Drop $1,000 for a 30 minute chat? Golly, I'd love to!|
As the conference approached I hoped to receive other invitations to interview at the AHA but, alas, I did not. Instead, I had search committees calling me out of the blue on speaker phone, literally, at 5 or 6pm the week or so before Christmas asking if I was available for a phone interview the next day at 10am or earlier. Yikes! Talk about last minute. (Let this be a warning to you, fellow job seekers. Whether you're applying for academic or non-academic jobs, you never know when someone will want to interview you in person or via phone or skype. It's best to be prepared for anything.) Other places skipped right to the chase, forgoing preliminary chats all together; they had secretaries calling to set up on-campus interviews way in advance, as far away as February '10.
It suddenly dawned on me around X-mas that while my AHA appointment card was shockingly, embarrassingly empty, particularly compared to my friends in other sub-fields with 4-5 interviews lined up, I nonetheless still had a few cards on the table due to the increasing numbers of search committees skipping traditional conference interviews. Hope remained alive.
Fast forward to April 2010. By then I had participated in 2 phone interviews, 1 AHA interview, and 2 on-campus interviews, none of which ultimately resulted in an offer. All of my efforts on the job market had come to nothing. (Although I did receive an offer for a postdoc shortly thereafter, so yay for small mercies.)
What is the point of this story? Well, only that while the future remains uncertain, this is the time when all the craziness begins. Right now. For many Ph.D. and A.B.D job seekers in the humanities and social sciences, the period covering the end of November through the first half of December is nerve wracking. You know that large universities and small colleges alike intend to hold preliminary interviews at your field's annual conference (AHA or MLA, for example), but with budgets tightening across the country, and searches frozen at the last minute, it's touch and go. Should you buy a plane ticket, book a hotel room, spruce up your wardrobe, and spring for a fancy new laptop bag, just in case you get a nibble? I did last year and it really wasn't worth it. But, then again, that could just be sour grapes on my part, right?
Still, of all my friends who also spent $1K to interview at the AHA last year, even those who had multiple prelim. interviews and subsequent on-campus interviews, here is the total # who netted a bonified tenure-track job at the end of the process: 0. Zilch. Not one. It turns out that none of us got our money's worth from attending the AHA in San Diego. But nearly everyone is prepared to do it all over again--this time in Boston.
As December 2010 approaches things are looking fairly similar for me, except that I only submitted applications for 5 academic positions this year, all of them tenure track. No visiting gigs or fellowships this time around. I'm tired of moving every summer, or every semester in some cases, and living out of a suitcase. So, too, are my family members. It's great to win fellowships or receive offers for visiting appointments, of course, because it means technically speaking you're "still in the game," but for how long? If you hop from one fellowship to another or from one temporary position to another without landing a tenure-track job for several years in a row, when is enough finally enough? What is a reasonable time frame in which to conduct, and conclude, an academic job search? 3 years? 4 years? More?
It used to be the case that Ph.D. advisors at excellent/good but not ivy schools told their students to expect to go on the market several times before grabbing the coveted brass ring: a tenure-track job. In the meantime it was expected that a new Ph.D. would continue teaching, researching, and, most importantly, publishing in some form or another in order to remain competitive for the next season's job cycle. If a job applicant failed the first or second time out, it was critical that she up her game. Otherwise, the party would soon be over for good. The pressure, you see, continues to mount the longer one has been "out." The Ph.D. itself may not ever expire, but the Ph.D. holder starts to look a bit warn out and rough around the edges after a few years. And search committees like fresh, sparkly things, or so I've heard.
Irrespective, I'm not gambling on the AHA this year. I'm not attending. If a search committee at one of these 5 universities actually wants to interview me, I am going to politely ask for a phone or skype interview. It would be nice to attract notice from potential academic employers, but I'm not holding my breath. Opening myself up, mentally, to the possibility of a non-academic career has really helped take the edge of the job market merry-go-round. I may be stressed about my professional future, but I'm not walking on pins and needles praying that someone will invite me to spend a thousand bucks to chat with them for 30 minutes about my research and teaching interests in a hotel room in Boston in the middle of winter.
Although, if the phone does suddenly ring tomorrow and someone asks if I'm available for a skype or phone interview at 8am on Wednesday, I will say "yes, of course." Then I'll put down the novel(s) I started over Thanksgiving break, smack myself a few times, and quietly freak out. I hate surprises involving interviews.