(This is the fifth installment of our series of philosophers who have been on the job market for a long time - submissions - anonymous or named, are still welcome).
I am currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy (tenure-track) in the Department of Philosophy & Political Science at Quinnipiac University. I received my PhD in 2004 from Durham University, in the UK. I had a one-year visiting position at the University of Bradford in 2003-04, after which I held an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Rhodes University in South Africa (2004-06), and a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University (2006-07), which brought my husband (who is not an academic) and I to the US.
I went on the US job market in 2006, immediately after arriving at Emory, and with no idea what I was doing. Some Emory faculty kindly read over my materials and patiently explained some of the basic expectations surrounding the US academic job market. I got three offers, all for non-tenure-track, multiple year positions. In retrospect this was a huge stroke of luck: I had no teaching evaluations from US institutions available, my transcript (which uses the UK grading scale) looks to US eyes as though I failed everything (so much so that I ended up putting an explanation of the grading scale on the front of it), and had published/in press something like four articles, which looking back, was nowhere near enough. I accepted an offer from Hunter College, CUNY, to become what they call a “Substitute” Assistant Professor for a year, with the possibility of renewal for a second year.
I tried the job market again in 2007-08 (somewhat reluctantly, because I was enjoying my time at Hunter) and - knowing I had a four-semester limit on my CUNY contract - for a third time in 2008-09. The latter was, as we all know, a disastrous job market year because of the financial crisis. At pretty much the last minute, just as I was resigning myself to unemployment, I was recruited to a tenure-track job in a new interdisciplinary health sciences program at the University of Minnesota Rochester. I was grateful to get the position and learned a lot from my students and colleagues, but I decided to go on the job market again after three years in order to find a position where I could teach and do research focusing on philosophy. I was lucky enough to secure my current tenure-track job in the 2011-12 job market season.
In total, I moved institution five times between 2003 and 2012 - across three different continents - before finding a tenure-track position in philosophy.
Not all US institutions provide full support for the costs associated with e.g. H visas/permanent residence, and one cannot necessarily trust that every university is up-to-date with the correct, current immigration law and procedures relevant to international faculty. When negotiating, it is vital to be as well informed as possible yourself, to get clarity about what is included as support from the institution, and to get whatever is agreed upon between the university and yourself in writing. Also, seeking the advice of a lawyer can necessitate shopping around - some attorneys charge flat-rate fees, while others charge an hourly or part-hourly rate - and you should always work with an attorney you are comfortable with. Moreover, if traveling with a spouse, it’s important to be aware of how government regulations may impact on them, relative to visa status. I was very glad to hear that earlier this year, the US government finally changed the rule that forbade dependent spouses in H status from undertaking paid work. While this happened too late to benefit my husband or myself, I think it will do a great deal to help many other people in the future, financially and psychologically.
Every time I moved, I lost months of productive work time to dealing with immigration and associated hassles. When I moved to the US it took me a while to get a credit card, and I found getting an apartment or a car loan was often somewhat difficult because my credit record was too short. During my years in J and H status, I was perpetually terrified of losing my job, which would have meant not only loss of income but also deportation. For similar reasons I was also terrified of something going wrong when I re-entered the US after international travel. Because of the constant uncertainty, even something so mundane as buying bookshelves, or books for that matter - let alone major life decisions - became fraught with complexity; planning too far ahead seems pointless. I think it is important to point these sorts of issues out so that the less visible aspects of peripatetic academia are made more apparent, but at the same time, I am very much aware that as a white British citizen, I have consistently benefited from privileges associated with race and national origin. For example, I have had far fewer experiences of xenophobia, or of difficulties in re-entering the US from abroad, compared with some friends and colleagues.
My path has not always been easy, but even so, I would not choose differently: I am able to do what I can do now chiefly because of my experiences. For example, I developed knowledge of a range of branches of philosophy scholarship, took up research opportunities, developed competence in diverse teaching methods, can draw on the expertise of philosophers from all over the world, and have opportunities to participate in scholarly organizations. I have had many worthwhile opportunities to learn about diverse institutional structures and organizational planning, which has been helpful in my current position, in which I am contributing to implementation of a new B.A. in Philosophy (our major was inaugurated in 2012).
Overall, I think the experience of traveling widely and working at diverse institutions has been critical to my (ongoing) personal and professional development. In addition to the support of my remarkably patient and good-humored spouse, I have been very fortunate to receive a lot of support and good advice from many faculty and staff members at all of the institutions where I held non-tenure-track positions, as well as from many other colleagues in philosophy. Many offered training experiences, practical advice on writing job/grant applications and on teaching, helped me to learn how to better protect my research time and finish my writing projects, or simply took time out of their days to encourage me. Their support made a huge difference, but I also know that luck has also played a role in my finding my current job (even the invitation to interview for my current position went to my email spam folder - I found it quite by accident).