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.
Yes, we have a small sample size – only slightly over 100 between the two surveys — but might it be representative? Is there a logic to this five year window?
Except in unusual circumstances, the economic ability for someone to survive on adjuncting salaries alone is five years or fewer — especially if they’re the sole source of income, and particularly if there are student loans involved. After five years (or four is what our survey shows), people might simply muster out of the discipline or seek out non-tenure track jobs.
Along with that dire economic situation, there’s also the window of intellectual impact. Some dissertation topics — which might find their mooring in responding to something current during one’s coursework — might just fade in being of general interest to anthropologists. This is difficult to gauge, but it seems like a possibility.
And, finally, if a job-seeker is having a hard time publishing, that might be the real closing of the proverbial window. If someone is out for a year or more and is competing against more recent graduates with one or more articles, the odds might be growing longer by the year.
There aren’t any hard and fast answers here, but it’s worth thinking about: when should you throw in the towel and give up looking for a tenure track job? And, if you refuse to throw in the towel, what can be done to get onto the tenure track?