Jessica at Scatterplot recently posted some good advice about imaginary “perfect” jobs. She writes:
There’s a tenure-track academic job I hear students talk about – one with work-life balance and a forty-hour work week and at least two weeks (but hopefully an entire summer) of carefree, completely unplugged vacation; one where you have all the autonomy and prestige of a professor, along with job security and a professional level paycheck, but there aren’t external pressures on your time except for those that you select because they’re consistent with your values and life goals…that job – that does not exist. And, even if it did, you would not increase your chances of landing such a job by eschewing the professional advice of faculty or colleagues because they are seen as somehow biased toward a different kind of job, one that just doesn’t fit you or your life goals.
As I said above, I think this is good advice but the “do what senior scholars tell you to do in order to be successful” line of reasoning falls apart when so many senior scholars don’t understand other types of jobs or have outdated ideas of what various types of jobs entail (or even what is required to get jobs like theirs). If you want to work at a SLAC, for example, especially a high-ranking SLAC, publications are essential, so advice that a student will fade to obscurity in one of those jobs is ridiculous. Too many advisors still want to see their students replicate their careers, acting as if other types of careers are beneath them.
One could argue that Eric Grollman’s success in getting an excellent liberal arts job after initially aiming for an R1 is a strong example in favor of the idea that there is only one track, but the pressures that he reports facing from his committee members about even interviewing at liberal arts jobs show that this system still has flaws. I was fortunate not to receive these sorts of messages from my committee members, but a current colleague reports that her dissertation advisor neglected to provide her with any advice on negotiating her job offer from our institution because the advisor hoped that a “real” job offer would come along. That some students know early on what type of job they would like to pursue but still receive these sorts of messages undermines the value of advice in other areas.
In some ways, I could be seen as an example of the type of grad student that Jessica mentions in the comments, where she says, “This is about the students who don’t aspire to a life like the faculty in their grad programs – people who they (erroneously) believe work 80 hours a week all year long and have no life outside of work.” I started grad school around the time that a large number of junior faculty members were hired and watched them go through a grueling tenure process that included the very real threat of being denied tenure unless they could publish in ASR or AJS. I knew that I did not want that kind of experience, but this doesn’t mean that I didn’t think I would have to work to get a job or afterward or that I didn’t seek a strong grounding in theory and methods, as I took more than the required number of courses in each.
Just as Jessica provides advice for students, I would like to provide some advice for faculty who deal with graduate students: listen to them. Consider their career goals and give them advice that will maximize the chances that they will realize those goals while necessarily keeping an eye on their general marketability given that few of them will end up at the types of institutions they seek. If you start your mentoring by assuming that they want to emulate your career, though, and criticizing any desire to do otherwise, be aware that you are discrediting any future advice you will give.
Oh, and one more thing: When your graduate students are on the job market, get your damn letters of recommendation done early and often. There is no excuse for mentoring somebody throughout the entire academic process only to hang them out to dry by not fulfilling your duty as an advisor.
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