Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Other Side of the Market

It's ad writing season for academic departments across the country. It's hard to write a good ad. It has to be specific enough, but not rule out good candidates. It has to be legal. It has to make the job sound appealing without misleading candidates into thinking they're applying to paradise.

Specifics: PhD in Underwater Basket Weaving? What about related fields? Could someone with a phud in, say, Weaving Culture do the job well? Might that person be a good candidate? The best candidate?

We need courses taught in micro-basket weaving. Are there enough micro candidates out there? We'd also like someone who can teach brackish water basket weaving, and maybe reed-culture, as well. How do we list those without excluding the great micro person who also has additional weaving skills on looms rather than brackish water or reed-culture skills?

On the other hand, we don't want to get applications from people who are really reed-culture specialists with a class in micro, because we already have folks who cover upper-level reed-culture classes, though we could use another section of intro reed-growing.

If we say the PhuD must be completed by the time the job starts in September, what happens if we have a great ABD candidate and want to hire him/her, but then, at the last minute, s/he can't quite finish until November? We know from experience that it's super difficult for someone to finish while carrying our teaching load. (A lot of people who get hired at schools like ours have done some substantial adjuncting; at least we know they're done and have some teaching under their belts!)

Adjuncting here (as opposed, perhaps, to some places) is a pretty dead end job, to be honest. We're between the rock and the hard place budgeting, so we use adjuncts, but we don't tend to roll them into tenure track lines because we need specific fields covered with those lines. The adjuncts who come here are typically in Salt Water Basket Weaving (the most popular phud sub-specialty in Underwater Basketweaving), and we already have three great salt water folks tenured. But what we need is a shallow water specialist, or a brackish currents specialist, and we can't pretend they're the same and respect each other in the morning. Or they have MAs and they just can't compete with phuds in the current market.

If I could freely give our adjuncts advice, it would be to get out of academics and get a better job. Some are here because they need to be in this geographic area, and the department folks are grateful on a practical level, but from the other side of the personnel desk, we know adjuncting here's a dead-ender. Some are here because they've finished an MA locally and need to move on, but we aren't gutsy enough to kick them out of the nest. It's easier to use them as adjuncts than to be really honest with them. Honesty is harsh.

As hard as it is to work out a good ad, we writers have all been on the other side, reading those ads, desperately hoping to find our own tenure track underwater basket weaving job. We know we'll get maybe 150-200 applications, and that 50 of those will be strong and have great potential for our position. But of those 50, we can only interview a few, and bring perhaps 2-3 to campus. And from those 2-3, we can make one hire. One person, out of all those applications, will likely get a job with us. (That one person, of course, may be the second or third person we offer the job to; strong applicants may get more than one job offer, and we're also competing with good schools.) Or we may get our funding pulled and not be able to hire after all.

On the eve of job market hell, then, let me wish us all generosity, kindness, and good will in our efforts. If I were a believer, I'd pray for better budgets and sane legislatures. But even I'm not that delusional.


  1. The adjunct situation reminds me of the people who finish their bachelors or masters in a sciencey field and hang out as lab techs, maybe ta-ing a class here and there. They really need to make a decision and either pursue their PhD or get a job in the biotech industry (and there are jobs available), but everybody appreciates their work so much and doesn't want to be discouraging...

    I also was thinking about how tough that would be to decide who's qualified to teach certain courses. I mean, with an MD, residency in ob-gyn, and an MFM fellowship, I could probably teach medical students early human development, reproductive endocrinology, birth control, etc. But I couldn't teach physiology, I couldn't teach about kidneys. The lines are a bit more clear. But can a molecular biologist with a PhD in chromatin structure teach biochemistry? Possibly, it depends on the person...

    I don't envy you in your hiring process.

  2. I don't know if this is intentional, but you're echoing economist slang pretty closely. One of their demarcations is between 'fresh water' economists (market purists) and 'salt water' economists (those who understand that the fresh water people are wrong).

    With ya on the ethical dilemmas around keeping adjuncts long-term.

  3. MWAK, For Phuds in sciences, there seems to be a depressingly difficult post-doc practice prior to tenure-track jobs; but the MA thing seems about parallel.

    Dean Dad, Totally unintentional on the water depth thing. I was just trying to steer clear of anything English department-ish.

    The adjunct dilemma is so difficult!