An essay I wrote about my experience on the academic job market, my children, and my mother’s death, has been featured at Inside Higher Ed. The key sentences: “how do you ask a year to be the last one to die for a mistake?” and “The academic job market has taken so much from me over the last years; I don’t want to let it take away my career as well.”
Update: the piece was picked up by Slate.
This is a fabulous essay. Something a lot of us are feeling. Solidarity amidst the despair.
Thanks, I've gotten a lot of messages since it was published from people who have had similar experiences–or indeed, worse experiences. If I've been able to voice these frustrations in a way that is useful to others, I'm happy.
Patrick–Good piece. I've read so many of them lately, but yours had a powerful personal touch. I was also in your shoes about 2 years ago. I was thrown off my tenure-track position in Monterey in 2011 and was desperate to find a job. I went to the U of C (my college alma mater) to teach for a year on a postdoc, while I looked for a permanent one almost anywhere. Not finding one, I returned to be with my family in SF and worked in the private sector for the last 2+ years. Even after more than 8 years in academia, I really believe it can be done. You may find Versatilephd.com a good source for moral and professional support. They also have a specific group for PhDs trying to get out of academia that meets physically once a month in the Bay Area. I've also counseled many people like yourself in how to make the transition. Hit me up if you would like to chat about it.
Dear Patrick, your essay resonated with me very strongly, and I sympathize with you and your family. I think it hit me when you spoke about how you invest a little bit of yourself into each application. I just counted the number of applications I have made to academic jobs in the last four years (since completing my Ph.D.); 51. How much of our sense of self-worth goes out with each one? Probably even more when you end up 2nd place in a few.
I wish you the best luck in your job search, because I worry that you might end up like me. After much searching, I have finally landed a job offer, and it's a very good university with a supportive departmental community in a reasonable size city. But after fighting so long and so hard, it doesn't feel like a triumphant victory but an acceptance of a role I am not as enamored of any longer. My wife hasn't yet been able to find a position nearby (though the search is still young), and will have to give up her own promising postdoc to follow me. After the price we pay (literally and figuratively) to go through graduate school and postdoctoral training, will that coveted faculty job be worth it? I hope it will be, but it is very hard to imagine it sometimes. Maybe if you and I are both lucky in gaining and enjoying the jobs we hope for, we can use this time to treat future generations with more humanity than we've faced.
Patrick, I read the piece on Slate. Have you thought about moving to another country? It's a lot easier getting on the tenure track in countries that are still building up their pool of PhD holders. You could find a really rewarding position helping to build a university's history department. Obviously, English-speaking countries would be easier, but non-English-speaking countries also have universities that would be happy to hire someone like you.
#4: Thanks for the good wishes. I can imagine exactly the kind of scenario you describe playing out, and have had exactly that worry. But I'm hoping that if I do end up with a position in the end it will feel worthwhile, and that, with time, the memories will fade. One of my mom's final gifts to me, I suppose I could say, is that her death has helped placed my other struggles in perspective. Best of luck to you and your wife in finding work together, and I do hope that, even if we reach good outcomes, we'll work to change the system for those who come after.
#5: I have thought about working abroad, and I have applied to some international positions. My partner's work situation adds some complications, though. I want to respect her privacy and not go into detail in a public forum, but it suffices to say that we are looking at lots of different options. Thanks.
Thank you for your great article! I appreciate your sharing your
heartbreaking journey and hope everything works out well for you and
your family, whatever you choose to do.
I am so very sorry for the loss of your mother. And, of course,
congratulations on your second baby…
Warmest wishes from afar,