Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The job market

So, I'm not on the job market yet. But it's been on my mind, and it works differently than most job markets, so I thought perhaps those of you outside of academia might be interested in learning a little bit about it. The reason it's been on my mind is because I've been worrying about finding a thesis advisor, and one's thesis advisor plays a large part in getting one done at the right time and in an appealing way. I have to think of my dissertation, and thus my chair, as a launching pad to a job.

There are several features that make academic hiring different from hiring, say, a data base administrator or an accountant.

The first is seasonality. With most jobs, Christmas is not a good time to look for work, but jobs are available all year long. For faculty jobs, most positions are posted in the fall. As a newbie on the market (as opposed to a seasoned faculty member who wishes to move to a new institution) you only have a chance if people reasonably expect that you will be able to defend before you start the next fall. In rare cases, the defense happens after you start, but this is usually viewed with alarm by the faculty who just hired you. This means that by December-ish, you need to have your data in hand and at least some vague, preliminary results. You can't wait until next month; you have to wait until next year. So not only do I have to plan well, I have to know that my chair is on board with my schedule.

The second is the unusual hiring process, but I'll save that for another time. It mostly is lengthy and exhausting, and it doesn't require contemplation on this end yet.

Additionally, hiring in the field of higher education is different than in other, larger fields such as English or sociology. This is primarily because it's a small world. There are a dozen or fewer institutions that are commonly held to have the top programs, and most of the faculty at these schools (and a good number of students) know each other at these. So imagine I was going on the job market next year (I'm not). I don't know anyone at Harvard or Stanford, for example, but I do know graduates of those programs. At Michigan, I know one faculty member reasonably well. At Penn State, by next year I'll know the dean, at least one faculty member, and several grad students. So if I'm on the market, and Vanderbilt faculty think I'm good, everyone will know that Turducken is on the market, and some of the people on the search committee are likely to have at least some impression of me already. Even search committees that don't know me are likely to know some of my faculty, and opinions tend to be exchanged between these people.

The flip side of the small world is few positions. In most of academia, the ratio of applicants to jobs is crazy high, but for the applicant it at least feels as if there is always a new opportunity popping up. By contrast, I was told that next year will be a good year to go on the market, because two of those top institutions will be conducting searches at the entry level! Now, of course, there are second- and third-tier programs as well, so if I'm lucky there will be half a dozen institutions with openings suitable for an assistant professor focused on org theory in higher education.

So what this all means for me now is that I need someone who not only is willing and able to let me do the sort of dissertation I have in mind, but someone who can get me done in a timely manner, and furthermore someone who when I'm finishing will be able to say, "Turducken is great! You should totally hire her!" (and be seen as a credible source of information).

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