As some of you may know, I graduated with my PhD last May. Yay! Since then, dozens of recruiters from extremely prestigious universities have been banging at my door, offering me tenure-track positions with extensive benefits packages.
Okay, maybe not.
If you're at all tapped into the "internet of academia," you know that your chances of getting a tenure-track job has gone from standard, to difficult, to downright depressing. Let alone in your first year of looking, at the type of institution you want, or in the location you may desire. You read blog after blog and forum post after forum post of academics who took 4, 5, 6 years and 30, 40, 50 applications before they even got an interview. Not to mention the standard academic hiring season is, well, now (from about August to November), so while jobs do pop up year round, most of the better jobs for the upcoming academic year are only available for a short period. In that period, you are scrambling to write customized, perfectly conveyed cover letters, thoughtful but not cloying teaching statements, passionate but accessible research statements, and, nowadays, diversity statements that are meaningful but not bland. Oh, and you have to bug your poor dissertation committee, advisors, mentors, supervisors, etc. for recommendation letters constantly. While it used to be the norm that recommendation letters might only be requested for short-listed candidates, now many institutions want everything up front. So, for example, my dissertation chair this year is likely sitting on about 12 requests for recommendation letters, for me alone. Oh, and they are all due in about 1-2 months.
I have read and reread my cover letter no less than 100 times. I have ensured that I haven't made the typical silly mistakes, like leaving the name of University Z on the cover letter for University G. I have tried to go above and beyond in customizing each letter, by researching faculty, departments, initiatives to show that I would be a good fit for each position. It's been exhausting, exciting (maybe I'll get this job!!), and frightening (maybe I'll get no job!!). You can't help but, upon researching a department, its faculty, the city, etc. picture yourself there, getting your hopes up, thinking about how well you'd fit in, thinking about what your picture would look like on the faculty list. I'm embarrassed to admit I've even checked Zillow for house prices in the cities of universities I've applied to. I can't help it!
As an academic, you work so hard to cultivate your own niche. You publish, you present, you network. You care so much about your research interests that you can't imagine why everyone isn't researching the same thing. You think it's crazy that you can't find a home for your work, which for (in my case) 4 years has consumed your days and driven your loved ones crazy, but given your life purpose. It's especially disheartening to read the recent trend of "quit lit" from academics who either made their way into the academy or went into industry without even bothering. They raise valid points. Higher education is changing. Tenure is not what it used to be. The relationship between the professor and their students, their colleagues, and their supervisors is incredibly tenuous at times. And yet, for thousands of us, every year, we decide that we are going to go for it anyway. We know it's seemingly impossible, but we think we can do it. We know for some it's not desirable, but we think it's for us. And people do get these jobs! And lots of those people do enjoy them! And oh my GOD, this position description might as well be written for me, there is just no WAY they wouldn't hire me....!!
Thus far, I have applied to 15 TT jobs this year and am preparing applications for 4 postdocs and 2 grants. I'm working on 5 publications, 3 conferences, and a partridge in a pear tree. Maybe not the last one. The thought is that, even if this isn't my year, I'll make myself more competitive for next year. I think I have several years of searching in me before I lost faith. My goal for this year is at least 1 campus interview. Every time I press "submit" on an application, I get a little adrenaline boost. Will this be the one? Will I be moving my family to Ann Arbor, San Diego, Denver? Will that guy be my colleague? Or, will I, like so many dutiful academics, simply press on, waiting until someone sees the sparkle in me that I so desperately tried to convey in a few pages of written words? I'll let you know.