The following is a guest-post in our long job-market journeys series by Tom Cochrane (Flinders University):
I've been invited to share the story of my 10 year odyssey from phd to permanent job. It started out pretty well. I completed my Phd at Nottingham University in 2007, six months ahead of deadline. Before my graduation ceremony, I managed to get a postdoc on 'aesthetic emotions' at the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences in Geneva. I think this was the luckiest thing that happened in my career- I completed a phd in music and emotions right at the time that a job in this area came up. At this point I had some teaching experience, the valuable endorsement of my PhD supervisor Greg Currie, and no publications.
Over the next 16 months, I converted 3 of my phd chapters into decent journal publications- and looking back, that was relatively painless as well. Then things started to slow down. My main task in Geneva was to research the sublime. To sit at your desk 9am monday morning and contemplate exploding volcanos and the vastness of interstellar distances is a rather odd way to make a living. I produced work quickly enough, but it is by no means a hot topic that journals are clamouring to publish. Meanwhile, I was trying to publish a paper on emotions. This was initially the first chapter of my phd, and I kept revising it, and sending it out, and getting rejected, and revising it again. The months and months I spent working on those papers were just not getting rewarded with publication. Combine that with the excruiating wait times between journal decisions and this adds up to a serious detrimental impact upon one's career. My article on the sublime was finally accepted in 2012 after 10 submissions. The ever-revised paper on emotions was only accepted in 2017 after 22 submissions! I think that's a record (if anyone can beat that, let me know).
I returned to philosophy. I got a temporary teaching post at Sheffield in Sept 2012 covering for Rob Hopkins. The next year it was renewed while Hopkins was still preparing his move to NYU. In 2014, Miranda Fricker got two years Leverhulme funding, and I got to cover for her. Repetitive teaching really helped me to get some writing done. I was also getting interviews ever so often (in the UK anyway- I tried applying to the US for a couple of years, without the slightest flicker of response). The main problem is that jobs in aesthetics just don't come up, so I was always up for the fiercely competitive generalist jobs.
Then a miracle happened. In February 2016, Miranda Fricker announced she was leaving Sheffield for CUNY. I thought it was my lucky day- because EU law states that after 4 years of rolling contracts, if there's no objective reason otherwise, a temp worker should be made permanent. Since Fricker was not returning, the objective reason for keeping me temporary was gone. I contacted the union, asking for a lawyer's opinion. I got a union rep and we started working on my case. The university stonewalled. We had several rounds of appeal with faculty level admin, arguing against their obscure financial forecasts. My head of dept did her best to help me, and in the summer I got another 1 year covering funded leave for Ryan Byerly. I was glad to take the job, but this meant that there was now an objective reason to keep me on a temporary contract, because Ryan would return. The union had let me down. They didn't actually get a proper lawyer's opinion until after I was on the new contract. They (or I, independently) should have lawyered up and taken the case to ACAS straightaway.
Meanwhile, the endless revisions of my emotions paper were finally paying off in the sense that I had enough cast off material for a book. I sent off some draft chapters to OUP in January 2016, hoping for a big CV boost. In September 2016, they rejected it. The referee was horrible, but in retrospect I shouldn't have rushed to submit. Coincidentally, while reeling from this rejection, the university also rejected my final appeal for permanency (which the union had confidently predicted would be successful). That weekend was... not good.
In my fifth year at Sheffield, I revised my book again and sent it out to Cambridge. In July 2017 I was at the end of the line. There was no more temporary work to be had at Sheffield. I was desperately applying for non-academic jobs at the university, because at least the salary progressions I had accrued would be protected for a couple of years. I was unsuccessful at more job interviews and seriously facing the end of my academic career.
But in August things turned around. Cambridge conditionally accepted my book. On August 31st, the day before my Sheffield contract ran out, I landed another temp lectureship at York. This meant a 10k cut in salary but it kept me in the game. Then, a few days after that, I was interviewed for a job at Flinders University over skype. I had applied without much serious hope, but it was the most wonderful interview and I was finally successful.
More than previous moves, moving to Australia has been a massive dislocation for myself, my wife, and my children. Happily, we seem to have ended up somewhere pretty good. Every so often I am reminded of the sheer physical relief of not having to worry about my job every single day.
I have repeatedly seen younger, less experienced candidates with fewer publications get permanent jobs. It is hard not to be eaten up with envy. Meanwhile, the market requires you to constantly self-justify in a way that erodes confidence. And of course there's nothing quite like the slow drip from intense hope to bitterness as you wait to hear about a job interview. There are many things that I've learned about job seeking but my main advice would be this: 1. Do not specialise in aesthetics! 2. Write a book- but make it as complete and polished as you can before sending it out!
Many thanks to Tom for sharing his story. Do you have long job-market journey you would like to share? If so, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd be happy to feature stories from those who eventually found academic jobs, as well as from those who did not and chose to leave academia. The Cocoon is intended to be a place for early career folk to have their stories and voices heard--so if you'd like to share yours, please do let me know!