Sometimes, particularly in the midst of a long and torturous job search, it can seem like you've been blindly walking in circles and are starting to run out of viable options. Your efforts have seemingly come to naught; the various, sometimes conflicting tracks you've been following into the distance have all but disappeared. Last month's job leads have dried up. It feels like your SOL: alone and lost in a bewildering job-hunting maze, without a map or a plan or even a piece of beef jerky to keep you going.
What to do? Should you reconsider your options, lower your standards, or check out a pile of self-help employment books from the local library? Is it time to fill out a Starbuck's application? (Or maybe you hit bottom long ago and are already working there, or somewhere similar?) What, in other words, should you do when you have no idea where to go from here--wherever here may be?
As the tenure-track job advertisements dwindle down to November's haphazard drip, rather than September-October's steady trickle, I for one have begun to seriously consider the fact that I may not have any academic interviews, not to mention a tenure-track job, to gear up for in 2011. Am I OK with this? Am I ready to face the inevitable? Well, first of all, my search this year was quite "selective": not only was the number of jobs advertised in my specific history field limited to no more than 10-15 total in the entire country, I only applied for the handful of positions that I'm realistically prepared to accept, if it came to that point in the process.
In the past, I've applied for just about anything and everything because I didn't feel like I had a choice. Teach a 4/4 in North Dakota or Alabama? Why not? Work at an uber religious school when I'm not the slightest bit religious? Okey dokie. Who am I to turn my nose up at a relevant position? I'm an academic and should therefore suck it up and do whatever it takes to jump on the tenure track, right? Even if that means making $40K per year; teaching classes I'm not remotely interested in; teaching summer school/night classes to make extra cash; living somewhere I know I won't like; and watching my research program dry up to a puddle of goo. It's still better than the alternative: leaving the ivory tower. Handing in my "professional academic" badge for good.
Hmm . . . Now I'm not so sure. After spending the past 6-9 months seriously considering non-academic job options (academic administration, communications, publishing, journalism, nonprofits, government work, etc.), I've made a complete 180, at least mentally. I'm no longer so committed to academe that I'd be willing to live anywhere, do anything, wrack up more debt, to stay in the game. I've finally begun to make peace with my past and consider the sunk vs. opportunity costs of my current professional situation.
Sure, I'm still squarely on the fence. I've applied for academic jobs at this point in the year but not nonacademic. I've yet to decide which direction I really want to go or to solicit contacts in a new nonacademic field or to arrange informational interviews. (Why? Because I still have another postdoc lined up for 2011 and another couple geographic moves to make before I truly taking the plunge one way or the other. I'm basically still living the life of an impoverished academic vagabond.) But I have stopped applying for postdoctoral fellowships and grants, visiting positions, and undesirable tenure-track jobs. I'm getting pickier just when all signs indicate that I should be getting more desperate. And, yes, I'm OK with that. Regardless of what happens in the future, I'll still be living the life of the mind as an impoverished scholar in one form or another, whether I'm in the academy or outside, so why limit my employment options? There's a big world out there.