Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Other Purgatory

Elizabeth here.  First, I would like to say how much I appreciate all of your support throughout our extended and difficult TTC process.  While I don’t comment anywhere, know that I have been reading and cheering everyone on.  I don’t know if I will post regularly but I thought I’d give it a go for once.

Your dear Gayby and I have been navigating a couple of purgatories at once: TTC and my finding a job.  And while she is now gorgeously pregnant with twins, I am still trying to find a path out of my purgatory.  The very month we started TTC, September 2008, I made my formal entry into the academic job market.  As you can imagine, it’s about as pretty as the rest of the job market.  I know from reading your blogs that some of you are familiar with academia and its unique employment process that is clearly designed by people who, let’s face it, are not exactly natural born administrators, but for those of you who aren’t, here’s a rundown of the application process.

1)    Write a multi-page cover letter outlining everything that has ever made you seem smart and unique.  Include multi-page CV with everything you’ve ever done.  Include 3 letters of recommendation from the best scholars you know.  Include as requested the following: teaching portfolio, including syllabi, evaluations, and classroom philosophy; writing sample, ranging from 30-300 pages; research philosophy; transcripts from any institution you’ve ever attended.  Spend anywhere from $4-$25 to have this material sent via dossier service.

2)    Wait.

3)    Fill out affirmative action card, get hopes up that this means that they’ve at least noticed your file in the pile of 300 applications just like yours.

4)    Wait more.

5)    Jump every time the phone rings.

6)    Wait.

7)    Give up hope. 

Occasionally, you will get a phone interview, conference interview, or campus interview.  The campus interviews are about as nutty as they come.  Meet with as many people as can plan an hour of their day for this purpose, give a presentation of your finest scholarship, have dinner with a group of people who don’t always talk to one another, collapse.

For some people, it’s ridiculously easy.  They have a few dissertation chapters done and they get an offer at the first place they ever interview.  For others, it’s more difficult.  They do everything right in grad school: teach a lot of classes, present research, get published, finish everything on time, and spend years languishing on the job market, piecing together whatever other work they can find to get by.  Sound like any other processes we’re all familiar with?

It has nothing to do with worth or scholarly value.  It’s not a meritocracy.  It’s the quirkiest system to find employees ever designed, and it’s based on the whims of a committee often comprised of people with different ideas about what they want, and the result is often a compromise.  I know all of this, but it doesn’t mean I don’t question my merit with every rejection.  Sound familiar?

I happened to get a decent postdoc for the current academic year.  At the VERY LAST MINUTE (as in at the moment I got my last summer teaching paycheck).  The person who held the position previously got a permanent job elsewhere, and the director of the project knows me and offered it to me to fill the position quickly.  I was desperate, so was she.  I took it, and it’s a match made in purgatory.  She has a tendency to yell and belittle.  It’s not pleasant but not unbearable.  I shouldn’t complain.  At least I have something for the moment.  But we have 2 babies on the way, and I don’t get benefits in this position.  Gayby deserves to be able to quit her boring job and stay home with the babies while she figures out what she wants to do – she sacrificed figuring out what she wanted to support my academic fantasyland – and to do this I need to be carrying the benefits.  I owe this to her, and I desperately want to give it to her.  I’m applying beyond academia as well, but it’s pretty bleak out there.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if everything just came together at the exact right moment?  I’d like to be done with all purgatories once and for all.


Anonymous said...

Best of luck on exiting purgatory via a job you love...with benefits!

Two Moms, Two Monkeys said...

Sounds harsh! I hope something opens up for you soon, and that you both get what you want. The job market is really tough right now, and you are amazing for sticking with it after all the hoops you need to jump through. My wife is a teacher and started teaching 5 years ago. Even then, she sent packet after packet and had several interviews. The school she works for now, hired her 2 days before the school year started. So even after all the craziness to get the job, she still had to run around trying to get fingerprints and orientations all done before her first day. It is quite the unorganized process.

AdventuresInBabyMaking said...

I totally get it. I started in an MA program with the intention of moving into the PhD program after that. We moved for V’s postdoc right after I got my MA, so I didn’t get the chance, but at that point, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would have done it even if I could have. I saw all that you describe and more while I was in grad school and it’s a total nightmare. I can’t tell you how many of my friends from my MA program didn’t go on to get their PhD just b/c of it. I also have a good friend who was finishing her doctorate and killing herself adjuncting at several campuses, all to clear something like $25k/ year.

Are you looking nationwide, or are you guys trying to stay in the same area?

tbean said...

Hey Elizabeth--I lived in both purgatories for several years and the double whammy just about killed me. I was in ttc and academic job market purgatory for 2 years (fall 2007-spring 2009). I happened to win the lottery and was able to get out of the job market purgatory last spring. Still stuck in ttc hell though. I wrote a post about it in Feb. 2009 if you want to go back and route through my archives. It is so hard. But it does happen. My job purgatory ended in the least likely and most incredible way. So, if you have anything left in you, keep trying.

But I'm sorry. Cause I really, really know how horrible it is.

Strawberry said...

Hoping your purgatory ends in success, in all ways! Good to hear from you, too.

Ruby at Breathedragon said...

Now I'm extra excited about that plan I have of going back for my PhD after I have a baby and finishing at 42!

Ugh, I know, the market suuuuuucks. I wish you luck, and quick luck.

Anonymous said...

Hang in there. I worked for a year and a half at my agency as a 'temp' with no benefits, and it sucked. But the perseverence finally paid off (sort of, because gov't agencies are a purgatory story for another day) and they hired me 'for real.'
In the mean time though, you're right. It sucks, and the added pressure you feel to take care of your family makes it all the worse.
I'm sending good employment vibes along with hugs!

Anonymous said...

Oh Elizabeth, that sounds like more than I could handle for sure. I'm impressed by your hard work and I know it will pay off, hopefully sooner than later. Gayby is lucky to have a wife who is so concerned with her wellbeing and happiness even as she puts her own aside.

I hope the perfect thing comes along soon. Sounds like you have paid your dues.

boo said...

I am in the exact same space as you- unemployed since September 2008. My lovely 8 month pregnant wife was able to get a fabulous job with full benefits and a paid maternity leave, which took the pressure off of me a tiny bit. I certainly know the purgatory feeling all too well. I'll be thinking of you and sending good thoughts that you find the most perfect job ever.

I'm so glad to see you writing, Elizabeth! I hope this is the first of many posts from you.

mama bea, bao in the oven said...

Ugh, academia blows. My partner is going to be entering the market in a couple of years (fingers crossed) and from everything she's seen about the hiring process--all those job talks and meet&greets--we are not looking forward to it. I really hope that you're able to find something fantastic, that you love, and that has those great benefits. Best of luck!
Oh, and it's great to hear from you--I hope you'll post more often!