One of the biggest questions that I had when deciding to go on the job market again as an advanced assistant professor is how my record would be perceived in comparison to other candidates. Although I was wary of of lowering my publication expectations to meet the requirements at my current institution, I also faced the reality of life as an assistant professor with a 3-3 teaching load and high advising and service expectations. As a result, I had several concerns:
My first concern was how my record compared with the records of candidates who were ABD. Although I taught a lot of courses as a graduate student, my teaching experience since that time coupled with strong course evaluations was likely hard for ABDs to match. On the other hand, I have only published a few peer-reviewed papers since graduate school, so it is likely that many ABD candidates had stronger publication records than me.
My second concern was how my record compared with the records that search committees imagined candidates who were ABD having by the start of their fifth years. Again, my teaching probably compared favorably (or at least was not a liability), but it would have been easy for search committees to imagine the publication possibilities that awaited a freshly-minted Ph.D. Comparing my “real” publication record to the “potential” of another candidate (whether or not the candidate would ever reach this potential) was probably not in my favor.
My final concern was how my record compared with the records of others who were going on the market again. Because the job market was bad for a number of years after I obtained my current job it is likely that there were a lot of people who were attempting to improve their situations. For example, of the 124 hires currently listed on the Sociology Job Market Forum, 46 are clearly identified as people who had been tenure-track faculty, post docs, or visiting assistant professors. Again, my teaching likely looked fine, but there was the familiar question about my publications.
In the end, the extent to which these comparisons mattered probably depended on what the department was looking for. There were a lot of schools that I did not receive interest from, but I have no way of knowing why they weren’t interested. In some cases, these sorts of comparisons may have come into play. In others, they may have disliked the font that I chose for my CV or had a grudge against one of my graduate school advisors. As I’ve argued in the past, there is nothing one can do about these sorts of mysteries of the job market, so it is best to focus on the things that can actually be affected.
As a point of comparison, the institution that I will be joining in the fall has a ranking that is very similar to an institution where I interviewed when on the market the first time. When I compared my record to the person who was hired by that institution instead of me, I found myself lacking. Comparing our records today reveals an even larger gap, suggesting that they may have made the right choice (or that the lower teaching load and higher levels of institutional support allowed that person to focus more on research…).
Interestingly, though, the institution has hired several other people since that time and none of them have a record that is comparable to the person who was hired instead of me back in 2008. At the time, I thought that I was not qualified for the position. In hindsight, it appears that it would have been hard for anybody to compete with the candidate who was hired and in another year I might have gotten the job. I also don’t know what stood out to the search committee that decided to hire me over other candidates this year.
Idiosyncrasies like these are of no comfort to those on the market who do not get jobs. Neither is the statement that “there were many qualified candidates” that I have seen in so many rejection e-mails. At the end of the day candidates are left to do the best they can and hope that one of these idiosyncrasies tilts the opinions of a search committee in their favor.
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