This is my second time on the job market. The first time was in 2007-2008, just before things got really bad. I applied for something like 187 jobs, got 15 phone interviews, 4 MLA interviews, two on-campus interviews, and one offer for a tenure-track position as a Generalist, which I took. I had just defended my dissertation in the summer of 2007, just had my first child, just started my second year adjuncting. I know a lot of the jobs I applied for ended up being canceled. The job I got was late being approved and I was only offered it in late April. In my mind, at this point in the process, I had already had a number of phone interviews.
This time around the process is really different for me because I am more integrated into the larger community. When I was applying for jobs then, I had just moved to the States, and was applying for jobs in a field (English) in which I didn’t have a degree (Comparative Literature). I was reorienting myself as a generalist and post-colonial specialist (previously, I was a Canadianist; still am, really). These jobs received hundreds and hundreds of applicants. I knew none of them. I didn’t recognize many of the names within the departments, either. I worked on my materials alone, worried alone, applied alone, cried alone (well, my husband was there). Now, I have a community who helped me reorient my CV, polish my job letter, even suggest jobs to me that I would be good for. I know people who are applying for the same jobs as me, as well as recognizing people in the departments I am applying to (hey, I know them from Twitter!). I’m hoping that this time around, they’ll know me too, as my online presence (and conference presence) has increased in the meantime.
But, I also am all too aware about having too much of a presence, too much of a formed identity as an academic. This turns departments off because they can’t mould me or shape me, or maybe I won’t fit in because I’ll be unwilling or unable to change. In some ways, I have less anxiety this time around because I have stable employment. In others, I am more anxious because I am in almost every way a better candidate than I was five years ago, except that I am older and further away from having finished my dissertation. I am also much more open about my goals as an academic; I didn’t take digital humanities elements out of my letter for those jobs that didn’t specifically ask for them. This is a huge risk, but at the same time, I want them to want me for who I am, not who I think they want me to be.
I am not so naive as to think that getting a tenure-track position solves all of my problems. In fact, in my current situation, getting a TT job creates a whole other set of problems, like where I will live, where my kids will live, where my husband will live. Will the cost of moving be offset by my increase in salary? Will moving to a different (and potentially more expensive) area eat away any increases in salary? Will this position really afford me the kind of environment and support I am looking for professionally, moving forward, or will it be the same kind of position, just with better benefits? And, can I come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t get a job? Can I see that as anything other than failure, especially considering the first time around, I got a job?
For me, Digital Writing Month has really put into focus all of the things that I value right now in my position: openness, freedom, collaboration (at least, virtually). To be able to talk, commiserate, share, and support one another this time around in the job search is invaluable to me. That we can sit down together, have this talk, share our job materials for feedback, and share that process with a larger public (transparency FTW!) is what gives me hope for academia moving forward. That so many of us are struggling to find tenure-track jobs does nothing to reassure me, however. It is a mix of issues, including the erosion of tenure-track positions and the growth of contingent faculty, as well as the administrative class. This also, I think, means that these values that we hold aren’t valued by the people making hiring decisions, or at least makes them think twice about actually hiring people like us. That might just be the cynic in me, but I worry that these very things that give me great hope and pleasure are those very thing that will keep me from getting a job this time around.