Bbound asked, in response to my post yesterday about the MLA Job Information List going online, "Out of curiosity, how much did quality-of-life issues narrow down your choices to those six?"
I thought that this was a good question, and one that might be of particular interest to the grad students (particularly those in English) who read this blog, and so I figured I'd post my response rather than burying it in the comments. So, to begin:
First, before we can talk about how I arrived at my list, we've got to talk about what we mean by "quality of life" issues. A lot of times when people in academia talk about these, "quality of life" translates into "I must be in a major metropolitan area on one of the coasts where everyone is a democrat and life is sweet." Or, when people in academia talk about these, they often talk about something that roughly translates to, "a place where I can be near to/live with my spouse/partner." Or, finally, they might mean something like, "a place with decent culture and where it's good to raise children and we can afford a house and there are good schools."
Now, I'm not questioning the validity of any of these, but these are not my issues, or at least they aren't entirely my issues. According to the usual measures of what gives a person good "quality of life," I should probably stay in my current location.
a. The cost of living is such that one can live on a professor's salary in the humanities.
b. I am in a metropolitan area, with an international airport that is a hub for a major airline.
c. The location has good museums, a nice symphony, a Shakespeare company, etc.
d. There are many fine restaurants, good local music scene, etc.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. The point is, none of these things ultimately matter if you don't have a reason to go out and to do these things. Well, maybe b. still matters. I think that the first time I went on the market I equated "city" (even if it is a small, midwestern city) with "quality of life." I think I was wrong. I think that, perhaps, I had a bad attitude about a few of the places that I interviewed, and I wonder now whether, had I been more open-minded, I might have found that I did like it there. Because here's the thing: I am not the sort of person who's going to the symphony for every performance, and I think I've been to the various museums maybe once since I've lived here. While I do go to dinner fairly regularly, I'm not out trying each hot new restaurant. Part of this is because I'm a creature of habit. Or maybe I'm even a little lame. But that's real life, and so really, how much does it matter that I'm in this city-like location?
So, in looking at the list, I did not limit myself by location, other than that I do need to be within 1 hour of an airport. No truly middle-of-nowhere locations for me, as even I am not that open-minded. I have no ties to anyplace in particular, and yes, my family is all in one place, but the reality is that I only go visit a couple of times a year anyway, and you know what? I can afford the airfare. Sure, it's nice to be able to jump in the car and to go to them, but that's not a necessity.
So how did I get to the six? (Which is actually now 7, since I heard from a person about a search that is more fit for me than one might think upon looking at the ad.)
1. Well, to be blunt, there were only like 14 jobs total in my field. a) I am in a small field. Most universities only have one person - at most 2 - to cover my country/century. b) There isn't a lot of person-retiring-need-to-replace-position hiring in my field. c) Many places try to combine a position in my field with something else, which sometimes works for me, but more often does not because I don't really do the "hot" thing people often seek. d) I really am defined within this specific field as a scholar, which is a good thing in many ways, but it also means that "stretching" is less easy to do.
2. Even the year that I did the full-on assault on the market, the year that I got this job, when I applied for many jobs I was barely qualified for, I only was able to justify myself for approximately 50 applications. I know people who have sent out close to 200 in a season, so clearly I'm not in a high-demand field.
3. Quality of life also relates to one's professional life. My main criteria for narrowing my list was lighter teaching load. If I'm going to move just to be in the same job, my life will not demonstrably improve.
4. I zoned in on applications that really sounded like me. This is a luxury that I have precisely because I have my current job.
5. I think that one of the things that I am looking for is more campus life at whatever institution I might be hired at. I remember in college my professors being around at big events on campus, and I remember seeing my professors at the local coffee shop or restaurants or bars or whatever. I liked that. And I think I imagined that I would step into that role when I became a professor. My current institution, because really there is no campus life, doesn't have that. It's changing and moving more in that direction, but faculty seem very disconnected from the campus, and by extension students seem disconnected from the faculty. I'd like to be at an institution with a culture that's different from that, I think.
1 year ago