In the comments section of our most recent "how can we help you?" post, a reader writes:
I recently completed my PhD in philosophy from a small department which, while having good faculty (as per my estimate, based on teaching and publications), is not a top-ranked school. Graduates are typically hired for full time instructor or lecturer positions.
Early in the dissertation process, I began a romantic relationship with another student in the department. After a death in the family which placed her in a bad situation emotionally and financially, we decided to move in together. The plan at the time was that we would finish our degrees, look for work, and move to wherever one of us got a decent job offer.
During this time, her children (from a previous marriage) began to do very well in school (they consistently test in the top of their classes). They are at a very good public school system, and my fiancé is, understandably, highly reluctant to move. In that time, I have also become a regular part of their lives, and I would be very reluctant to leave them, both for their sake and mine.
I can look for full-time positions in the area, but that would impose severe restrictions on where I can apply to. Another possibility is that I wait to apply for academic positions after our kids have graduated high school. For our youngest, this will be in 9 years. What I would like to know is whether and to what extent that gap in time will hurt my chances of being hired to an academic position, and, what, if anything, could be done to alleviate any negative effects of that gap?
Of course, I would try to publish during this period. I would also like to present at conferences, but my budget is extremely limited making this very difficult.
In response, another reader wrote:
My sense is that if you spend the next 9 years - which is at least 9 years after you got your PhD (since you are a recent PhD) - working in contingent positions (adjuncting, for example), you will not be competitive for a tenure track position. Assume that there are between 200 and 300 new PhDs in philosophy every year in the USA. In that time, then, there will be 1800-2700 new competitors on the market. You can see the challenges you will face.
I have a similar sense of things. In my experience, it is very difficult (though not impossible) to work one's way out of non-tenure-track positions into a tenure-track one. I think this is in part due to perception--that is, due to search committees consciously or unconsciously judging candidates on the basis of their "career trajectory." Of course, if the person consistently gets stellar teaching reviews, publishes in good places, develops great teaching materials and evidence of service to their institution, it may be possible for them to move into a TT job. However, my sense once again is that it would probably be very difficult.
On the other hand, because the job-market is already so unforgiving, none of this is to say that they shouldn't risk it, all things considered--perhaps for the sake of their relationship. In my own case, if I had to choose between advancing my career and doing what is best for my family, I would do the latter (as my spouse has improved my life far more than a job ever could!). However, I am a bit puzzled in the reader's case as to why their fiance couldn't join them if they got a full-time academic job elsewhere. As the reader describes it, their fiance is in their same program--so why couldn't their fiance finish their degree from afar (i.e. wherever the reader gets a job)? For my part, I would be wary of risking my career prospects for someone I wasn't married to yet. Unfortunately, I've known engaged couples who, for whatever reason, never ended up getting married--so putting one's career on hold before marriage might be a serious risk. Although I recognize in this case that the person's fiance has children--and every couple must make their own decisions about what is right for them and their children--it is still unclear to me why they wouldn't be able to move if the reader got a TT job.
Anyway, these are my thoughts. What do you all think?