18 January 2008

Job Market Blues

And it's not even summer yet...

To some extent, I think about this issue way too much. There is, after all, only so much one can do to get a job. So much of it has to do with luck, timing, and that all important concept, fit.

Knowing that, however, does not stop me from worrying about the year ahead and the years after.
I'm fairly lucky, in a way, because the department in the lovely Mountain University where I got my MA gave me a head start that I don't think grad students here at Prairie U are getting.

When I went to the pre-pre job search info session last year (you're not allowed to go to the real pre- job search meeting until you're actually committing to going on the market) I found out that in my program roughly 40% of first time job candidates get tenure track positions--and that includes a portion of the department that is known for placing almost everyone, every time. The institution where I got my MA routinely places something like 80% or more of first time candidates, most in tenure track gigs. And, it boasts a record of placing 97% of people who wanted tenure track positions within 3 years.* From the look of the number of PhDs who show up year after year as non-tenured lecturers, I'm guessing that Prairie U doesn't quite boast those numbers.

This seems odd to me--especially since Prairie U is ranked quite a bit better than Mountain U. Especially, since Praire U boasts programs and faculty that are nationally known and recognized. You'd think that their placement rate would be higher-- say 50-50 at least.

So I have good reason to think, and worry, and plan for the job search. Because if I wait until the pre-search meeting that will happen sometime in May, I will be years behind people in programs that have been preparing to be professionals since the beginning of graduate school.

Luckily, thankfully, I knew this coming in.

When I entered my MA program I didn't have a clue. I imagined grad school to be an extension of undergrad (which I breezed through with minimal effort). I really didn't know what I wanted, or what it meant to get a PhD, to be a professor. By the end of my first semester, I was just trying to make it through to get the MA and then maybe go back and teach High School. Anything but more theory and three hour seminars. I felt stupid and out of place amidst people who already had read Derrida and Foucault. I had tantrums over theory books and wanted to cry when I read something in English that I could not, for the life of me, comprehend.

And then something happened. At the end of my second semester, a professor wrote on one of my seminar papers that I should think about revising it for publication--and that she would be happy to help me.

So I did. I worked on draft after draft. I came across Irigaray and finally found theory that made sense to me in a real way. And for the first time, I understood my work as real work. Not as busy work or something to just get through. Real work, that I was really interested in, and really wanted to do.

That experience happened at least 3 times at Mountain U-- three different professors in less than two years, in classes that were not my "real" area, expressing willingness to help me become a colleague rather than a student. It was an atmosphere that permeated the department. I was told by an chaired professor that I was not to call her Prof. X, but simply by her nickname. "You are becoming a colleague," she said. "Not simply a student, and should address me as such."

It's because of Mountain U that I have 1 article published and 1 forthcoming. It's because of those two short years in my MA program that I worry about getting through, finishing, and what my CV should have on it to be a viable candidate on a difficult market.

It's not that I haven't gotten help and support from Prairie U-- my committee has been wonderful to me, and the department has treated me fairly well. But, in a way, I think it's somehow sad that the department here is ok with their 40% placement when it is, indeed, possible to do so much better-- for themselves, and for their students.

*And this isn't an exaggeration-- when they recruited me for the MA, they sat me down and went over a list of the last 3 years' candidates and showed me where they placed. Most tenure track--and not even tenure track in Community Colleges or middle of nowhere branch campuses. Real places, that I've heard of before.

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