Saturday, March 23, 2013

Looking Back on the Academic Job Market

I realized this morning that my first spring of job-related anxiety was exactly twenty years ago.  I then realized that despite the job security that comes with tenure, I have been on the job market for more than half of my career!  Three years to find the first tenure track position, then four years to get out of Lubbock, and then five years to make the next move.

Anyhow, looking back, I discovered some interesting patterns.  In my earlier years, I often lost to none of the above even when I gave good or excellent job talks (that would be Maryland in 1998).*  Departments decided that my competitors and me were not good enough, so they tried again the following year. 
*  I know it was an excellent talk because that one experience lead to several key invitations--to play a role in a major research project, to take part in a cool edited volume, and so on.  I did not get the job because I was too junior and had not done any quantitative work (which is why they brought me in last).  Since the job was supposed to focus on a major data project, this was a problem.  The funny thing is that I ended up doing a heap of work with that dataset and still am working on it.
I cannot fault these departments as they hired great people ultimately.  I then went through a string of job talks where I gave good talks but lost to people who somehow "fit" better.  In these cases, if one counts pubs and citations as evidence, well, they made decisions that did not work out so well.

I do not always handle pressure well.  I am pretty certain which of my talks were choke-jobs, and the two* I am thinking of were places that seemed to be ideal jobs--great jobs in great locations--the jobs I wanted the most.  As events revealed, the first one was a mediocre job in a great location, but the second?  Ah well, it got even better.
*  I did not always give a great performance, but I am pretty sure that I only completely blew it twice.  Observers may suggest otherwise.  
I have handled logistical disasters well.  That is, when I gave my talk at Texas Tech, my bag did not make the same flight as myself.  I did get my suit in time for the talk, but it gave me humorous material for the interviews.  When I gave my talk at Carleton, the old building lost power.  The good news is that it happened during the interviews but not the talk itself.  So, when we returned from lunch to give the talk, there was power and I did not have to do hand puppets to replace my slides.

The McGill experience was first where they came looking for me,* meeting me at APSA to talk up the place and assure me that I would not be teaching in French.  I had fun during the talk as a student had brought  a copy of my book to it.  I grabbed it and used it as a prop.  It was not a hard choice--so much so that McGill low-balled me into taking a paycut to move.  Sure, I got a fancy title and a research fund, but exchange rates (and the taxes!) meant less disposable income after the move.  But there was no going back to Tech.  And then exchange rates swung, and suddenly I was making more than if I had stayed at Tech (except for those aforementioned taxes).
 * The second time a place sought me out might have been really cool except the job disappeared after my interview and just before the decision was to be made.  Budget cuts made at the very highest level and quite suddenly.

After a few years, it was time to get out of Quebec.  It took longer than I had hoped, including nearly exhausting the number of places to get an academic job near DC.  So, I applied for the job at Carleton, gave a good job talk despite/because of the aforementioned power failure, and got the job.  And I am pretty thrilled. It has been a very busy year and moving requires time and adjustments especially as I moved to a policy school.  This has meant revising old courses and teaching news.  Not so easy or as fun as just walking in and giving my Intro to IR show as I did at McGill, but it has been rewarding already.

Do I plan to go on the market anytime soon?  Nay.  I think I have found some stability for a change.   However, I never expected to work in Texas, Quebec or Ontario, so I have no idea where this academic journey will take me and my family.  I do not regret the path that I have taken.  Sure, I could have published in grad school and perhaps avoided the stress of the years in Burlington and Lubbock, but I made good friends in both. Moreover, UVM gave me a good environment in which to learn how to teach, so that I could focus on getting publications out in the next job.  Tech was great in that I had plenty of time to get research done and out the door.  McGill was great in that I had great students, some terrific colleagues, and heaps of money to do some truly fascinating research with heaps of travel to Eastern Europe for my second book and heaps of travel around the world for my third. 

So, after twenty years in the profession, spending more than half of them seeking to move, I am expecting to that all of my job market watching efforts will be on behalf of my students.

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