My last guest post on this topic comes from Turner Nevitt, who received his PhD from Fordham in 2016 and is now an assistant professor at the University of San Diego.
My first year on the job market, while still ABD, I applied for about 30 tenure-track jobs. I got three first-round interviews, two on-campus interviews, and one job offer. That might seem like an encouraging thought: it only takes one job offer to have a career in philosophy. But the reality is that most people on the job market nowadays will never get a job offer. Philosophers my age (millennials) should consider themselves a lost generation: most of them will not get academic employment. I did my best to accept this fact before I went on the market. I spent years resigning myself to the very high likelihood that I would have to leave the profession.
Accepting that I likely wouldn’t get an academic job helped me to distance myself from my job search. While I continued to see philosophy as intrinsically valuable, I came to see a career in philosophy as merely instrumentally valuable—just one among many ways that I might find to support myself and my family. This instrumental view of the market enabled me to consider an important question: Under what conditions am I willing to stay in the profession? On reflection I realized that I was not willing to make my family wait for more than three years while I tried the market, I was not willing to move my family cross country from one visiting position to another, and I was not willing to teach a heavy load for meager pay at a community college.
This approach to the market affected my entire job search. I sent out fewer applications, spent less time tailoring them to the hiring institutions and departments, worried much less about my search, and was a lot less miserable than most people I knew looking for a job. If you’re going on the market, I encourage you to do the same. Accept that you likely won’t get an academic job, decide what you are and aren’t willing to do to stay in the profession, and then try your luck.
Luck: that’s what it takes to get an academic job in philosophy. Yes, you need a good cover letter. Yes, you need a strong CV. Yes, you need stellar teaching evaluations. Yes, you need an impressive writing sample. Yes, you need awesome letters of recommendation. But at the most those things will get you a few first-round interviews; they won’t get you a job. Yes, you need to present well in your interviews. Yes, you need an effective teaching demonstration. Yes, you need a brilliant job talk. Yes, you need to be a god among academic philosophers. But that still won’t get you a job. Olympus is over-crowded. There are just way too many highly qualified candidates for way too few jobs. That’s why we should stop thinking of a successful search in terms of faring well on the market, and start thinking of it in terms of being well on the market.
And the most important factor to being well on the market is relating well to your job search. The second most important factor is relating well to other people during your search. While the support of friends and family is indispensable, being well on the market (and perhaps even faring well) has a lot to do with the culture among graduate students in your department.
I was fortunate to have an incredibly supportive community of fellow students looking for jobs, encouraged by an incredibly supportive jobs placement officer. We all met once a week to help each other prepare to go on the market. We shared ideas and resources about every aspect of the application process. We read each other’s job application documents (CVs, teaching statements, research statements, etc.). We watched each other’s teaching demonstrations and job talks. We practiced our three-minute dissertation spiel and our five-minute dissertation spiel. We reflected on the mock interviews we did with other faculty. We read each other’s works in progress, which we were all trying to get accepted for publication in time for the next jobs season. And so on.
I don’t know what I would have done without this community of support, and I don’t know how anyone survives the academic job market without one. If you’re going on the market, I suggest you find such a community. If there isn’t one already in place in your department, then form one yourself. If there aren’t enough students in your department, then go to other departments. The care of such a community can help to redeem even the most disappointing job searches. I hope your job search won’t end in disappointment. But if it does, I hope you’ll be able to look back and say that you did your best with the best of friends.