Friday, February 18, 2011

When You Know You're in Good Company


Suck on this.

I'm pleased to announce that, according to my blog stats page, a number of readers stumbled across this particular blog after googling the following phrase: "academic job market sucks." It's a sign of the times when a blog about the search for tenure-track academic employment, and various alternate career possibilities, finds fellow wayward and disillusioned PhDs and grad students through search terms involving the word "suck."

This is not something we should dismiss. Oh no, I think it's pretty clear whether or not some of us choose to jump ship now, later, or never, or whether or not we have degrees from Fancy Pants Ivy U or Rural Soul-sucking Backwater U, we're all in agreement about one thing: The academic job market does indeed suck, particularly this year. We may be the most educated people in America, and certainly special with our membership in the PhD club, which represents less than 1% of the country's total population, but when it comes to finding, or not finding, a tenure-track academic position, sucks is still the most appropriate word to spring to mind.

 Speaking of which, Slate did a brief opinion piece five years ago on the word "sucks" that I think is especially relevant to this discussion. "Suck It Up: A defense of the much-maligned word"  [http://www.slate.com/id/2146866/]. 

"Are you offended by the word sucks? Do you loathe the way it's crept into everyday conversation? Do you wish sucks would just fade away, like other faddish colloquialisms that were eventually discarded? Well, sucks to be you. Sucks is here to stay."

Why, what's so great about sucks? Why do we still turn to this word time and time again to express our deepest feelings of disappointment and despair? Because, as Seth Stevenson points out, "Sucks is the most concise, emphatic way we have to say something is no good. As a one-syllable intransitive verb, it offers superb economy." And poor bastards like us need "superb economy" now more than ever, since those of us on the academic job market are so damn impoverished after spending thousands on our education, room and board and other necessities for six plus years, not to mention airfare, lodging and registration fees to attend hiring conferences in our disciplines. (Where we sit in a hotel room with other employed scholars who ask us a string of random questions for 20-40 minutes before unceremoniously shooing us out the door and then, professional task completed, hitting up the bar for some shots and academic gossip.)

So think of it this way: the phrase "academic job market sucks" = "the academic job market is no good." It stinks, it's rotten, it's putrid, it's a raw deal. Sure, it sucks to be us. But at least we know we're in good company when other scholars feel, and speak, about the job market in the same way.