Archive for February 16th, 2009

Being on the job market this year, I was frequently reminded of Candide by Voltaire.  This occurred whenever friends, family members, or my advisor told me that everything would work out for the best.  My advisor repeated this mantra after I ended up with a job at my second choice of the schools that had interviewed me, arguing that the region of school #2 would be a better fit for me than that of school #1.  A writer in the Chronicle’s “Landing Your First Job” section shares this view, stating:

I’m amazed and relieved and convinced, now more than ever before, that things usually happen for a reason, or at the very least, things eventually work out for the best.

While this statement may seem natural for somebody who has just received her first tenure-track job, the author had been on the market for six years before having success.  Surely, she would have found a job sooner than that if things had truly worked out for the best.  Personally, six years on the job market sounds a lot more like “Mad World” than “Shiny Happy People.” Could it be that we as candidates are so beaten down by the job market that when and if we finally accept a tenure-track job offer we are compelled to feel that it is “for the best,” regardless of our experiences on the market?

If this is the case, Candide is a particularly fitting allegory for the job market experience.  Written in response to the philosophical optimism of Pope (whatever is, is right) and Leibnitz (God is good so he created the best of all possible worlds), Candide represents the candidate who is forced out of the comfortable confines of graduate school and onto the job market (Ch. 1 – How Candide was brought up in a fine castle, and how he was expelled from thence).  The philosopher Pangloss represents the candidate’s dissertation advisor, who is denied tenure and is forced to enter the market shortly after Candide.

Each new adventure in the book can be seen as a job interview.  Most of these go painfully wrong and, thus, end in rejection.  Throughout these adventures, Candide attempts to maintain that everything that happens is for the best.  Eventually, he is offered his dream job, which he turns down because it is not near his fiancee (Ch. 17 – The arrival of Candide and his men at the country of Eldorado).  After a great deal of suffering on the market, Candide and Pangloss finally accept tenure-track jobs at a low-ranking institution, causing a friend to ask:

I want to know which is the worst; to be ravished a hundred times by pirates, to run the gauntlet among the Bulgarians, to be whipped and hanged, to be dissected, to row in the galleys; in a word, to have suffered all the miseries we have undergone, or to stay here, without doing anything? (pg. 91)

After a visit with the dean (represented by a Turk), who tells him that success and happiness depend on getting work done (no doubt referring to tenure expectations) Candide accepts his position and turns his attention toward receiving tenure.  The end finds Pangloss arguing that if he hadn’t spent six painful years on the job market he wouldn’t be where he is today, to which Candide replies “That’s very well said, and may all be true, but let’s [get back to work on that conference submission].”

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