This fourth post on philosophers who were/are on the job market for a long time has an anonymous contribution. For more background on the aims of this series, and how to tell your story, see here.
My first job rejection was on Christmas Eve 2009. I spent the whole night having nightmares about never getting a job, and the whole of Christmas day having arguments with my family, because I hadn't had any sleep.
I finished my PhD in September 2010 from a good UK institution, with a good publication. I had missed the job market for the 2010/11 academic year, but I had a couple of interviews within the next 12 months for the following year. I have learned since that I came second in one of those. As much as my institution was good for me philosophically, I didn't know how the job market game was played. My department offered lots of advice, but, at the time, I didn't feel confident enough to ask for help - I didn't want to impose on people's time.
I spent 2010/11 working two jobs, and applying for every job that was advertised. My applications were mostly rushed, my writing sample was not in the best shape (after several revisions it has since been published). Clumsy errors led to no more shortlists. Philosophically, my ideas were interesting, but I didn't understand what needed to happen to make my papers what journals were looking for.
In 2012/13 I was lucky to get a Visiting Assistant Professorship at a tiny Liberal Arts College in the US. I was the only philosopher at the college. This was an amazing experience. I got told that the permanent job was 'mine to lose'. I didn't apply for it though: I couldn't see me living there, I didn't have any philosophers nearby to speak to, and I could imagine ever meeting anyone with whom I might build a life there. They also paid me about $10k less than the other people doing the same job as me. I finished that job poor, tired, but a little inspired by how interesting teaching could be.
During that year I met someone and fell in love. Before you get your hopes up, there is no happy ending. It's a thing that happened, and it is important to understand the effect the job market had on my life. During my year in the US I tried to have a relationship with someone who lived in a different state. When my visa ran out I went back to the UK and was effectively homeless for the foreseeable future: no job, sub-sub-letting a place from a stranger, and desperately working on papers and job applications. By this point, the support of my partner (now on a different continent), advice I'd got from colleagues, and experience meant I was doing a better job of writing papers and applying for jobs. I got two interviews.
I hadn't published at this point since finishing my PhD. I had spent a lot of time prepping new courses, but also a lot of time having stuff at journals. One piece (now published) was at a journal for six months, then at another for 9 months, then at another for 7 months. Each rejection, when the job market depended so much on my publication, was brutal. The stress of worrying about whether I would get a rejection in my inbox made it hard for me to concentrate on writing, and an awareness of how self-defeating such fretting was, self-defeatingly, exacerbated this.
I had learnt a valuable lesson from my US experience, however. If academia wasn’t going to give me a job where I could have a pleasant life, where I could make friends and eventually settle down with someone, then I could find something else. I’m a clever, likeable person, and I could find something.
I did well at both interviews. The first one was for a place near where my partner lived, but was due to start soon, and one of the reasons I didn’t get offered it may have been getting a visa processed before the semester started. The other one was based at a medium-ranked institution in the UK. It was right at the end of the job market, in what had been a particularly bad year. If I didn’t get this, I would have to leave the profession. I couldn’t afford a year of writing and hoping, either financially, or emotionally.
I got the job. It was a one year job teaching well outside my area, but they would put my one good publication into the REF, and I had smiled winningly in the interview when they asked ‘can you teach x’. I had discovered back in 2011 that that is always the correct answer.
The job pays well (i.e. enough, at last, to go to the dentist, and to buy some new clothes). The one year job in 2013/14 became a two year job. They has a vacancy open up suddenly, and I was employed to cover teaching while they ran a search for a permanent post. My horrific publication drought ended, and I got a trickle of publications, and started getting invited to speak at workshops and conferences. The long-distance relationship with my partner increasingly became untenable. We needed to be on the same continent, but the job-market wasn’t even providing job security for either of us on any continent, let alone the same one. Being heartbroken also affects your productivity, it turns out. The two-year job has now become a three-year job. Another vacancy opened up, at my institution.
The story hasn’t ended. It has merely reached what the racier class of novelist might term ‘the climax’. The institution I’m currently at will be advertising two posts this year, one almost certainly in my area, to teach what I’m currently teaching. My superiors are happy with my teaching and my contribution to the department administration; the only question mark hangs over my publications. Someone who found a research-intensive job straight out of their PhD is likely to have many more publications under their belt than I do after my long journey constantly preparing new courses, and spending six years wondering what continent I’ll be living on in 18 months’ time. Either way, this is my last year on the academic job market: I’ll either get a permanent job this year, or leave Philosophy.