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03/02/2020

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Placed

I did get lucky enough to land a 4/4 teaching job after several years on the market. And yes, I am happy. The stress of not knowing if I'd find a tenure-track job was MASSIVELY worse than any bureaucratic stresses I have now. There are committees and reports that aren't fun, but they're hardly overwhelming. After a couple of years, my courses are pretty set and don't require significant prep time. I mostly get to think, read, teach, and write about what I want, things that excite me. I got lucky and love it.

In the South

I agree with Placed. I just got tenure at a teaching institution (4/4). Although it’s not my favorite part of the country, it’s livable and I am able to make the best of it. I can say that for me personally the security of tenure-track (and now tenure) has brought tremendous improvement to my quality of life. I travel extensively, save for retirement, and get to do a job I love. I applied to 300 jobs in two years on the market and am grateful that I gave it an all-out effort to land a position. My advisors had always told me that the entry fee is high, but it’s an amazing quality of life if you can find a landing spot. My experience has very much confirmed that. I realize that not everyone’s experience is the same, and not every job is the same. I haven’t done any work in the summer since I got my job, but I know that wouldn’t fly in a research-intensive position.

a philosopher

"In any case, I'm inclined to think there may be little harm in ambivalent grad student giving the academic job-market at least one shot."

I don't know about this. It's basically 6 months of your life where you spend countless hours on job applications, burn social capital by asking for arduous favours (letters), and lose a lot of sleep due to stress.

"ambivalent grad student" doesn't say, but the tone of their question suggests that they wouldn't be lost in the wilderness if they skipped the normal academic job market: e.g., perhaps they have other options, a spouse who can support them, etc.

If this is the case and they really are ambivalent, I suggest skipping the philosophy job market and moving on with their life, in whatever form that takes for them.

As to whether or not a TT job really is more stressful than being a grad student, the *job search* ambivalent is about to embark on surely is. Given that the odds of success are very low, and that the odds of great hardship and mental stress are very high (and there's always the sunk-cost fallacy trap), I suggest moving on to other things if that's an option and one really is ambivalent.

Amanda

Maybe it is because I am at a research school. Or maybe it is just my personality. But I find a TT job more stressful. For one, I am expected to perform at a higher level. I was a star as a grad student, but now I feel like I have to compete with all professors in the profession, and that is much harder. So there is a lot of pressure to publish well and philosophers are very critical. I don't take criticism well. I take it especially badly. So this is not fun for me. With teaching, it is stressful because I care about being a great teacher, but there is so much research pressure that I feel guilty for either (1) not putting time into teaching, or (2) putting time into it.

All of the above is specific to research schools, so maybe it is not to relevant to the question. However, I think it is worth saying because there are probably some grad students out there considering whether to do the teaching or the research track, and the above is something to consider.

In spite of the high stress, I am glad to have a research job. I love working with grad students, teaching grad seminars, and having philosophers around to talk philosophy. I also am a competitive person and so part of me, perhaps, enjoys the pain of competition. I also enjoy getting invited places to speak, and invited to research workshops (which I probably wouldn't be able to do with a teaching job. )

My advice for the poster isn't too original: set a time limit, 1-3 seasons on the market, and be committed to leaving after that time period. Also think very seriously about a plan B. I was much happier when I merely had in my head a plan for what I would do if I left philosophy. So know what you would do instead and how you could get started in that alternative path.

Happy TT

I was previously at a state school with a 2/3 load where the department was primarily research-focused by culture (basically this meant that I was told the whole time that my tenure case was uncertain, but in practice others ahead of me got tenure with less than I had). I have just moved to a research department. By far the most stressful and emotionally difficult part of my career was graduate school. The market was not fun, but I was lucky and only needed to go on once, so it really wasn't all that bad. And I've loved my job, and been able to limit work to normal work hours while still publishing plenty to get tenure.

Maybe ambivalent grad student will be as lucky. If so, going on the market once might be worth doing for them. But it's also perhaps worth noting that there are lots of other people who desperately want those jobs. I don't think one has an obligation to leave academia if they could be happy doing something else, in order to save the jobs for people who don't feel like they can be - but it's at least something to consider, if you're not sure you want it that much anyway.

be careful

Whether you should bother with the job market depends on whether you're likely to have success and on what alternatives are available to you. Do you plan to go back to school for a new degree? Do you have connections that can hook you up with a good job outside academia? If you think you can easily transition into a good job outside academia, then I wouldn't bother with the academic job market. If you think transitioning is going to be rough, then it might make sense to try the academic job market for a year, if you think you have a chance. Do you have a bunch of good publications and a bunch of teaching experience and a degree from a university with a good placement record? If your answer isn't 'yes' to at least two of these things, then you're probably wasting your time on the academic job market, especially if you're not from a preferred demographic. If you do decide to go on the academic job market, set a date you will leave. One year can easily turn into two, then three, then four, then five... I was encouraged to keep trying for years, and when I gave up I was too worn out to do anything else.

still tryin

My experience is somewhat similar to Amanda’s and I’m at an R2. I have several thoughts about this:

Whether the tenure-track is more stressful in part depends on the job you land. If you happen to land in a department with lots of drama and unsupportive colleagues, your job can be miserable. If you land in a department where you feel valued and encouraged to pursue what matters to you, it can be great. This is obviously a crapshoot since it will be near impossible to tell which kind of department yours is before accepting an offer (the dramatic and unsupportive departments often hide it well).

Whether the tenure-track is more stressful in part depends on the fit of the job you land. It sounds like you should only accept a SLAC or CC job, which would have been my preference also. Not knowing how challenging an R2 would be for me in terms of research expectations, I feel constant agony about meeting my research expectations. I in large part hated writing the dissertation and writing a book (required for tenure) is proving to bring all of that back up for me. Furthermore, I didn’t know how alienated I would feel by my institution’s values and culture. It is, let’s say, hyper-professional and ambitious, and I am more of a community organizer and “slow professor” (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/04/19/book-argues-faculty-members-should-actively-resist-culture-speed-modern-academe)

Whether the tenure-track is more stressful than grad school in part depends on your social location. Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracey Laszloff have a fantastic book on this (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/08/08/black-academics-guide-winning-tenure-without-losing-your-soul) If you belong to any underrepresented group (the book focuses on the experiences of Black faculty, but has useful insights for any minority faculty), reading this book might give you a sense of what you could be facing on the TT.

Which segues to my final point: whether the tenure-track is more stressful might also in part depend on your expectations. As with grad school, I was totally naïve about these challenges on the TT. The narrative I had was that the PhD was a slog and the market was obviously terrible for my mental health, but that once I landed a job, it would be smooth sailing and all would have been worth it! I know now that a more realistic narrative is that it can take some time to find a department/university that fits your professional, social, and personal needs. You could be lucky and get that on the first shot, or you can find yourself needing to move after year 3 for reasons that were largely unforeseeable.

ambivalent grad student

Thank you all for your input. I really appreciate it.

@a philosopher and @be careful: you are right in that I am not lost in the wilderness. I have previous experience working in non-profit administration. I have a solid plan B in a way that many others do not. Part of me hopes that will help me not become too anxious and invested during the job market season, but that may be wishful thinking. While I don't think transitioning out of academia would be a piece of cake, I think it would be easier for me than others.

If I do decide to go on the market, I'm planning on 1-2 rounds. If I don't land a miracle TT job on my first go, I'll aim for a postdoc or short-term appointment that doesn't require me to move my family (I live in a large metro area so that is a possibility). If I can make that happen, I'll try one more time. If not, I'll throw in the towel after the first go around.

@Amanda and @still tryin: that is a really interesting point, and I am grateful that you are so candid. Despite how I've prepared myself during grad school, working hard to go to conferences and publish several peer-reviewed papers, I don't think I would enjoy the stress of a research university. I'm aiming at a SLAC. I'm coming from a non-ranked R2 university, so my chances at landing a job at a research university are relatively non-existent to begin with (although it has happened from our program in recent history).

@Happy TT: I have thought that the mere fact that I'm ambivalent might put some kind of moral pressure on me not to flood the market any further and "open up spots" for other people who more desperately want the jobs. But my ambivalence does not mean that I would take a job that I know I would be unhappy with. And there isn't any reason to think that my not taking a TT job would mean that it would go to those who are more desperate for it. Feeling like one can't be happy outside of academia doesn't mean that one *will* be happy in it, even if one gets what seems like a dream job. Right?

Sam Duncan

One more thought here that I think echoes something Marcus has emphasized a lot: You might spare yourself a lot of stress and effort if you only apply selectively to relatively few jobs but pick those carefully and put a fair amount of work in the applications. I think a lot of the stress of the job search comes from the apply to every single job and hope one pans out approach we're pushed to take. In sending out something on the order of 300+ applications I only once got an interview at a school I thought was a stretch for me (it was an R2) or didn't fit my profile and I didn't get a fly out. I had much more luck with SLACs or larger teaching focused state schools. Honestly when I actually fit the AOC and AOS for those schools I probably got interviews about 10% of the time which is about the normal ratio for real world job searches.
Also, I'll chime in and say that for the most part jobs at community colleges like the one I eventually landed are really low stress. Of course you have to do service work and attend your share of brain scalding meetings butI don't think there's anything like the stress my friends at R1s or even R2s report. There are things to worry about yeah, but it's about as stress free a white collar job as you can find. I'll admit there have been times I've been really stressed but it's usually been due to overcommitting myself with course loads by taking too many summer classes or teaching overloads during the regular semester. Like any other academic job one has to learn to say no.

YMMV

I assume that the job market is mainly stressful for people who DON'T have a Plan B.

The last time applied, my contract was ending and it was an academic job or I didn't know what--my husband (whose contract was also ending) and I joked about living on the street in a cardboard box, and things wouldn't have gotten THAT bad, but we were worried about being homeless for at least a short period of time.

More recently I've applied for a few jobs while already being in a stable position. It's a radically different experience--it's still a pain, but not stressful.

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