Sunday, September 2, 2007

But I Can't Answer You Anymore

One thing I wasn't ready for last year was how totally confused non-academics can be about the job market. One night I was out with some people who work with the Future Dr. Mrs. Dr. PGS's sister, and I ended up talking a lot with this guy who'd been a philosophy major in college. He seemed to like me, and the more he thought about it, the more convinced he got that I should swing by his old department and "drop off a resume." He really liked this idea, and he got pretty animated about it.

That kind of confusion can be funny or it can piss me off, depending on my head space. But something more subtle made me grind my teeth more than any yuppie dumb-ass telling me he'd "put in a good word" for me with his old professors. All kinds of people--friends, family, random people--asked me what my top choices for jobs were. Sometimes they wouldn't use exactly those words--"What are you hoping for?" "If you got to choose, where would you go?"--but that's what they were asking. You can tell that's what they're asking because when you answer by saying you're hoping for any job and, no, you don't get to choose, they don't think you've answered their question. They think you're being evasive and obtuse and weird. Or worse, they think you're just being a dick.

But what they don't get is, I wasn't being evasive or obtuse or weird. What's the point of having preferences when getting even a single job is a long shot? I don't want to consider the inevitable counterfactual, "Yeah, but if you got to choose. . .?" What's thinking about that going to get me? An extra crowbar of disappointment laid into my ribs when I get rejected? That's exactly what I'm trying to avoid. But how do you explain that to someone when they're just trying to make small-talk?


Jon Cogburn said...

Yeah, my family does that all the time. "Just give the chair a call, Jon. He'll be glad to hear from you."

I've linked to your excellent blog on my blog by the way.

Keep fighting the good fight. Before getting a tenure track job- I was an instructor for two years, my co-writer Mark Silcox was an instructor for five years, and then an visiting assistant professor for one, and my great friend James Spence was an instructor for four or five years.

One thing department really mess up on is that they don't encourage their students to apply for jobs that aren't advertized in JFP. Get on the Chronicle of Higher Education's e-mail list. It's a goldmine.

languagepolice said...

Yeah, this is a tough one. If one takes the time to really explain the nature of the job market to non academic friends or family, it can be a bit much. Besides, after all the conversations through grad school, I'm confident that most of my people still don't get it.

From another angle, I find if I'm chatting with people I've just met, I'm not so sure I want to lay out there just how dreadful the job market is -- lest I inadvertently open myself up to patronizing comments...No thanks.

Anyhow, I really like your blog. I discovered it from Leiter's linking to it a few days ago...I'm sure I'll be a frequent visitor during this year's job cycle.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Jon -- Thanks for the link--although I already know your blog!

languagepolice -- Thanks for the kid words. I know what you mean about just not wanting to get in to it all with random strangers who think they're just making polite small talk.

Jon Cogburn said...

Well, I'm afraid my comment above instantiated some of the idiotic stuff you've illustrated.

In no objective manner could the Chronicle be called a "goldmine," maybe a gutted mountain with just enough minerals inside it to justify that kind of ecologically horrific strip mining where they pour millions of gallons of acid to eat away at all the rock and dirt, basically destroying the mountain and filling all the local streams with carcinogenic death gell. It's more like that. . .

Most of the jobs in the Chronicle are for community colleges and one year things at branch campuses (where the tenure track load is 4-4). Nonetheless, this is how my friend Mark stayed in the fight.