Tag Archives: Careers

Is There a Window to getting a Tenure Track Job?

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

Building Intellectual and Professional Bridges

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.

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Finding Time for Professionalization, or, Grading Less Isn’t Caring Less

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?

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Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Matthew Wolf-Meyer

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.

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Stop Paying Conference Fees

Big expensive conferences cost too much and offer too little return. Fine, I’ll give it to you. Conferences are acceptable for professional development, almost good for networking, OK for your CV, and decent for being exposed to new ideas. I think some are well worth attending. But just stop paying the extortion fees for big conference. Only go to fee free or all expenses paid conferences. Yes, you’ll go to less but you’ll be better for it. Conference as they are at present are a relic from the patronage pre-neoliberal academy where universities accepted responsibility for their staff, faculty, and students. In those halcyonic days, travel and lodging were less expensive, conference fees were smaller, and most importantly, the university would foot the bill. Today, the extortion conference systems remain in place while the university has dropped its patronage responsibilities while the costs associated with conference attendance have skyrocketed. We must break the back of yet another exploitative system. Stop paying conference fees.

Conferences are of a very limited utility but a utility nonetheless. You should still go but only to select, useful, and economically fair events. Let’s break it down. There are three economic types of conferences: Continue reading

Blazing the trail from adjunct to tenure track

Just after the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association I wrote a post about a project being helmed by Matthew Wolf-Meyer that seeks to better understand the challenges faced by adjuncts who wish to become tenure track. You can help us out by participating in brief survey.

We recognize that there is a great diversity among those professionals who could be considered contingent faculty. But this research does not make pretense to be universal or total. We’re looking at a rather narrow spectrum that includes folks with a PhD who are teaching part-time and want to move into a tenure track position. Also we want to hear from people who have successfully navigated these treacherous waters and now hold tenure track positions after laboring for some time as an adjunct.

Please, if you haven’t done so already, add your voice to our growing database of responses. And if you know someone who fits this demographic please share this request with them, too. Obviously the more responses collected the more representative the data for Matthew to discuss in some future blog post.

Click here if you are an adjunct PhD and want a tenure track job

Click here if you are a tenure track PhD and were formerly an adjunct

Something joined or added but not essential

For me one of the highlights of the annual meeting of the AAA is migrating from one reception to another like a hunter-gatherer constantly seeking to optimize food foraging strategies. While the Wenner-Gren typically has the heaviest hors d’oeuvers (this year they even had free booze) I find the best company at the joint reception of the progressive and minority sections.

There under the thumping beat of party music I met a friend of a friend of a friend, a young man who had recently left an adjunct position at a Colorado school for a tenure track position somewhere in California. We toasted his professional good fortune as this was the first semester of his new job.

“How did you do it?” I begged, “It’s so hard to make tenure track.”

“I don’t know, man.” He exhaled, “Just got lucky I guess.”

It’s true that making it out of the post-graduate equivalent of the horse latitudes to the beginnings of an academic career as an assistant professor requires a tremendous amount of work. And sure, it helps if you have a pedigree and other trappings of prestige to go along with that big, beautiful brain of yours.

But that’s not always enough. Sometimes you’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time.

Here at Savage Minds we have discussed how the labor of academia is being transformed by disruptive technologies, by neoliberalism, and by economies of prestige that necessitate a large adjunct workforce. We have also observed the extent to which academia has conserved rather than challenged many of the racialized and gendered social privileges that define the warp and weft of American society — something represented in the demographic of contingent workers. These topics were also touched on by an excellent run of guest posts about precarity too.

While organizations such as the New Faculty Majority seek to improve the working conditions for all adjunct faculty, we could stand to learn more about adjunct anthropologists specifically. Fellow anthropologist Matthew Wolf-Meyer, who teaches a course on professionalization at UC Santa Cruz, has put together two surveys that probe the state of being an adjunct anthropologist today. You can read blog posts about his class here .

We invite every anthropologist with adjunct work experience who cares about this issue to participate in the survey. Then we can share the results and address new questions in future Savage Minds posts.

Click here if you are currently an adjunct faculty in anthropology (not grad student)

Click here if you are a former adjunct faculty in anthropology (now working in some other capacity)

Thanks in advance for taking the survey and sharing it widely.

Writing Space for Ethnography

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Ali Kenner, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Ali’s prior posts: post 1 — post 2 — post3]

I’m still buzzing over Deepa’s question, posed as a comment at the end of my last post, “why must you write?” I read this question in two ways – 1) why must you write professionally, and 2) why must you write, ethnographically, about yoga and breathing. The question is a great opening into the final week’s prompt, which asks how academic precarity or marginality generates new intellectual possibilities. In my case, knowing that my situation could change, will change, at some point in the next few years, I chose a project that is more long-term. Something I can stay with through various contexts, a project that will travel with me in some form or other. Both yoga and writing (yes, writing) are such projects. Both offset the uncertainty I otherwise experience. Choosing projects that are close to home, and present a host of new and surprising challenges, is part of where I think we’ll also find new intellectual possibilities, and collaborations.

Yet it’s also critical to have the support of institutions, organizations, and colleagues. You’d be crazy to think you can go it alone, and why would you want to anyway? This post starts with the impulse to write as critical, generative practice, and ends with some comments on a roundtable session from the May SCA meeting, a session that speaks to the culture of academic precarity, marginalized work, and how we might support new modes of scholarship.

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In my first two years of graduate school, while at the University at Albany, SUNY, I had a fellowship with the New York State Writer’s Institute. At the time, I had not a clue how fortunate I was. I wish I had been taking notes. Diligently. What I would have been writing down is how visiting writers responded in the Q&A sessions that followed their seminars and readings. Invariably, an audience member (or members) would ask the visiting writer about their writing practice, how they worked and got published. Some writers were new authors, reading from their first novel or short story collection. Others were award-winning authors with writing careers that spanned decades. Now, as I just revealed, I did not take notes from this period, but I did manage to pull out a few general threads that I heard consistently over my two-year stretch at the Institute. One response repeated enough for me to hold onto is that it is through the practice and process of writing that ideas, arguments, and stories take shape. Characters come alive in relation to other characters and events. Stories come into being on the page, despite the extent of thinking and planning you do in your head. Ideas, narratives, and arguments might be floating around beforehand, in conversation with others even, but the process of writing translates and transforms them. For ethnographers, writing carves out a space for data, theory, and analysis to converse. For me, writing is a space of play and reflection. And it’s continued writing practice that makes this space, holds this space. These are things we’ve all heard, and felt and know as writers. But I think it bears repeating, again. Continue reading

Making Do

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Nathan Fisk, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Nathan’s prior posts: post 1 — post 2 — post3]

I believe I mentioned in my first post the ways in which I’ve engaged with ethnographic practice in my particular position of precarity, something which I’ve largely avoided talking much about so far. As should be clear for those who have read my earlier posts, I’m not really doing much by way of ethnographic work in my current state of job application scramble/burnout. Although, I suppose I have done a significant amount of participant observation with the feline subjects that share my home, but outside of Facebook I rarely write up my findings. That said, I have had some interesting experiences with ethnographic work during my time as an adjunct – and I think the discussion thus far is pointing towards some interesting implications for ethnographic work in the non-academic world. So, in this post, I want to get at my research experiences as a sometimes ethnographer, adjunct and potential escapee from the academic career track.

As I mentioned previously, I was lucky enough this past spring semester to have the opportunity to develop and teach a course based on my own dissertation work – Youth and Teens Online. I saw it as an opportunity to broaden out my work, moving away from the emphasis on risk and safety, and towards a broader picture of youth life online. The syllabus was filled with central readings that I wanted to return to, and selections from the vast constellation of literature that never quite made it into the frame as I wrote my dissertation. Given that I had to develop a discussion guide for every class session, I read and reread every one with a new post-dissertation perspective – and I had time to do it in a careful, deliberate manner. Better yet, I had to do the reading, and had to think of things to say before each class without fail, regardless of my feelings of post-dissertation fatigue. Continue reading

Fighting Back

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Nathan Fisk, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Nathan’s prior posts: post 1 & post 2]

As my friend and co-blogger Lane responded to my Facebook posts about selling out, “I prefer to think of myself as a virus, any prospective employer as a host. ‘Selling out’ is somewhere in that hazy zone between keeping your host (and yourself) alive and promoting the best environment for others of your species!” It would seem to me that many readers of this blog would agree, even in the most difficult and ethically compromised of research environments. After all, if we – as academically trained anthropologists and ethnographers – do not move to change the kinds of problematic research practices that serve to produce the feeling of “selling out,” it is somewhat unlikely that anyone else will.

Two recent posts here on Savage Minds describe examples of doing that viral work that I think deserve particular mention. First, one of Laurel’s blog posts provided a great discussion of what it’s like to enter into a particular variety of market ethnography. Second, in response to my last post Ben commented on his work as a military ethnographer, and the various pressures and constraints he has faced in such a role. Keeping Lane’s statement in mind, it seems to me that individuals like Laurel, Ben, Gottlieb, and John deserve more attention within academia. As a student, I was rarely exposed to anyone who had chosen to leave academia after finishing their degrees. Thinking back to the process of inviting speakers for colloquia and various departmental events, names of those who had pursued other career trajectories simply never came up. I can only recall one instance in which one such individual – a former graduate of our department turned consultant – came to address us, and even then, there was absolutely no discussion of how or why he came into his new role.

As Gottlieb and John point out, for many, the desire to be connected to the academic community does not simply vanish after taking up careers outside academia. Arguably, we could do much to resist the stigma of selling out, while simultaneously keeping a line out to those who may not hold academic positions, simply through more early doctoral student exposure to graduates who have pursued non-academic careers. In addition to serving to resist the stigma, such exposure would provide Ph.D. students with the professional contact networks they need to more easily find corporate and government work, along with providing a much needed glimpse of potential career routes. There is clearly enough demand for this kind of information, as a number of former academics have made careers for themselves guiding recent grads and struggling academics to non-academic jobs – one such site is actually entitled “Selloutyoursoul.com”. Continue reading

Minding the Gap

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Lane DeNicola, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Lane’s previous posts: post 1 & post 2.]

I keep hearing the voice of Harding from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in my head with this post–I’m talking about form!  I’m talking about content!–but let me go out on a limb here with a colorful analogy: professional precarity (as we’ve been talking about it in this series) is to ethnography a bit like the London Underground is to…well, I was thinking London originally, but better to say “London Below,” the reimagined and mythological rendition of the London Underground in which Neil Gaiman’s television serial Neverwhere is set.  That’s at least as confusing as it is colorful, especially if you didn’t happen to catch the show, so let me try and explain.

I learned quickly to lift my toes toward the end of the escalators on the Tube.  Why?  Because the pace is frenetic, almost always.  Fast enough in fact that you become hyper-aware of not just your pace but your stride.  The “walking” you normally experience as a mostly fluid rhythm becomes a staccato series of “moves.”  Regulars seem to the outsider like formula 1 racers clustered on a straightaway: they can’t simply start moving faster if (say) they realize they’re running late, they have to anticipate and strategize.  Those who break the synchrony of the group are showing “bad form” and may get a snort of disapproval, or worse, get stigmatized as tourists.  If you don’t raise your toes at the escalator landing you’re just begging for an ill-timed trip, and heaven help you if pause mid-stream to look around for guidance.  You can practically discern the middle of Spring, Stonehenge-like, by observing the sharp up-tick of gruesome multi-passenger escalator-landing misshaps. Continue reading

Going Native

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Deepa S. Reddy, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Deepa’s previous posts: post 1 & post 2.]

In my prior post, I argued that a certain set of practical, professional constraints (read: the increasing impossibility of the lengthy immersion fieldwork model) compel us to sell our services as anthropologists (often in some stereotyped sense) piecemeal – holding out in the hope that just participating in such research buys positioning that opens out to truly innovative research questions. In this uniquely inter-disciplinary process, anthropology retains—often actively protects—its exclusivity, even as it hands itself over as a tool of commerce or fashion design or whatever. Sans exclusivity, after all, where would those lucrative professional research opportunities be? What value would I have in a market already over-filled with experts?

Here I want to consider the ways in which the impossibility of imagining fieldwork in the conventional-classical mode prompts also an eschewing of exclusivity on two levels: both in terms of research strategy and in terms of just joining the field.

Traditional fieldwork models turn on the need for mobility: pick yourself up and get someplace; once you’re there, pick yourself up and explore; go where your questions take you; allow your informants to lead you. Such research has little respect for time, which has to flow freely if conversations and relationships are to develop freely—or space. My most successful times in Hyderabad found me all over the city and at home only to rest and write notes. I couldn’t have done any of it as smoothly with family around, for example, as the need to call home, run errands, be present for bedtimes and so on would have fast become burdensome. When I found myself with-job-and-child, my mobility severely curtailed, access to research sites and to materials a critical issue, I needed fieldwork models and research design strategies that were somewhat less immersive, somewhat more forgiving. Finding research projects that could be done close to home and roughly 9-5 became imperative, for one. Continue reading

Making Ethnography Work

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Ali Kenner, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Ali’s previous post here.]

The woman at the table next to me, an older woman with shoulder-length white hair and green-framed glasses, has lost it. “I don’t know where it went. It’s gone. I’m going to start over.” Squinting, she lets out an exasperated sigh and moves her face closer to the screen. The man across from her, who looks about my age, reaches into his plaid shorts for a smartphone – an opportunity to do something. The woman in the green glasses is the director of an organization; the man in plaid shorts is her tech support. They are working to fix a problem with the organization’s website, which seems to be spamming site users. The communication between director and tech support is terrible. I silently hope to myself that this is a relatively new relationship, and not something that’s been going on for very long. Digital projects are complicated enough. The last thing you’ll need is miscommunication.

I observe a version of this scene with some frequency when I work from coffee shops. (And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find myself in this scene from time to time.) Everyone wants web presence. Not everyone knows what that means, or what it takes to get it. More and more people (who may be directors, assistant administrators, project managers, or business owners) are interfacing with developers, designers, and content management systems. Knowledge gaps and misunderstandings are common between those who want and those who provide web services. There is even a growing field of professionals who facilitate such projects, thus reducing the frustration of getting or building a website. Some days, I wonder if I am part of this growing field. (The answer is, ‘yes, I unexpectedly am.’)

Over the last two years, since we began redesigning CA’s website, I have learned a lot about developers, designers, and the conditions they work in. There is MUCH more to learn. I’m far from expert. I’ve also heard, again and again, that CA’s website is not just a website. It’s a digital archive, a repository of supplemental material, indexes, teaching tools, and, increasingly, essays. The site has over 600 pages. Not only do I manage this beast, I’m also managing its redesign. Continue reading

Going Rogue?

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Nathan Fisk, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Nathan’s previous post here.]

So, in my last post I spoke mainly about my current situation as a post-graduate in employment limbo, experiencing the strain of potentially leaving academia. In this post, I want to start to unpack what I meant by “selling out” through a discussion of some of my own experiences on the job market. Specifically, I’ve chosen the two positions I’ve applied for that most clearly evoked the stigma of selling out. None of this is to say that I think there should be a stigma attached to leaving academia in all cases, or that people who have taken jobs outside of academia have “sold out,” but rather that leaving academia comes with baggage that deserves at least some attention.

On any given weekday, you’ll likely find me in the hanging chair on my front porch, with an aging MacBook open in my lap and two black cats sprawled at my feet. My job hunting process is simple – I use various job listing sites to search for positions which contain the term “qualitative” within the state of New York. Beyond that, I progressively widen my search to more inclusive terms such as “internet,” “PhD,” and “research”. The first search tends to bring the results I’m most interested in – and I am often pleasantly surprised to find employers who are aware of, and looking for, applicants with backgrounds in ethnographic research. As I mentioned previously, a wide range of employers are looking for individuals with research experience, including strategic consulting firms, media companies, marketing firms, and think tanks. These positions tend to be located in major metropolitan areas however, so my initial rounds of applications were more frequently directed towards more local, non-research positions where I imagined a background in ethnographic research might give me an advantage.

My first round of interviews included one with a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goldman Sachs. In many ways, the position would have distanced me from research work and ethnographic practice, bringing me closer to my former life as an IT worker. As an Information Security Analyst, I would have been engaged in various forms of training, investigatory work, and contract analysis. In my mind, I had still envisioned a site for ethnographic practice – after all, information security is universally concerned with networks of trust and authority, and fostering a culture of security is often more important than strong technical safeguards. How do everyday employees within a particular corporate culture frame information security risks? What is the discursive work of a contractual agreement to protect sensitive financial information? While it may seem slightly idealistic, I genuinely think that ethnographic practice can provide new and useful insight into these kinds of issues. Continue reading

Anthropologists for Hire

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Deepa S. Reddy, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Deepa’s previous post here.]

Note: post updated for clarity

Fieldwork is one of those extraordinarily-difficult-to-bracket experiences, as it blithely ignores any sort of compartmentalization of practical issues, professional demands, family, work, even time. Most conversations I’ve had about the hardship of fieldwork have invariably been cognizant of the sorts of practical-professional-personal negotiations involved—which often can become frustrating, overwhelming. In this post, I consider how such circumstances compel certain sorts of research decisions, serving as the often unspoken frameworks for the questions we ask and the projects we choose.

Fieldwork for my dissertation research followed a fairly classical/conventional trajectory, but for the break I took at the 6-month mark so as not to be away from my husband for a continuous year. India was far, tickets were expensive, but this was workable, still. I lived in Hyderabad, studying women’s activist organizations and their responses to Hindutva. I thoroughly enjoyed the vagrancy that fieldwork in an urban setting demands—and realized it was easiest to do this sort of work when one was away from family, so that it was informants and leads that set my pace and defined my agendas, not the realities of child- or parent-care. But it took the year and much stubbornness and persistence besides to move out of what Geertz has called one’s “ghosthood” into a more recognized position in a network, from which information was more accessible, and fieldwork as an experience much more enjoyable.

Our first baby arrived on the heels of the tenure-track job at a teaching-focused institution with a 3-3 load and neither research money nor any assured sabbaticals, but with research requirements to meet at tenure review nonetheless. Summers were all the dedicated time there was, but summers are hard in India, India was half the world away, childcare was not ever easy to organize, and getting there and back in time to teach again with research planned in between was beginning to sound exhausting, near-impossible, and almost not worthwhile. Continue reading