"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


job market = junior high

I haven't been blogging much of late.

Perhaps you've noticed.

Things have been a little busy around here.

To be more precise, I'm in the middle of a nine-week run of being at an airport at least once a week.

I'm not complaining. It's much better to have family to visit, conference papers to present, jobs for which to interview, and vacations to take than the alternatives. But I am tired.

Here's what I've learned about the academic job market thus far: it's remarkably similar to choosing a spouse. Using the dating methods of seventh graders.

You put yourself out there, often by letting your advisor know that you're interested in this or that job. Your advisor and other professors then introduce you around, letting those schools know that you like them, and you want them to like you, too.

And then you wait for the phone to ring. And wait. And wait. And begin to think that the phone will never ring, that nobody will ever want to give you a chance.

Then it does. Ring, I mean. Sometimes it's the school you wanted to call. Sometimes, it's not. Regardless, you have no idea what to say, but you pull it together, manage to sound cool, and reply, "Of course, I've always dreamed of living and working in northwest Iowa/metropolitan Las Vegas/outer Mongolia. Who doesn't?"

If they like you, it doesn't matter whether you like them or not: you're going for that interview. You rehearse everything you'll say with your friends and people who are wiser than you, come up with an answer to every possible question, have amusing anecdotes on hand for when conversation slows, and have your mutual friends call to talk you up. You also get every single piece of dirt, I mean, information on the school that can be found online and through your networks.

Then comes the real fun: the campus interview. In which both parties involved have one, maybe two days to decide whether they want to spend the next thirty years together.

It's like going from the first date to an engagement in one day.

Academic job interviews are not like interviews for other jobs. In a normal job interview, you spend an hour, maybe two talking to the people whose responsibility it is to hire new workers. In an academic job interview, you talk. About yourself. For eight or nine hours. To a mind-boggling array of people. You meet as many members of the department as possible, visit with the dean of the college and the department chair about tenure and promotion and benefits policies, take a campus tour, sometimes teach a class, meet with students, and always give a talk on your research, which is followed by what can be a brutal Q&A in which faculty members may try to impress one another with how smart they are by berating you. Everyone, from the dean to the undergrads, is constantly evaluating you, so you'd better not say anything stupid, and you'd better not lose your voice or catch a cold.

You also get treated to fancy dinners, ones that you suspect won't be forthcoming once you commit.

Then you get to wait again, to see if they'll make an offer. And if they do, you have two weeks tops to make a decision that determines where you'll likely spend most of your career. And you have to decide what to do.

Sometimes it's easy. If the school is It, the One, the Only One, you just know. But they may not see you as It, the One, the Only One, and what then? Then you wait, because if their first choice turns them down, you might still have a chance.

Sometimes it's not. If you get an offer from a place you're not sure about - or, worse, one you know you'd hate - then you have to decide which risk is worth it. Stay on the market for spring's Round II, or accept a job you don't want in hopes of moving on in a couple of years. The former is frightening in this economy. The latter is very unfair to a school that spent a thousand dollars trying to woo you in.

It's complicated.

Being as I'm among the minority of academics for whom ending up in New York City or at most of the major research universities is the nightmare scenario, my market experiences have been almost universally positive this year. It turns out to have been a jackpot year to be an Africa specialist, and having taught my own classes for two and half years gives me some credibility. I'm interviewing at places at which I would enjoy working. It's going to be okay.

But, wow, what a system.


Blogger euphrony said...

Have you passed any notes that say "do you like me? Check Yes or No"?

Glad the process is going well for you.

Monday, December 08, 2008 8:55:00 AM

Blogger Roger said...

Sounds a lot like a pulpit committee interview process but you don't get to act like you want to go because that would not be "God's will" and you don't ever get to talk about money until you have decided yes and then you discover that's it's less than what you're making and you think somehow it is unspiritual to want to make enough to be able to send your kids to college....

But you'll do well and whoever gets you will get a realy smart person...

Monday, December 08, 2008 9:05:00 AM

Blogger haitianministries said...

Texas in outer Mongolia?

Glad to hear things are going well so far. I'd hate to think of the alternatives.

Monday, December 08, 2008 10:49:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Euphrony, I believe that's called a "contract." :)

Monday, December 08, 2008 7:09:00 PM


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