Am I Really Going Back on the Job Market?

When I got my current tenure-track job, I sighed with relief. Not only had I done the impossible, it meant I wouldn’t have to go back on the job market 6 months later. After applying to nearly 100 jobs and enduring two years worth of rejection, I was over it. Yet here I am…trolling the job list and considering applying to jobs again this year.

Old-School mindset on job searches in year one of your tenure-track job. It seems that individuals who belong to the sort of “old guard” of academia (think…”people who have tenure or have had tenure for awhile”) see applying to jobs when you’ve only just arrived to your current job as a faux pas. They claim it “looks bad” to prospective employers. This might be the case…I haven’t the foggiest idea. However, I am tempted to clap back with two points of my own:

  • Many of us committed to jobs we were uncertain about due to an issue that didn’t exist previously: timing. Once upon a time, the academic job search process was more standardized. Applications were all due around the same time, with interviews that took place at national conferences, and campus visits scheduled within in the same 4-6 weeks. This set-up meant that a job candidate knew more or less what their options were all around the same time. Today’s job search process has disadvantaged job seekers because of how out of sync the searches are with one another. A by-product of this change is that many assistant professors feel muscled into something and are less likely to have felt a sense of agency in choosing their job…which means more assistant professors go back on the market. (Not to mention the fact that there are fewer jobs offered nationally, so the chances of someone choosing their job have recently plummeted.)
  • Who cares if it “looks bad?” So your application could get tossed…that’s about the worst of it…right? It’s possible that you wouldn’t have the same odds of success as, say, an assistant professor whose book is under contract and has been in their job 3 years. That doesn’t mean it’s an utter waste of time. It also doesn’t mean that search committees somewhere have a little black book where they are writing down the names of applicants who they perceive have committed the cardinal sin of considering leaving their job as they were starting it. Odds are you will have to answer the question, “Why are you leaving your current job so soon?” in an interview (should you get one) and hardly anyone else will notice.

Reasons you might be considering leaving your job right after you got it. I would advocate that there is really no “wrong reason” to reapply to jobs. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published “Warning Signs that You and Your Campus Are a Bad Fit,” which details two different kinds of mis-fits: professional and personal. I would like to add to this that you might be considering leaving your job because:

  • You and your partner don’t currently live in the same place. (This one is quite common. Partner hires are becoming increasingly elusive.)
  • You weren’t sure you wanted an academic job to begin with.

To elaborate on Dr. Whitaker’s very valid point about “Lack of professional agency,” I’d like to add some anecdotal evidence about a colleague who was asked to submit two sample syllabi during her interview only to find out upon her arrival to her new department that she would never get to teach them. Instead, she will teach the same required courses for the degree plan until kingdom come…or until something changes dramatically. How could this not produce disillusion?

Why am I applying to more jobs this year? Because I have this sinking feeling in my gut that it’s not quite right. And I suppose my logic is…if it’s not right…the sooner I find the right job, the better, no? I’ll clarify…for the most part, I’m very happy in my new job. I’ve met some wonderful people over the last few weeks and if I stay here through the tenure process, it certainly won’t be the end of the world. However, when I look over “Warning Signs that You and Your Campus Are a Bad Fit,” I’m struck by the fact that a lot of the potential signs are at least partially true. I definitely feel a lack of agency. When I asked my department chair about applying for a grant that was perfect for my research, I was told that my new institution wouldn’t be able to accommodate it. I feel limited creatively. When it comes to teaching, I perceive a lack of agency and I feel undervalued. I’m not teaching courses in my area, the courses I get assigned feel like the proverbial bottom of the barrel, and a lot of the labor I’m doing is typically reserved for teaching assistants in other departments or at other institutions. (I concede that I’m very thankful I am paid a living wage to do that labor and teaching assistants often are not.) Icing on the cake: my partner doesn’t live here.

Applying for jobs from a place of empowerment. Reopening my job materials and formatting cover letters feels like a tough pill to swallow. The amount of emotional baggage that is wrapped up in those documents is a bit overwhelming. I have to remind myself at every turn that a.) I’m only applying to jobs that could somehow be better than my current situation, b.) if I were to get a competing offer, I don’t have to take it, c.) regardless of how the application process goes, I will be employed next year. In other words, if you are an assistant professor looking at the job list in your field, remind yourself that you have options. In fact, while it may not feel true if you’re not yet in a tenure-track line, all job seekers should try to internalize that mantra. You’re not alone. You have options. You earned your PhD!

To tell or not to tell…that is the question. The verdict is out on whether or not it is advisable to tell your new department chair that you are back on the market. After turning it over in my head for a long time, I decided that it could make sense to do so if you are hoping to get a partner hire out of it. It also could make sense to do so if you are thoroughly convinced that your department would feel lost without you and there is some concrete thing they could do to keep you.

Neither of those things is true in my case. I’m also not at all convinced I’ll get a competing offer. It wouldn’t feel like a power move for me. I feel like all I would be doing is airing my dirty laundry in a work environment I might be forced to stay in and/or potentially causing a department chair undue stress about what they would need to do to replace me if I were to leave. I decided that for my own mental health, I’m not going to tell anyone anything unless I get another offer. And if I have to have that conversation, it will either go, “I’m leaving and there’s nothing you can do about it,” or “I got an offer and I want to stay but I need X, Y and Z to do so…what are your thoughts?” I just don’t have space in my life for the mental angst of anything in between.

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