The New Academic Job Market


Yesterday, our department held its annual meeting for the graduate students who are going on the job market. I’ve attended the meeting as an onlooker for the past few years to get a sense of what was in store, but this is the first year I’ve attended as one of the job seekers. I have nearly a complete draft of my dissertation, with revisions, rewritings, and the distillation of my argument into an introduction as my remaining writing tasks, so it’s time to leave the nest.

For the past three years, the agenda has looked much the same: this is what a dossier looks like, here are some sources on how to draft a cover letter, don’t forget about the importance of your teaching statement, and whatever you do, DON’T PANIC. This last admonition typically has the opposite effect on me, which is probably the reason why I scramble to sign up for every professionalization opportunity the university offers even as I internalize the futility of it all. This year, I had the same stomach-dropping sensation as the agenda was passed around, but even as I tried not to vomit, a curious realization hit me. All of the people sitting at the table yesterday are going on the job market for the first time. The people who attended past meetings have defended and gotten jobs. Academic jobs. Good academic jobs.

As I worked to square this observation with stories told by my twitter feed—filled with panicked, cranky, dismissive, and pessimistic observations about the current situation in academia—I opened my ears to actually listen to what our job coordinator had to say. And to my delight, the agenda took a slightly different tenor than last year. The traditional ways of finding and applying for jobs are changing. The MLA JIL used to be the only source for academic employment opportunities. Now there are a plethora of sites, including Jobs in Higher Education, Academic Careers, and Women in Higher Education, not to mention various list-servs and the Chronicle of Higher Ed, that list jobs in a variety of fields. I don’t have to be limited to the 20 or so (extremely competitive) positions in Romanticism that will open this year because there are a number of opportunities I could pursue.

In addition, our meeting stressed the importance of being savvy while job searching. This year, every grad student on the job market will create a personal website since a professional online presence is almost a prerequisite for the top jobs. I’m happy I bit the bullet and created this blog three years ago, but this semester I’ll migrate it to its own domain, and will update it with writing samples and sample syllabi. I’ll also implement a blogging schedule soon, something I’ve resisted in the past that now seems practically mandatory—the only thing worse than a poorly designed website is a dormant one.

It’s a semester of change, but I’m excited about the challenges ahead. And for once, I’m not panicking.

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