More Horrible Platitudes!

My first column for the Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae project is up today (and don’t get too attached to that minimalist layout–the hub hasn’t officially launched yet! This is TEASER CONTENT).

It is about the horrible platitudes many FULLPROFs give their job-seeking progeny, and some pro-actively humane suggested replacements for them. Since Vitae doesn’t allow commenting yet, I thought we could do some here: did I miss any? Was I off the mark about any? What’s the worst thing a senior faculty ever said to you while you were on the market? Here’s mine (and it’s actually a combination):

INT. MLA 2013

My department’s infamous Cash Bar Cocktail Party, where the entirety of German Studies goes to self-congratulate and/or be desperate (depending on the ladder level). I am explaining to one of my usually-favorite grad-school profs what I will do if this market, my fourth in a row, ends up the same way the previous three did (the stakes are higher for me now, because I’ve just finished what I thought was a very promising interview, and already have one campus visit lined up).

ME: I am thinking of transitioning to Gen Ed, Humanities-Core type of stuff. I really love teaching in those programs, and they are so important in a University-scape of diminished Humanities.

HIM (AGHAST): But THEN you wouldn’t be able to do your RESEARCH! (Said with the same tone as “But THEN you will DIE FROM LUPUS!”

Later in that same party:

HIM: Rebecca, come here and meet this guy–see, he’s not giving up on the market, and neither should you!

“This Guy” is a person whose area of research is nearly identical to mine, but who graduated from a more prestigious program. Ergo, my direct competition, who will beat me every time, is still out on the market.

The sheer unbelievable cluelessness of people who are legitimately trying to help us will never cease to amaze me. NOW COMMENT AWAY!

24 thoughts on “More Horrible Platitudes!

  1. The Chair of the department where I worked as a Visiting Prof heard that I accepted my current TT position. This made him finally notice my existence (the guy is super-duper ultra-famous bestselling, etc.) and approach me.

    “Do you really want to go to that place?” he asked me in a very kind voice. “Why??”

    All I responded was, “Yes, I really do.” It would have taken me forever to explain why, so I didn’t bother.

    I really wonder what it feels like to live on the planet where you have no need to worry about making the minimum credit card payments every month.


  2. Haha. I have another one. Random office of random fullprof. You just found out that a TT position will be opening shortly at university of fullprof. Due to some CERN-like collision of coincidences, the position will be ‘designed’ entirely by fullprof herself. Rumor has it that the position will be crafted cautiously in order to fit fullprof’s own mentor’s favourite youngster. Being interpellate about so and so, Fullprof to me: ‘of course the position is made to fit youngster X, for sure. BUT U SHOULDN T REFRAIN FROM APPLYING!


  3. I’m still trying (alongside trying for non-ac work), but I feel so far away from this. Several people – including people who’ve jumped ship themselves – have repeatedly asked me if I’ve “tried getting a job”.


  4. At an Ivy job-market workshop, as an encouragement to persist: “If you don’t apply, you can’t get rejected.”

    Another gem: “The job market is fine. None of our graduates are on the street.”


  5. Not exactly on topic, but some observations based on your links: (1) your CV is stellar (2) I’ve noticed several hires in the last two years or so who have considerably less stellar resumes. This indicates to me not just the market as crapshoot narrative, but more disturbingly, the validity of your comments re: program prestige, etc. Or am I wrong?


    • Thanks for saying that about my CV. It is properly professionalized, I think. I think for a lot of institutions, it’s not about a fancy CV, it’s about Fit–and I think for others, my accomplishments don’t matter because I did not graduate from Princeton, Yale, UC Berkeley or the U of Chicago. Academics at R-1 institutions are often massively elitist, and those at SLACs are often suspicious of too much research ambition. Unbeknownst to me, by going to an R-1 but not “prestige” institution and publishing so much and getting so many research fellowships, I made myself someone who looks like she thinks she’s too fancy for a SLAC–which is NOT true, by the way, if I were still in the game, my dream job would be to return to my undergraduate alma mater, Vassar, as faculty–but also looks like she thinks she’s bigger than she is for an R1 (ie what does this hillbilly think she can tell us about Wittgenstein?!?). I put myself in no-man’s land. If I had zero publications I would have been taken seriously by the jobs that some zero-publication friends of mine (from my own cohort) got, but where I wasn’t even interviewed.


      • “my accomplishments don’t matter because I did not graduate from Princeton, Yale, UC Berkeley or the U of Chicago. Academics at R-1 institutions are often massively elitist”…

        Hey Rebecca, sent you an email about this point, which I think is important to explore further in several interconnected ways. I agree that you are getting knocked down for not going to a ‘prestige’ program, but the ‘prestige’ such programs confer in the academy and on the academic job market is also depends on other forms of (race/color/gender) prestige. As I have said elsewhere, having degrees from Yale and UC Berkeley isn’t always helpful if you don’t come in the right bodily package to not be seen as a ‘threat’ who had better know her place (or else) or as a token who is also expected to STFU and ‘bow down’ (or else).

        You’ll know what I’m talking about, but for the other readers who don’t: no, this is definitely not a ‘cry for me with my privilege/elite pedigree comment. Definitely not.


  6. I liked that the Vitae column discussed alternatives to the platitudes. I have been heartened by how supportive my advisor and other profs from my grad program have been regarding my transition to teaching high school. Hopefully this attitude will catch on and the culture will change to the point that those spouting the platitudes will be marginalized.


    • That’s how it works in Europe. There is a small number of professors, then the lycees and Gymnasiums hire the people who in the US work at universities, or used to. That might be a better system.


  7. I went on the job market my ABD year with a very lukewarm adviser, who didn’t believe in jobs for ABDs, and didn’t end up with anything that spring. That summer, I went to lunch with my adviser, who told me 1) he wrote me rec letters that weren’t fully supportive of my candidacy because was ABD at that point, and 2) [shrug] “this would be a multi-year process. Then my husband got a job in publishing and I have become a full-time freelance translator. We are happy. I wrote him about my decision to “retire” from academia, and he never wrote back.


  8. ‘I don’t understand your strategy’ (of not wanting to move away from my family in the middle of fucking nowhere, just to get a junior lectureship and spend all of my salary in rent, travel back to family etc).
    But nothing beats the ‘you are also very good’ from professor trying to get laid.


  9. Oh I just love your blog post. Thank you for posting it. It reminded me why I just think that academic hirings are a joke. I’m coming to the conclusion that academe is no-longer really about teaching/learning or even research ….it’s just about joining a club with special privileges for some members.

    I’ve had this conversation that I had a similar meeting but for a different discipline and a different disease (the black death or something similar).

    But the worse thing I heard recently was that a friend of mine with a PhD was told by an uncle of hers who’s a retired tenured prof at an Ivy League school “you’ve no hope of tenure”…he advised her to go and get a job in a store. I was speechless on hearing this.


    • I actually think Mr. You’ve No Hope was being very, very honest. I’d much rather the tenured say that than “hang in there.” But I can definitely see how that sounds dickish, because it’s implied “you’ve no hope of tenure…UNLIKE ME.”


      • Mr You’ve No Hope might be very honest but sadly he sounded dickish and from what she’s told me isn’t at all worried about the fact that he’s earning a huge income as a senior prof and the adjuncts in his department are earning very little if anything. She asked him if he was worried about the fact that he sounded dickish and rather clueless about the appalling wages for adjuncts and he just refused to even reply to the question.


      • Oh yeah. BIG difference between “you will never get a TT job because there aren’t any, and I would not get my own job if I applied for it today” (the truth), and “you will never get a job because NOBODY IS AS GREAT AS MEEEEEEE.”


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