A reader wrote in today with the following query:
I am a first-year placement director at [redacted]. I recently got a question from one of my graduate students, and while I have pretty strong leanings about the answer, I'm wondering if you might float it to your readers to get more feedback. I looked around through the archives and didn't see this question discussed, but I very well could have missed it.
The student in question has not had any success on the job market for the last couple of years, and he has now completely exhausted his funding from the university. This year, he has a shot at a one-year position that is a 4/4 with little research support and low pay and is located on the opposite side of the country. Taking into account moving expenses, the loss of his wife's job and time it would take to find a new one, and his salary, this would be a net loss financially. Further, it would inhibit his ability to improve his CV for the next go-round on the job market.
His question was this: how much worse off would he be on the job market next year if he did not take a philosophy position this year, instead using the time to work on getting pieces of his dissertation published, presenting at conferences, etc., versus taking a VAP or adjunct position? My sense is that it would be much harder to get a long-term (or even a cushier short-term) position after being "out" of philosophy for even a short period of time. But I could be wrong!
I will be curious to see what readers think--especially, any readers who have served on search-committees: so, if you have served on a search-committee, please do weigh in!
In any case, I guess I will begin with my two-cents. I'm inclined to think that--absent a lot of further clear evidence one direction or the other--it is really hard to have any reliable idea of whether it would be harder [let alone "much harder"] to get a long-term or "cushier" short-term position after being "out" of philosophy for even a short period of time. My general experience has been that search committee members often have very different perspectives on a great many things--and I would not be at all surprised if it were the case here. Me? I don't think I would care in the slightest if a candidate were out of philosophy for a short-term, at least not if the candidate actually accomplishes stuff during that time to improve their dossier [viz. publications, etc.]. I know how hard the job-market is, so I don't see any reason to hold a short "hiatus" against a person. At the same time, given how I've met other people in the profession who disagree with me on just about about everything, I would not be at all surprised if there were people out there who would hold "time off" against a candidate.
Consequently--again, absent further evidence, which for all I know could be forthcoming--I'm inclined to think it's a gamble either way: the person could accept their 4/4 job across the country, uprooting their family, etc., and get a job the next year on the market...or they could do it and not get a job. Similarly, they could stay where they are, not take the 4/4 job, publish half a dozen articles...and get a job...or not get a job. I simply don't know whether there are any good grounds to think one is substantially more risky than the other, especially given that the one option [not taking the 4/4 job] might actually enable the person to improve their dossier more than if they took the job. After all, as the above placement director notes, the 4/4 job would plausibly make publishing prohibitively difficult. Since publications appear crucial for job-market competitiveness [the more publications I got year by year, the more interviews I got, year by year], if the person took time off to publish, they might become an even more attractive candidate than they would be if they took the 4/4 and published little or nothing. So, again, I think it's just a gamble. But--just like the above placement director--I could be wrong! So, I will be curious to hear what you all think [particularly, again, those who have actually served on search committees].
Finally, I also have some thoughts on moral/interpersonal issues of making decisions like this under conditions of uncertainty. However, in the interest of not being a "moral busybody", I will not share these thoughts here. Still, if the candidate, placement director, or anyone else in a similar position is interested in discussing these issues in private, I am more than happy to do so [and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]. I have a spouse and was on the market for seven years, so I know first-hand how much decisions like this can affect a family/marriage.