Musings of an expat grad student... oy vey.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


First of all, thanks, yall, for the congrats on my MA dissertation submission. You made me all smiley. :)


I can't sleep.

I think sometimes that I'm somewhat self-defeating, at least mentally if not materially. For instance, tonight I spent an hour reading Invisible Adjunct's blog, in which the utter impossibility of even a tenure-track position, much less tenure itself, is hammered into the head of the hapless humanities grad student. Discouraging, to say the least. I'm an academic, and as such, my way of coping with fear is to educate myself to the brim about the subject of that fear, hoping that in knowledge lies power. But not in this case. The Goblin King won't disappear this time. (A cookie to anyone who catches the reference.)

See... I want to be a professor. It's What I Want To Do With My Life. I want to teach and I want to research and publish. But I also want to make a living wage at it, and eventually be able to take a sabbatical, and have at least some job security and a pension and all the other things that normal full-time employees have. And the thought of having a contract job my entire working life puts the fear of God into me. I'm doing all I can to make sure that I don't fall into the permanent-adjunct trap. I have a fully-funded fellowship at my school of choice, which is not Oxbridge but is a fairly prestigious school with a very good reputation; I published my first refereed journal article before I finished my MA, and have plenty more on the horizon. By all accounts, I'm doing very well.

And yet.

See, the thing is, I have no idea how many other people have similar or better qualifications to my own. I don't know how they make the decisions as to who to hire. I don't know how many publications I need by the time I get my PhD to be competitive for jobs - is it three? Seven? 15? How much does teaching matter? How much does it matter that I'll still be in my mid-twenties when I start my job search? How much does it matter - like, really matter, not equal-opportunities matter - that I'm a young married woman of childbearing age? How completely bloody random is it?

I, like all other academics I know, am afflicted with the disease of perfectionism; in my case, it combines with a fear of uncertainty to make that nasty chimera, the abject terror of failure. Even nastier because ultimately, there's nothing I can do about it. I can publish and teach and stay up late blogging and run myself ragged all I want, but the fact remains that I may yet fail. And if I do, I know that I will blame myself, even if it really is no fault of my own.

Is it really as bad as the Invisible Adjunct makes it seem?


  • Well, I have been having a running dialogue of sorts with Dr. Camicao on how to get a job. It is actually worse than IA makes it out to be. The British degree is a disadvantage in the US market. I have an MA and Ph.D. from SOAS. Publications don't really help you land a job. I had two books and a number of journal articles before I got my MA. On the other hand you may be considerably better off than me. My complete lack of teaching experience, not even a TAship has really hurt me in the job market.

    By Blogger J. Otto Pohl, at 8:51 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Lonely Londoner, at 10:55 PM  

  • Whoops, I screwed up commenting in my own journal...

    Anyway, gosh, that is not encouraging. :/ Heck, maybe I'll just try to get a job here in the UK? I'll have a lot of teaching experience by the time I'm done, so I don't know how that weighs in...

    I'm so sorry you're having such trouble, though! SOAS is a fabulous institution and I'm honestly shocked that you're having such trouble. If there's anything I can do to help, please do let me know.

    By Blogger Lonely Londoner, at 11:16 PM  

  • Lawyers have a similar problem making a name for themselves and getting real-life experience, as often they're treated like dirt by the partners in whatever firm they go to, but they at least can shortcut that by working in a public defender's office or something similar, to get trial experience. Is there no analog in your field to this?

    By Anonymous handworn, at 8:00 AM  

  • I've been thinking a lot about the same thing lately. It's a bit scary. I'm also worried about how difficult it will be for me doing my PhD overseas, and the possibility of trying to get a job back in North America. But I knew that would be an issue when I came here - choosing a uni in Australia over a really good one in the US. I still wonder sometimes if I made the right decision (even though I love it here!).'s kind of scary thinking about it!

    By Blogger sheenav, at 7:52 PM  

  • The scariest part is, it is somewhat random. Also, other people have told me that British degrees ARE a disadvantage in the US academic market.

    HOWEVER, as I recently told a student of mine: going to graduate school and wanting to be a professor, at some level, is not a decision you can make RATIONALLY. Because the costs are considerable, and the reward is uncertain, and so it always shall be. It has to be something much more ...visceral. And for better or worse, this impulse/instinct/desire persists despite rational arguments against it.

    That said, I went to a "good but not Ivy" PhD program, had only one publication before my degree, had some decent teaching experience, and got one of the first jobs I applied for. For some people it might not be a "desirable" job (it's at a liberal arts college, not a university) but it is exactly what i wanted.

    Bottom line: Don't give up hope! You know what you want!

    By Blogger MaggieMay, at 6:52 AM  

  • The Goblin King from "Labyrinth"?

    By Blogger Sara Mathewson, at 4:20 PM  

  • Heh... yup. A cookie for you!

    By Blogger Lonely Londoner, at 1:20 AM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:36 PM  

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