Monday, January 10, 2011

Average People Need Not Apply

The University of Type-A Overachievers in College Town, USA invites applications for a position as Assistant Professor in English, to begin August 2011. A PhD is required, so hurry up and finish your dissertation because otherwise we won't even call you, you SLACKER you. The successful candidate will specialize in Renaissance Literature, although you will be required to teach mainly freshman composition classes, because the veterans don't want to teach those and you should consider yourself lucky to get to grade eighty papers a week. The successful candidate will also have a long record of publications, with books that would make scholars like Homi Bhabha and Judith Butler lament, "I'll NEVER write anything as good as this!"

Party School in College Town, USA invites applications for a tenure-track position in English, to begin August 2011. A PhD is preferred, but as long as you know how to proofread and don't fail too many sudents, that would be okay too. The successful candidate will call students to remind them to come to class and make classes entertaining so that students will have fun and maybe learn something.

The College of High Expectations in Big City, USA is hiring instructors in the English department to teach a minimum of four classes each semester. But we would really prefer that you teach five classes a semester, because you don't really need to waste time SLEEPING, do you? Please send your curriculum vitae, transcripts (and you BETTER have straight A's), and three letters of recommendation from professors who are so impressed with your scholarly work and teaching that they would give you awards and write songs about you if they could.

A few weeks ago, my blogger friend Lisa Maliga, who writes the blogs Notes from Nadir and Leaving Nadir, wrote an amusing post titled "I Am Sane" about the housing ads she saw on Craigslist when she was looking for a new place to live. It made me think about the job ads I've been seeing as I search for a full-time teaching job. Obviously, I made those ads up, but they're not entirely far from the truth of what many schools expect from teachers.

Reading these ads made me feel a sense of inadequacy about my own situation. Most of the good teaching jobs require applicants to have already completed their Ph.D.s. But even though I've completed my course work and passed my preliminary exams, I won't be finished with my dissertation by August. I'm a Ph.D. candidate, but I'm what's called an ABD (all but dissertation). The problem is, even if I was lucky enough to find a full-time teaching job, the fact that it's full-time would make it even more difficult for me to complete my dissertation.

But I'm facing pressure from my family to find a full-time teaching job, since I'm almost thirty and am still working multiple jobs just to pay the rent. People my age who already have successful careers would probably take one look at my paycheck and either fall down laughing or look at me with pity and offer to buy me lunch.

There are smaller colleges and community colleges that offer tenure-track positions that people who haven't completed their Ph.D.s yet can apply for, but the thing about tenure is that means you're making a commitment to that school.

There's nothing wrong with smaller colleges or comunity colleges, because there are plenty of good ones out there. But right now I'm just looking for a full-time job to tide me over until I complete my degree. Maybe I will end up at one of the smaller schools, but I'd like to at least take a shot at a prestigious school.

It's also hard because a lot of the schools require recommendation letters. I could ask the professors on my dissertation committee to write letters for me, but they're familiar with my scholarly work (which still needs improvement), not my teaching. And anyway, my professors would probably not approve of my current job search (though they might understand my reasoning). They would urge me to finish school first before I get a full-time job.

So it's hard. I'm not sure what's going to happen next year. I've sent out a few applications, but I'm not sure if it would actually be a good idea for me to get a full-time job next year. I don't want to be an eternal student, but at the same time I've already spent too many years focusing more on teaching than on my graduate work. And a professor has to be both a teacher and a scholar, and I don't feel that I've proven myself as a scholar yet.


  1. Back when I was in freshman English, being taught by an intelligent, attractive, well-spoken, Jane Austen-like woman a few years older than myself, I thought I'd like to be her. My life never went that direction, but I always think of her when I read your posts. I'll bet there are students in your classes who look at you with admiration and wish they were as far along the academic path to English professor as you are.

  2. I don't envy you. You're almost there, but it's hard not to be where you want to be, especially when you're reaching 30.

    My husband didn't complete his PhD until 31, and I got my teaching degree after an MA at 30. I had a friend burdened with loans making almost nothing subbing and adjuncting. It's a life few of us would live if we really understood it way back when.

    Don't give up.

  3. Hi Karen,
    Sometimes it feel like the academic path is endless; I feel like I'll never get to the end of it. I'm also afraid of making the wrong decision, especially when it comes to which school to work for. But thank you for your encouragement. That always helps.

    Hi Theresa,
    It is hard not being where I want to be, especially because there are so many people who are younger than me who have already achieved their goals. It's also true that adjuncts don't make much money, which is totally unfair. That's why I am pursuing the Ph.D., because it's very difficult to move up the college hierarchy without it.

  4. How sick is it that when I read the first job posting I got a little depressed that I'm not on the job market yet. Not because the job posting was disheartening or bitingly satirical. But because I still need to write my dissertation so I can apply to said job.

    In other news, I overheard two ABDs in my department having a heated discussion over fonts, Palatino versus Book Antiqua.

    Needless to say, I feel your pain.

  5. Hi Anna,
    Don't feel bad, because writing the dissertation is the toughest part of grad school, in my opinion. Even though I am ABD, I'm still not qualified to apply for many jobs because I haven't completed my dissertation. That's interesting that the ABDs were discussing fonts. I just use Times New Roman; I wonder if that works for or against me? :)

  6. Ummm...what are you racing for? Age is's not a marking point for what you do with your life. IMHO, if you're going to invest the time to do something, then do it well. It's very likely that the first job you get will not be the one you have for the rest of your life.

  7. Hi Deni,
    It's definitely true that the first job I get will not necessarily be permanent, which is why I'm not necessarily looking for a tenure-track job, just a full-time one. But the reason I'm looking for one now rather than later is because a full-time job would provide more stability than the part-time jobs I've been working for years. And I do want to be able to help my family.

  8. Oh, I really don't envy you - I can just imagine how trying it is! Love how you've written the adverts.

  9. Wow. That sounds like some really complicated decisions. I'm sure you won't, but don't let other people pressure you a certain way. You've invested enough in this to get to make your own choices on how to finish it. Good luck!

  10. Thanks for the mention!

    I like the party school--sounds like fun! It's sad that they have such unrealistic expectations. & academia is no different from the business world as the people w/ tenure like to flaunt it to the newcomers.

    Keep on looking, you'll find something.

  11. Hi Talli,
    The whole application process can be very stressful, especially because there's always the possibility that I won't get hired anywhere. I'm not sure what I'll do then, but hopefully I'll figure something out.

    Hi FreeFlying,
    It is hard not to give in to pressure, especially when that pressure comes from family. I can definitely understand their side, but like you said, I have the right to make my own choices too.

    Hi notesfromnadir,
    Academia is very hierarchical, and there are a lot of cliques. I do admire a lot of the "success stories", particularly my professors. But there is a lot of competitiveness in grad school, and sometimes that's hard to deal with.