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One would be offered a TT job only because one *applied* for that job. So I think that the question should be: should you apply for jobs that you judge to be 'terrible' overall? And the answer to that, I suspect, *does* depend on your 'values' (how badly you want to work in academia, weighted against other things that you value in life, etc.).

When I last was on the market I simply did not apply for jobs that I considered 'terrible', i.e., I only applied for jobs that I judged to be 'acceptable' overall. So any offers that I eventually *did* receive would be ones that I was willing to take. My thinking was that it would be easier simply not to apply for certain jobs -- to rule them out as even possibilities -- than to struggle with potential offers from those ('terrible') jobs later.

Now, it may be that one applies for a job that looks okay initially, but later turns out to be terrible for unforeseen reasons -- say, one discovers that the faculty are unpleasant. In some of those cases, though, I suspect that the applicant is not really in a position to make an informed decision. It may be, for instance, that the unpleasantness of the faculty is not that bad on a day-to-day basis (it can be ignored or avoided). And one could always try to apply for another job -- or simply quit -- if things really do turn out to be awful.

So, in short, I would recommend not even applying to jobs that one judges to be 'terrible' at the initial job-application stage, and to avoid overconfidence in dismissing jobs that -- for reasons that emerge later in the process -- *look* possibly 'terrible' later on.

Second Time Around

Only in academia would an accomplished, intelligent person with many desirable qualities and skills question whether they should accept a job they don't want. I myself did it this go-around, and I'm glad I finally came to my senses.

Stacey Goguen

I haven't been in either situation, but here's how I thought about this sort of hypothetical when I was on the market:

It seems like there's at least two important considerations for someone in your (hypothetical) position:
(1) Will you make more money taking this job, and how much of your time will it demand?
(2) Will this job help you get a better job in the future, more so than if you didn't take the job?

Concerning (1), it's likely that the job will pay more than other forms of academic employment (adjuncting, etc.). But if you can do non-academic forms of employment (bartending, etc.), you might want to think about the $$/time-spent-working ratio for each of your employment possibilities. This is probably a short-term concern, like a year at a time.

Concerning (2), if your goal is to have a TT job, then the second concern is probably the main one. Does taking a bad TT job help your chances of getting a better one?

Some potential ways it may help:
--Will it help your CV by giving you helpful teaching experience?
--Will it help show your viability as a scholar and prevent your dissertation from going 'stale' from being unemployed for too long (I've heard 4-6 years after graduating.)
--Will it give you access to people and resources that will make it easier for you to do research, network, etc.?

Some potential ways it may hurt:
--Will it suck up so much of your time that you can't devote a lot of time to going on the market again?
--Will it suck up so much of your mental and emotional energy dealing with disagreeable colleagues that you will not be researching and prepping for the job market at the top of your game?
--Will other things like the location, atmosphere, etc. make other parts of your life more costly, less efficient, or less pleasant, in a way that hurts your happiness, motivation, and general quality of life?

I've read a bunch of accounts where people say the costs ended up being REALLY costly in a bad job--it just destroyed their quality of life in general. But that's ultimately a caution--and it will depend of the specifics of your situation: your health, your finances, your life goals, etc. to determine whether this is a risk worth taking and whether the potential costs are worth dealing with.

My own guess is, if the following conditions apply, turn down the bad-fit TT job:
(a) there's another way for you to pay your bills
(b) this other way wouldn't suck up even more of your time/energy
(c) you already have previous teaching experience on your CV
(d) you haven't been academically unemployed for 4-6 years*
*(these numbers are a guess based on what I've heard)


Hi Second Time Around,

So does that mean you did not take the job and you are glad?


Isn't practical reasoning usually comparative? What are we supposed to assume about the alternatives? It's one thing to turn down a job when you have a reason to think that you'll have acceptable employment for another year or two and another if you don't have good reason to think that there's a way to stay in the profession.

One thing to think about is whether you'd be willing to accept an offer for an unattractive position but then later decide to go elsewhere if something better in the profession or elsewhere comes along. (I turned down a dream interview for a TT job after accepting an offer for a TT job that I had no desire in (when I could have stayed reasonably happily in a contingent position for a year or two) because I believed that we have obligations to withdraw from other searches once you've accepted an offer, but I now think that that's rather silly. I very nearly created a bad two body problem by taking the undesirable job and I would have been very unhappy if I had taken that job and stayed long term.) If you're wiling to accept an offer and still play the field, that's an important consideration to bear in mind.


I accepted a TT job at an undesirable institution in an undesirable location with undesirable colleagues. I immediately resumed applying to jobs when I started at my new position, but did not use my current institution as a reference. For seven years, I did not receive a single offer and only a handful of phone interviews trickled in. But I did manage to publish a lot and earn tenure at the undesirable institution in the undesirable location with undesirable colleagues. Tenure is now more of a curse than a blessing. It's like Hotel California (but unfortunately not in California). What I suspect is that the long association with undesirables marks you as undesirable too. I probably should have declined the offer, completed a second post-doc and applied for jobs at better schools. Hindsight is always 20/20.


Please do not despair. I think you will be able to move at some point, assuming you keep publishing, and keep connected with other active scholars elsewhere (even if only at conferences). I have a friend who is moving out of a similar situation. It can happen. My crystal ball tells me you will be on a California beach sometime (of perhaps in a pleasant college town in the North East).


Thanks for sharing disappointed. You get at just the sort of worry that I wanted to illuminate. People are often pressured to take a TT rather than a postdoc, and then apply out. But there is the risk that it will be much harder to find a new job once you accept the TT as opposed to taking a postdoc. I do hope you are able to move on, but you tell an important story for others who might be in your position: 7 years is a long time.


I took a job all my grad school friends advised against. A low ranked state school without a philosophy major. I'm still there 11 years later and have not regretted it in 9 or 10 years. I will admit that I thought I was too good for it at first, but eventually realized that if I was, I would have been offered jobs at the better schools :)

I didn't like my colleagues when I was hired, but we have hired some cool people since then. I could rest, no longer concerning myself with Leiter rankings of all sorts. Job market stress has not been a factor in my life. I publish if and when I feel like it. All in all, I rank it as one of the best decisions I have ever made.

FWIW, philosophy jobs are just jobs; you can and should have a life outside of it. Don't let the most interesting thing about you be your job.

Pendaran Roberts

Depends on how many years out and how desperate you are. Right?


Yes I would think Pendaran. The problem that a friend of mine has run into (and to be honest, I fear I might run into at some point) is that your advisers etc. are all giving you huge pressure to take the job, and you fear you will have no sympathy if you turn down the position.

And Stacey thanks for helpful post. I think you are right with your four points at the end, but yet there is still the factor of external pressure.


Advisers are going to get impatient. At one point they have moved on to their next students who they have to try to place in jobs. Unless you get off the market, they will be stuck with supporting two students who may be in competition, given that they probably work on related topics, in virtue of their shared supervisor)


Anonymous I guess that might be true, but my adviser doesn't give me a lot of support at this point. I am curious what "support" advisers may be giving people who are already on the market.


I've turned down two TT jobs without other TT offers in hand. Both were at institutions where I didn't feel I could thrive. I have a reasonably secure and well paying non-TT gig with colleagues and students who I genuinely enjoy.

One of my letter writers was, I think, pretty annoyed that I turned down the first job. I found a new letter writer to replace them. Your career has a far greater effect on your life than on the lives of your committee or letter writers. The rest of my committee has been kind and encouraging. They understand that a TT job is not the only thing that matters in life, that people have different needs, and that some jobs are simply bad jobs for some people (and some jobs are probably just bad jobs simpliciter).

I have had lengthy conversations with my advisors concerning my choices. In fact, my main advisor implored me to turn down the second job that I turned down (I was thinking about accepting it, despite a LOT of red flags, because how many jobs should a person turn down...you know?).

I think the weirdest part about turning down TT jobs is that you are taught that the TT job is all that matters, that getting one is basically the holy grail, that the market is so bad that this is your only shot. If you plan to turn down a TT job with nothing else in hand, I suggest you come to terms with the fact that you may be giving up the chance at a TT career. Accepting that this may be it for you, I would say, is the best thing I did. I'm not filled with regrets. I simply made a series of choices under conditions of epistemic uncertainty, which, to be honest, is what we are all doing all the time. Only time will tell if these were bad choices. Before you make them, you should certainly come to terms with the fact that they very well might be.

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