Matthew Wolf-Meyer is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His research on American sleep and capitalism was published as The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine and Modern American Life, and he maintains a blog at http://nequalsone.wordpress.com/ where he writes about professionalization, superhero comics, and the biology of everyday life.
One of the questions we asked in our surveys of adjuncts and post-adjuncts was about the nature of post-graduation support from one’s mentor and alma mater. I wondered whether any advisers cut former advisees off at some point; i.e. would anyone cut a student off from letters of recommendation after a few unsuccessful years on the job market? And, along opposite lines, I wondered if any institutions gave alumni more than letters of recommendation.
The long and short of it is that no, no one in our pool of respondents had encountered committee members who cut them off from letters of recommendation. But for most alumni, that’s about all they can count on. A few respondents reported being able to adjunct to greater or lesser degrees in their home departments; one respondent claimed that his or her dissertation advisers bought him or her a new car (free cars would really increase the value of a Ph.D.!). And there also seems to be a lot of commiserating and emotional support for the jobless. But that doesn’t seem to get anyone very far.
One of the questions that Matt Thompson and I had going into the surveys of adjuncts and past adjuncts was whether or not there is a window of opportunity for getting a tenure track job. In other words: is there some cutoff point where the likelihood of getting a tenure track job is greatly diminished? We don’t have a hard and fast answer — the surveys were too limited — but there’s some data to think about.
Of the 50 respondents to the post-adjuncting survey, 32 now hold tenure track positions. Of the 13 that provided answers to clarify what kinds of jobs they currently work in, most were in full-time research, consulting, or non-tenure track instuctorships. Of those same 50 respondents, the vast majority adjuncted as their principle means of income for four years or less (43); the other seven have all been adjuncting for six or more years, with two respondents doing so for 10 or more years. (Based on the data, it looks like the two long-term adjuncters are half of a two-income household, which might explain why they have continued to adjunct for so long.) When compared to the current adjuncts, the numbers are pretty similar. Of the 36 respondents who provided an answer to how long ago they received their Ph.D.s, most were in the five years or fewer category (31 of 36). The other five are all in the nine years or more category.
Taken together, it looks like the window of opportunity for getting a tenure track job is the first five years after the awarding of a Ph.D. Continue reading →
One of the questions we asked in our survey of post-adjuncting anthropologists who are now gainfully employed was ‘what steps did you take to make yourself a desirable job candidate?’ Overwhelmingly, respondents identified publishing as the key thing they did in order to land a tenure track job. Among other common responses were networking (especially in the form of attending more than one conference each year), and being willing to move to an ‘undesirable’ location (which is pretty subjective). For those who ended up being employed in a non-academic job, acquiring new skills was the most important thing respondents identified. And this was the case for some who landed in academic jobs as well – which isn’t something that we often talk about, but, it seems, many people do.
One of the responses I found most interesting was this one (which I’m excerpting a bit):
I’m currently TT in a Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology–but I was hired via the Criminology portion. My ethnographic research was on police, and I was hired as part of a search for someone whose research focused on policing. I don’t know what steps I can say I took to make myself desirable–I feel pretty lucky. I didn’t have any real background in Crim, but my application caught the eye of the search committee just enough for them to imagine the creative possibilities of hiring an anthropologist to teach their policing classes.
One of the things that jumps out from our two surveys on the life of adjuncts and life after adjuncting is that most respondents who currently serve as adjuncts only spend 1-5 hours each week on their own professionalization (which we define like this: ‘publications, conference papers, etc.; i.e. things that ostensibly count towards tenure’ outside of teaching). This is surprising because the majority of respondents also claim to only be teaching two courses per term and spending 40 or fewer hours in all teaching-related activities (with most people responding in the 30-40 range, and some reporting as high as 60 hours each week). Which leads me to this question: What are people doing with their time?
Back in December, I started a conversation with the staff at Savage Minds about professionalization, particularly in relation to recent Ph.D. recipients who might be on the job market and who might also be adjuncting. While we often collectively bemoan the state of affairs around non-tenure track employment in academia, it seemed to me that very little had actually been written about navigating the waters between graduating, adjuncting and finding a tenure track job. We began with a couple of surveys — one for people who are currently adjuncting and seeking more permanent employment, and another for people who had adjuncted and successfully made the move to a tenure track job or moved into a different form of work. About 50 people responded to each of the surveys (although if you’re so moved, you can fill them out now). Over the next month, I’ll be presenting some of the findings we collected from these surveys and thinking about the kinds of challenges that people face and how they might be overcome. In addition, I’ll be writing some posts about professionalization in anthropology in our current climate — an extension of some of my work on my professionalization blog based on the series I run in the anthropology department at UC Santa Cruz.
My interest in professionalization is based on my own experience, which has been characterized by a persistent need to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I’m now halfway through my fifth year on the tenure track at UCSC, and was previously employed at Wayne State; I was fortunate to enter the job market in 2007, at the height of jobs being offered. I graduated from Oakland University, a little-known liberal arts school is suburban Detroit, with a BA in Literature; taught elementary school for a year in Columbus, OH; went to the University of Liverpool for an MA in Science Fiction Studies; returned to the US for an MA in American Cultural Studies at Bowling Green; and then went on to work on my Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. By no means do I have an elite background, and I attribute my professional success entirely to robust efforts to professionalize early in my career, a quirky project on sleep in American society, and supportive mentors.