In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
A hopeful/scared correspondent writes:
I have a job dilemma and no one seems to be able to give me a helpful answer. I live in [California] and teach composition part-time at a community college and at a UC school while I am finishing my dissertation on something totally unrelated to rhet./comp. Two days ago, a position opened up at a major state school in the Midwest in my field; the professor who normally holds the position had to take emergency leave. Because of the school's rather desperate situation (school starts in three weeks), they are willing to take an ABD. I think that, if I apply, I'd have a very good chance of getting the job because my research interests align exactly with the position and because I doubt there are many people willing to pick up and move on this sort of notice.
My question is this: would having a year of experience teaching upper-division courses in my field be significant enough when I applied for tenure track jobs next year to warrant some major sacrifices? These sacrifices entail leaving my husband behind for nine months (the job is only for a year and he needs to be here for his job), moving on two weeks notice, moving somewhere where I don't know anyone, and living in a climate that I find unbearable. I went to prep school up in your northeast neck of the woods and found myself significantly depressed by the weather, although I know that sounds wimpy and insignificant to most people…
My first thought is that a 'very good chance' is speculative. Maybe, maybe not. Counting chickens, and all that. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some strong local candidates, given that it's an evergreen discipline.
That said, the real question here is about the wisdom of a short-term job-related separation. (The point about the weather, I can't answer. Different people have different tastes. If it's full blown seasonal affective disorder, it can be treated. If it's just a matter of taste, then there's nothing else to say.)
Would a year of teaching upper-level courses make you a better candidate? Probably. Would it slow down the dissertating? Almost definitely. Are you likely to face variations on this same geographic dilemma a year from now, and two years from now, and three years from now? Yup.
The two-body problem in academe is absolutely brutal. For reasons I still don't understand, it's seldom addressed directly in graduate programs, so each new cohort discovers it anew. If the two halves of the couple are both academics in evergreen disciplines, and neither is a superstar, then the odds of them getting satisfying jobs within live-together distance are vanishingly small. (The preponderance of one-year positions actually makes things worse, in some ways, since they add 'constant moving' to all the other burdens.) Absent a wonderful coincidence, most of the available choices suck: you can do the long-distance relationship thing, you can split up, or one of you can become the de facto 'second' career in the family, and simply go along with the primary one.
(Interestingly enough, among the academic couples I've seen do that, the woman is usually the one with the primary career. I don't know if that's just a function of a small personal sample or a broader generational shift.)
To the extent that these things are under anyone's control, I recommend finding partners who aren't academics. Most of the rest of the world doesn't live this way.
Should you take a shot at the job? Sure. But I'd advise some serious discussions about the possibility that a one-year long-distance arrangement could quickly become much more than that. Go in with your eyes open.
Wise and worldly readers – I suspect this is a sore nerve for many, but what do you think?
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