Thoughts on the job season – a few years on

A few years ago, I cataloged my experience on the job market as a (then) (relatively) recent history Ph.D.  Now, more than two years later, I thought I’d update it slightly. This is meant neither as a suggestion that ending up with a job means that I unlocked arcane job market secrets, nor as an intimation that being attentive to my luck means that I can wash my hands of the structural power I now have.

The academic job market is bleak.  We need more solidarity.  We also need more tenure-stream faculty to advocate against adjunctification (though, *crucially*, not against adjuncts). It also seems like making the process more visible could be helpful.


  • I was seriously on the market for five six years.
  • The first time was in 2010.  I applied for seven jobs. I think I had two dissertation chapters written.  I had one campus visit.
  • My committee was divided about whether it was better to defend with no job (because then I would be finished) or wait.
  • My second year on the market I applied for thirty-three jobs, finishing fellowships and postdocs.  I had two campus visits.  I received a finishing fellowship.
  • I defended in February of my third job-market-year.  I did not have an offer when I defended. I remember feeling sort of empty.
  • My third year on the market I applied for forty-eight jobs, fellowships and postdocs.  I had one campus visit for a one-year VAP.  I was offered and accepted the VAP.
  • My fourth year on the market I applied for seventy-seven jobs, fellowships and postdocs.  My one-year VAP meant that as soon as I arrived at my institution, I had to start writing letters.  Post-defense letters are very different from ABD letters.  This was probably remains my hardest year on the market.  I had four campus visits, including for a two-year postdoc at the institution where I was VAP-ing.  I was offered and accepted the postdoc.
  • My fifth year on the market, I applied for fourteen jobs.  I had four campus visits, three offers, and accepted a TT job at the place I work now ed until August of 2018.  They let me defer for a year to finish my postdoc, which was generous, and helped me make progress on teaching and on my book.
  • My sixth year on the market was at the end of my first year in my new TT job.  Living across the country from my family was much more difficult than I imagined.  I applied for one job. I had one interview, and one offer.  I accepted a new TT job, in a new department.  I am still an historian, but no longer officially affiliated with a history department.
  • Every August summer, fall and winter, I have residual job market anxiety.  Even now that I have a TT job, this time of year prompts general panic and malaise – I had five years to train my body to react this way.
  • I was well-trained, but I was also lucky.  The field I was hired in (digital humanities) was growing in my job market years three to five, and I happened to be pursuing a sideline in things DH.
  • I also have lots of structural privilege.  My partner and I do not have children, and we have the economic flexibility to support my move for a one-year gig.  We had the funds to maintain two residences when that one-year gig became a three-year gig, and the funds now to maintain households on both coasts.  It’s not easy, but it’s more feasible for me than it would be for people with children, dependent family members, or social networks that bind them to a place. This remains true, but when I wrote the sentence above, I wasn’t truly prepared for how difficult bi-coastal life would be.  It was financially feasible, but ultimately not personally feasible.  I suspect that the fact that what I did was considered relatively normal means that academia leaves behind a lot of excellent folks who don’t have the personal, or social, or emotional capital to relocate.
  • I also had a support network in my hometown that would have meant that had I not gotten a job I not been able to relocate, I would have had time and resources to recoup, plan, and find a new path.
  • My markers of race, gender, sexuality and class mean that it’s possible for me to safely (if not happily) live in a lot of places in this country.  Not everyone can do that.

I thought two years ago, and I still think that it is worth making these processes visible.  Getting a job, in this market, is hard, and largely a matter of luck and social capital.  I hope that we who are in TT jobs can remember this as we shepherd undergraduate, M.A. and PhD students through.  I also hope that stories like mine (one of the lucky ones) will do something to work against the idea that the academy is purely meritocratic.  Good work is good work, but there are a lot of people doing good work and not getting jobs; and a lot of people doing good work who are not getting jobs because they have the wrong kind of social capital.  Landing a TT job is not evidence of moral or academic superiority; not landing a TT job is not evidence of inferiority.

The AHA has data on where history Ph.D.s work.  They’ve done some great visualizations of that data, but one of the things I’d love to explore is the issue of geographic mobility. How many people leave academia because the current model doesn’t do a good job of accommodating people with specific geographic connections? What can, and should the profession be doing to mitigate those losses?