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Academic Job Market Doldrums

January 18, 2010

The humanities professor blogosphere has recently been abuzz with talk of the dismal job market and what can be done by institutions and potential professors alike. (You can read a sampling at Tenured Radical and responses to that at Historian, Dr. Crazy, Clio Bluestocking, and Academic Cog with other thoughts from Dean Dad and SunnySide.) Much of the recent chatter, no doubt, has been inspired by this rather disheartening report from the MLA indicating that job postings through the MLA were down 26% between Oct. 2008 and Oct. 2009 which, of course, is not very good news for those of us who plan to enter the job market in the near-ish future.

Sure, the market is shrinking (only temporarily, one can hope) but the fact remains that nearly everyone most concerned/writing about the shrinking market have tenure track positions at universities. Many folks have suggested actively shrinking English departments, especially MA and PhD programs, which may make sense. I’m happy to report that most also mention retaining some spots in grad programs for non Ivies, which makes this non-Ivy’s heart happy. On the other side of the argument, some assert that shrinking PhD programs will only hurt the humanities in the end because the job market is bound to rebound (though it certainly hasn’t much grown in the last decade or so) and more positions will need to be filled. Another argument is that by shrinking departments, the effects of the humanities will shrink in universities across the country which, understandably, will have negative ramifications for the future of humanities funding. All of this, of course, is true to a certain extent but none of it is particularly helpful for those of us who will one day be on the job market–especially those of us whose fates are sealed by the choices already made to pursue graduate degrees.

I am here to offer hope (more to myself than anyone)! Of course, as one without a job in the humanities (yet.) it may be cold comfort at best. Bardiac, and others, write that they weren’t informed by advisors or professors that the job market was terrible. Indeed, others were told that the market was set to open up due to mass retirements and expanding programs (which, of course, didn’t happen). Not knowing that they were set to confront a difficult challenge, many of these now-professors encountered grad school and the tenure track job market with hope. Many of those in tenure track positions admit that they are there because of incredible luck and a good deal of privilege but they all possessed hope!

With the sour market and no real respite in sight, it would be easy to lose hope and start searching for other career path, but I’m going to remain hopeful. I am assured that I will be taken care of and that the plans for me are good. For now, that’s all I need.

edit: As has been pointed out, I’ll work on some back up plans while I’m at it, though. No need for carelessness.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2010 7:36 pm

    Hi! People are linking to me from here.

    I just wanted to take issue with one thing you said here and point out that I not only don’t have a tenure-track job, I only have managed to find one class to adjunct this year. If it weren’t for swing-shifting it at Starbucks I wouldn’t have health insurance. I’m hugely in debt and keep getting bailed out by my mom and dad and that still isn’t enough to get be back to zero level of net worth. None of my many friends who did not get jobs or left academia are blogging, so the perspective of this large chunk of academia isn’t getting recorded on the web.

    Sooo, ok, hope, that sounds nice and good and all, but I hope you also have a very concrete and detailed plan for how to survive until the magical permanent job position comes through, and some backup plans for a few years down the road in case it doesn’t.


  2. January 23, 2010 11:55 am

    I have been following this since I was a first year student at HU; it has not changed for history; I recall Bok publishing his tome on all of those folks that would retire — but failed to note the schools would only cut backe and hire adjuncts. I do not think it is a numbers issue; its is a matter of schools not wanting to shrink class sizes and expand the faculty base. I hope the market turns — but one must wonder at times. Oh, now folks in the hard sciences are feeling the pinch. Reducing the number of people admitted into programs is not the solution. Not all people want to be on a campus. Better education at the front end is the key.

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