Hello and welcome!
I’ll begin by introducing myself. I finished my Humanities PhD in the spring of 2018 and was lucky enough to land a tenure-track job while finishing my dissertation. (My use of “lucky” is not a sign of false humility. After enduring two years on the job market and applying to over 100 jobs, I’ve become a firm believer that luck is a necessary ingredient in obtaining the oh-so-desired tenure line.)
Seven years ago, I applied to ten different PhD programs across the country and held my breath, hopeful that I would get in to at least one. To be honest, I was unaware that my degree was unlikely to produce gainful employment. No one told me and I didn’t do the research. If I had realized how dire the situation is for academics seeking full-time employment, I probably would’ve chosen a radically different path. Or perhaps my youthful idealism would have taken me in the same direction I chose…no way to know. I was, and still am to a certain degree, a preacher of doing what you love and figuring the rest out later.
Now, I’m on the other side of the coursework, preliminary exams, prospectus, and dissertation-writing process. I don’t regret a single moment of the arduous process but to say it wasn’t easy would be such an understatement. Getting a PhD allowed me to stretch the bounds of my creativity only to have my thinking roped back in by my advisor. I met a unicorn group of friends who have since turned into family. Where some people’s grad school experience is lonely, mine consisted of too much wine and too many late nights debating issues no one in the real world pays attention to. And I loved it for that. But I hated it for other things. I, and so many of the people I love, suffered from crippling anxiety and constant imposter syndrome through the whole process. We learned that in our advisor-speak, a compliment is actually just the absence of a critique…meaning no one ever pays real compliments…no matter how solid your work is.
Getting a Job.
As I alluded to earlier, if you have pursued, are in the middle of pursing, or are considering the pursuit of a PhD in the Humanities, then you are probably aware that getting a tenure-track job these days is nearly impossible. There has been no shortage of articles over the course of the last decade that examine, sometimes with bewilderment, the perils of dedicating over five years of your life to an education that will likely result in a dead-end career path. (I’ve included a couple of links at the end of this post if you’re interested.)
Regardless of how hard earning the degree was, the largest challenge for me throughout the process was suffering through the job market, twice. I recognize rationally that two times is far fewer than most candidates in the Humanities have to tolerate the market before either getting the job they desire or giving up, but it was the hardest two years of my life.
And I was lucky…I had an extremely supportive dissertation chair who believed in me and bent over backward to make sure I had everything I needed to be equipped for success. My group of grad school best friends proofread my documents and followed my ups and downs with unparalleled patience. Unlike many academic job-seekers before me, I had the mentorship of a wildly impressive staff in both my department and on the broader university level. Those people consistently reminded me of my worth and of my other options. I also had tools that have become available in large part due to the high unemployment rates in my field, like Karen Kelsky’s blog turned book, The Professor Is In. I didn’t always follow her advice to the letter because, ultimately, I do believe in listening to my own instincts. But man was it helpful to have a place to start!
Despite the fact that the odds were stacked against me, and perhaps even more so than I realized, this past March I defended my dissertation and in May I received a REALLY GOOD tenure-track job offer. I worked hard in grad school but I don’t feel like I was any more or less impressive than everyone else in my environment. Since then I’ve allowed myself the space to do the research on the reality of my field and to come to terms with the mini-coup I staged in this achievement.
So why am I here? You are asking yourself…
I Got a Tenure-Track Job. Now What?
I’m here because no one talks about what to do after you’ve gotten a job. That could be for a variety of reasons:
- Most of us won’t get one.
- Our advisors think that once we have that tenure-track job, their work is done.
- Each university/college has its own special process and the rules of the game are hard to establish.
- It’s just a continuation of the same crap we put up with in grad school…people are convinced they have to pretend they know what they are doing. Pretending leads them to put up walls instead of freely exchanging wisdom. We’re embarrassed that we don’t know the answers to the questions we have. No one wants to be vulnerable with their anxiety, which only means that we don’t trust each other and we constantly feel unsafe. Sound familiar?
As I step outside of my PhD Candidate, job-seeker shoes, I reflect on the tools, resources and support that were previously available to me with gratitude. My brand-new, PhD in hand, Assistant Professor shoes feel comparatively lonely. Where are those resources now?
When I was applying for jobs, I learned to jettison all of the language in my applications and interviews that made me sound like a hopeful graduate student and to present myself as a capable colleague. Apparently, I did a good enough job with that to land a job. But I don’t yet feel like that capable colleague… (How could I? I’m still getting over the shock of actually getting a job!) and something tells me it’s going to be a few years before I do. I have so many questions about what comes next and how to tackle it. The process of looking for a job and pretending like I had all the answers has now created a sense of shame that I don’t know what I’m doing. In other words, the questions that I have feel juvenile. And why wouldn’t they? I am, by definition, JUNIOR faculty. But now that I’ve gone from ABD to PhD, I feel like I’m supposed to have flown the coop and acquired the tools to figure it all out by myself.
My partner and I have combed the internet for the tenure-seeker’s equivalent to the job-seeker’s support I found in the form of blogs, books, talks on campus, seminars, workshops etc. To my knowledge it doesn’t exist.
That’s why I’m here, starting a public diary. In my journey toward tenure, I will ask questions of people I trust when I feel the window of opportunity is there. Hopefully they will have some insight for me and I can record it for you. I also anticipate it will be a bit of trial by fire. If I record the lessons I learn along the way, maybe I can spare you from some of my mistakes.
About my job.
Before wrapping up for today, I’ll tell you a bit about my job offer.
- I’ll be working at a large, public, state school.
- My university serves primarily in-state undergrads.
- My contract consists of a 3-3 teaching load with an acceptable salary and the option to teach during the summer for additional pay.
- I have five years between my start date and my tenure review.
- The duties of my job include research, teaching, and service. (I suspect that the priorities of the institution regarding the balance of each of those three obligations have yet to reveal themselves. On paper, they are prioritized equally, but I remain skeptical.)
- I was not given any leave or course-releases for research.
- The research requirements for tenure are approximately one scholarly article a year or a monograph. (My impression is that most of my future colleagues opt for the one article a year route.)
The rest remains a mystery. What are the soft expectations of my university, college, department, and colleagues? How will I know if the job is right for me? I guess we’ll find out!
If you want to see a couple of articles related to the difficulty of finding a tenure-track job, start with Thomas H. Benton’s Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go and/or Rebecca Schuman’s Thesis Hatement: Getting a literature Ph.D. will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor.