Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Emotionally drained and sad

I'm just worn out, emotionally more than physically today. I've actually been getting a decent amount of sleep lately.

A student from an institution where I gave an invited lecture last year sent me a description of a project similar to my planned longitudinal study. It's being done by a junior professor at a big name school. It's similar, though not the same, more ambitious in some ways, and more restrictive in others. But man, there's a lot of support (and funding) for that project! And mine... well, I've yet to submit the proposal for funding anywhere.

See, it's a longitudinal study. Is there any point in getting started on a project when: 1) I don't know where I'll be when the funding would begin; and 2) I don't know that I'll be stable geographically for the projected minimum 2-3 years the project would require? I guess it could be started, but the logistics of setting up the monthly sessions for multiple subjects from an unknown distance is daunting. So, I've been sitting on it... tick... tick... tick. I drafted a preliminary proposal more than a year ago. Many people know about it. I've posted it to my personal research website. I've mentioned it at conferences and lectures I've given.

And, now... I'm just so sad. I'm sad that I find myself at the end of my second full season of searching for a faculty job. And the best I have to come up with (possibly!) is a temporary gig, a whole day's travel from my family.

My wife mentioned yesterday that one of her coworkers (in some manifestation of their byzantine hierarchy, he's actually a supervisor, sometimes) was beginning to get fed up with some of the restructuring and reorganization that's been going on at their work. So, he made three phone calls the other day, and has received three offers for work. He says there are opportunities for people with their skill set all across the country. He's yet to decide whether to jump ship. What would it be like to have multiple possibilities for employment? I can't even imagine.

Sad. Am I in the wrong line of work? Maybe that's good news. Hey, maybe that means my wife's career is far more portable than we thought. So, she could follow me through a series of temporary gigs anywhere I go. Boy, wouldn't that be fun?

Apologies for being so raw here. But those are my feelings, the ones that either bubble to the surface or remain repressed deep inside me. I'd rather let them out.

Here's a brief exchange with a colleague of mine, an asst prof in my doctoral department, whom I'll call Prof. Míchaný:
This job search is a truly disheartening process. I'm come to the end of my second full season, with little to show for it. I did have one campus visit last week, for a one-semester gig, in a small town 2800 miles away. The good news is, the interview went well, and I was impressed with the degree of camaraderie among faculty, and the level of commitment among students (about 30 or so showed up for my hour-long teaching demo, despite the fact that it was Thursday of finals week there). Now I just wait until they come to a decision. They have two more interviews this week, so I expect to hear sometime next week, if they choose to make me an offer. But it's discouraging that the best I come up with is a short-term post, at a school I'd never heard of, far away from my family.

I hope you're well,

His reply:
Yes, it really is a disheartening process, and a bewildering one to boot. I feel as if I've been in the business long enough - in various capacities - that I ought to have a better understanding of how things work. It's not just that it's really difficult to get a job (although that's certainly bad enough), but also that I don't understand why some folks get jobs and other don't, or why some folks get jobs some years, but not other years, and so on. It would be one thing if we just knew certain categories of applicants faced longer odds (ABDs/particular programs/dissertation topics/whatever). Then we could at least strategize. I don't see those kinds of patterns, though. If the system ever becomes transparent to you, please clue me in.

You should be congratulated about the campus interview, though. I know that it's not much help, but, still, it's very flattering that they were interested enough in you to fly you across the country. Is there any possibility of the post being extended? I can't help noticing that most of my generation of students started with one year positions that then morphed into permanent gigs.


I've thought of the extension question. But, at this stage, I don't know if I'll be offered a job. If they do call, we'll see what I can manage. Hard call though: the fact that it's only a short-term gig makes it palatable that it's so far from family; if it were to morph into a year, or longer, that moots the issue. Well, then, perhaps The Rocket Scientist can look for work near there. But are we going to keep the family living out of suitcases for years until I land a permanent gig?

My wife has said she worries about holding a job for only a year or two. But then, there's no sign that her market is competitive enough for employers to even worry about that. Who knows? I'm just so sad and frustrated. Stifled, constrained. Not at all the feeling of freedom that I cultivated as a graduate student, the world wide open to me, fresh ideas, new avenues, novel connections. The whole multi-colored, interdisciplinary world of scholarship.

Now, I sit Tantalus-like grasping for grapes always just out of reach.


timna said...

It is a grueling, difficult and unfair process. I went to 4C's this year unable to focus since I couldn't tell if I would be teaching any more.

I suspect that applying for grants might help you from being too discouraged and, at the same time, make your candidacy more viable in the future. Wish I had something more substantial to say.

good luck.

Lilian said...

Oh my... I look at you and it feels like I'm looking at myself a couple of year from now. Only I feel the same disillusionment way before I'm even completely done with graduate school and the diss defense. That's not encouraging at all.

I hope you find a breakthrough someday. Meanwhile, I hope it helps for you to know that there are many of us out there in a similar situation.