Do as I say, not as I do…
Hello again, all. We’ve spent a fair amount of time perseverating over how one’s choice of ivy/ivy-plus or smaller private colleges, analytic or continental focus, Rock Star adviser or associate professor might, possibly effect one’s chance finding favor with a graduate admission’s or a search committee. For those sick to death of all our speculative twattle, this isn’t going to be a post about how to best position oneself to find a position, it’s a post about the job hunt thus far. Now, for the record we are relatively early in the academic hiring cycle. Most desirable, top-shelf positions are advertised beginning in August, through November, with the quantity of ads dropping off significantly in December and January. Interviewing for these highly sought after positions typically begins in December and continues for a few months. The winners of these preliminary interviews will then compete is a second round interviews in February and March with the hopes of securing incoming professors in the spring or early summer for arrival in the fall. For those counting, that means the whole application and hiring cycle takes not quite a year to complete. This audacious time table is one of the reasons that MAPH students hoping to secure an academic job after the 9 month program are frequently counseled to take a “gap year” after they graduate during which they will hop into the next season’s cycle.
Now, if this all seems terribly, horribly depressing for graduating MAPH students that really want or need employment over the next year or so–and don’t want to take a position as a Walmart “cart boy”–take heart in the fact that the preceding model is the one favored by colleges for positions they know in advance they need to fill and is desirable enough to warrant a lengthy search process. City colleges, community colleges, and even private liberal arts schools frequently find themselves suddenly needing fill positions without the massive front-weighted process. These are the jobs that get advertised in March, April, and May for positions starting in the coming Fall. Fortunately for MAPH grads, these are the jobs that are more likely to look at a candidate with a Masters, rather than a Ph.D. and are frequently more willing to give a “green” inexperienced candidate a shot.
After all this, you want a job, too?
Consistent with the academic hiring season, my concentrated job hunt began last October. I made a trip back to my alma mater and spent three days talking to my former professors, attempting to meet with the provost, and generally trying to get a feel for my chances of returning. I was straight up with them about why I was there and they were straight up with me that there wasn’t actually an opening in the philosophy department–but they’d see what they could do. About two weeks ago, I received an email offering me a two year contract to adjunct some upper level philosophy courses, TA some Core philosophy courses, and potentially pick up a few sections of required freshmen orientation type classes. Now, if all that sounds too magical and amazing to be true–it is–or more specifically that story doesn’t actually start at the beginning.
To make a long story reasonably short, I decided in the Spring of my Freshman year I wanted to be a philosophy professor. From that point on I spent much of my time watching my professors to try to discern what techniques and attitudes distinguished the great ones from the merely okay ones. This lead to many, many hours of talking to my professors about their approaches, their pedagogical influences, and how they envisioned their task. I learned about how to teach, but I also became deeply invested in who they were as people and–I think–at least some of them became invested in me. At this point I was still thinking I might want to teach in a prestigious university like the one’s I hope to attend. I studied at Oxford as part of a study abroad program and by talking with Dons there, I learned about what it was to be a professor at a prestigious research oriented school. By the time that I graduated from my undergrad institution, I realized that I really only wanted to teach in a place that shared my intellectual, idiological, and faith commitments–in short, I wanted to teach with these folks I’d come to know and love.
Now, one way to read this story is that I somehow ingratiated myself to the professors and administration through carefully calculated, tactical alliances–like an academic version of Survivor. However, the reality is that I made no bones about the fact that I wanted to teach at this school. I talked with the school’s provost and its president just prior to graduation and said “Hey, I’m going to Chicago, but I want to come back and teach here.” Now, they didn’t offer me a job on the spot–in fact they didn’t even appear very interested in the prospect. But I put all my eggs in their basket and let them know that I’d done so. I don’t know if I’d recommend following my lead. My connections with faculty members and deans grew organically, but there was a point where it came down to saying “I really miss all of my friends here, and I’m really enjoying seeing everyone again, but I also need a job! I could have lost both my connections with those people and–even more significantly–my friendships with them.
My “job hunting” hasn’t interfered with my work in MAPH because the vast majority of it was carried out in the course of the last two years.
The good news is that job hunting has not interfered drastically with my thesis, workload, nor personal life. Thus ends the good news. The bad news is that my experience has not been all that wildly successful. I applied to a few high school teaching jobs, and got no takers. In all fairness, I knew no one at the schools, and I have been told time and again by MAPH staff and others, that networking and Knowing Someone is key. If you DON’T know someone, they tell me, go meet them. That’s what I have yet to do. I’ll be expanding my search, and looking closely at (read: hoping desperately for) the various MAPH mentorship/internship/externship/battleship opportunities that are presented in April. Since I hope to be in a PhD program year after next, I only “need” a job for a year, which takes some of the pressure off. If I don’t get into a program, however, well…I’m working really hard not to think about that possibility.Truth be told, I suspect I may be in denial about my future overall. I want to do a PhD, despite the fact that jobs are fewer and further between every year. Maybe I, like MAPHman, will win the job-hunt jackpot if/when I finish a degree, but I’m not really a betting man, especially when the odds are so very much not in my favor. So far, learning to be a better researcher and teacher is the thing I most want to do in all the world, which is why I came back to school after being (reasonably successful) in the professional arena. As they say, if there is ANYTHING else you might want to do outside of academia, you should. Alas, it is foremost for me, despite the fact that it is a career whose future is shrouded in utter bleakness.In fact, I now find myself unreasonably depressed after addressing this question. Thanks a lot, MAPHman. I need to go stand in the sunshine and watch the squirrels frolic until I can again block out harsh reality. Get thee behind me, uncertain future!
Tomorrow – Part 5: Last Words