The Job of the Academic Market

tags: job market, academia, labor

Rebecca S. Wingo is assistant professor of history and director of public history at the University of Cincinnati. She tweets @rebeccawingo.

'Tis the season of the academic job market. The crisp autumn air carries the familiar scent of anxiety, desperation, and rotten leaves. Job applicants are excited about potentially putting down roots after the transient years of grad school and job-hopping. Faculty advisers are dreading the number of letters they have to write but crossing their fingers (and toes) that their talented students will finally be rewarded. Cheryl Foster, Rebecca Millsop, and Doug Reed recently published about the invisible labor of letter writers. I, for one, have a lot of favors to repay my unwavering team of faculty cheerleaders.

But there’s another person’s invisible labor we need to discuss: that of the applicant. 

I offer only one story of the academic job market. It is a marketplace of a variety of stories and ugly clichés. I was told a number of times that after two years without a permanent gig, I would “go stale.” Apparently, mental acuity expires. (Thank goodness, no one checked my “best by” date.) 

In my final semester on the market, I spent 40 percent of my time traveling for interviews. I was home only four days a week for three months straight. I simultaneously worked full-time as a postdoc, teaching one class and consulting on digital projects. It was a sweet gig, with research time—enough that I finished my first co-authored book and began assembling a symposium on digital community engagement designed to circulate the first drafts for an edited volume. All this manic scholarly activity made me a competitive candidate. And so I was gone 40 percent of the time.

But traveling for interviews is only part of the time spent doing the job of the academic market. In a rare moment for a historian, I did the math: I added up the average amount of time I spent on applications and interviews over the three years I actively pursued jobs in academia.

Read entire article at Perspectives on History

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