Post Academic


Academia, I wish I knew how to quit you!

Or perhaps the better overused, overwrought movie quote to describe my situation would be: “Just when I thought I was out…you pull me back in!”  Or, more accurately, “Just when I thought I was out…I pull myself back in!”

Here’s a real-time example of just how easy it is for me to talk myself into keeping on holding on to academia, despite what my experience and better judgment tell me: A few days ago, I spied a plum job opening that’s kinda-sorta in my field, which is a big shock and a really pleasant surprise because postings for the tenure-track run mostly dry after the Fall and Winter.  This position would be one of the better jobs I’d have applied for this year (or really, any year), at a top-notch R1 public university with a strong graduate program.  And then, maybe my chances for the position would be better than they normally would be, since the applicant pool should be smaller due to the late date, compounded by the possibility that the job might not be so widely advertised and fewer folks will be on the look out for it.  And maybe the most attractive candidates–even though I do regard myself as a strong candidate!–have all been placed in tenure-track jobs or postdocs from earlier in the cycle.  I start to think about going for it, since, as my friends who are gainfully employed in the academic world like to tell me, it only takes one application and what do I have to lose anyway, except maybe a few bucks in postage and couple of hours of my time?

The problem is, I’ve been on this hamster wheel before and before that, and a few hours putting together an application can end up being a few more months waiting to hear from someone, obsessively checking the wiki, and investing some psychic energy that could be better used elsewhere.  The reality of the situation is that it would still be quite a stretch to make myself appear like a good fit, no matter how well I can sell it in my cover letter.  Plus, I whiffed on a postdoc at the same institution (which probably passed my application on to the department in which the tenure-track position is housed), so maybe that should be a big red flag.  And the job ad is written in such a way–it asks for two not-necessarily connected specializations in a sneaky “and/or” way–that suggests this could be an inside hire, which might also help to explain the late posting and the relatively short period to turn around the application.  There are some obvious warning signs to foreshadow where this story is going, and I think I’ve seen this movie enough times to know that I don’t like the way it ends.

So should I apply?

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5 Responses to 'Academia, I wish I knew how to quit you!'

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  1. postacademic said,

    Gaaah … the cruelty of the inside hire! Your rationale for a smaller application pool is on-point. Do you know anyone in that department who might be able to tell you if this is an inside hire? It is so hard to find out, even in the Hamster World.

    • Arnold Pan said,

      We could probably write up a whole series of things about the inside hire. I have, in fact, been an inside hire, but only for something unexciting as a fill-in part-time lecturer, so I could spill the beans on some of the crazy administrative things that happen if I don’t get anyone in trouble! But the inside hire, if nothing, can be a great straw man, which can be used to rationalize all sorts of things. I use it all the time!

      Don’t know anyone in the dept, but how do you ask? I tried to once for a part-time teaching position, but my friend who could’ve been a mole hadn’t even heard of the opening!

  2. Len said,

    It sounds like a great job. Would the odds be better because most people have had to make definite plans already for next year (a lot of fall hiring contracts get finalized by March 15). So maybe it’s worth doing? I know what you mean about the problem of throwing too much time at it, though … I check the job wiki and I wasn’t even on the market this year (and might not be again for a while)!

  3. SarahK said,

    hi Arnold — I only just found your blog through the wiki, so don’t know your back story yet about how you decided to quit applying. But I wanted to weigh in because I know exactly the job you’re talking about, and I was told that it’s simply a matter of different people on the search committee hoping for different things. Which is a challenge in itself, but at least we’re not going up against an imaginary adversary with an advantage! Good luck to you in the future, whatever you decide about this particular job.

  4. Arnold Pan said,

    hi Sarah — Thanks for your comment and for the inside scoop about the position! The issue for me with the position in question is the “regional” dimension, since the period aspect is broad enough that pretty much anything would fly. I’ve heard that job postings that seem like a hodge-podge of things have a lot to do with competing desires among the search committee members, so it’s interesting to hear that’s the case here. And it’s good of you to disabuse me of the mythical inside candidate, who is always a convenient straw man!

    Regarding how I’ve decided to quit applying, I’m still figuring that part out. It’s still too tempting to keep on applying, even though I know better at this point–I just applied to a postdoc last week! I’ll write more about it once I get to that point, if I ever do.

    Good luck to you, too, SarahK! Let us know what you’d like to see on the blog, and we’ll see if we can cover it.


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