Saturday, September 15, 2007

On the Market and In a Job

In a comment to yesterday's post, Earnest English writes:

Dr. Crazy, I was wondering how you (anyone) handles having a job and going on the market. I too have a job and don't really want my current department to know I'm planning to leave. (The job is fine, but like the girly girl I've become, I want to go home to my boyfriend and have a chance at playing Suzy Homemaker at least part time. Isn't that disgusting? I can't believe I'm saying this -- in public!) So how do you handle it? For example, my chair has come from Department X, where they are hiring this year in my field, but if they see where I'm at now, then they'll surely get in touch with said chair and then said chair will know I'm on the market. So I figure I won't apply, even though it's a potentially good job in a location Boyfriend and I both like. Crazy, please advise. What do you do? Does it ever seem like a problem?

I started writing a comment, but it threatened to become a mile long, and so I've decided to do a full post in response. First of all, I faced the agony of wondering how to tell or not to tell my current department last year, and I came out on the other side, so anything I say now comes out of that particular experience. Second, a lot really does depend on one's specific situation and one's personal relationship with one's colleagues, so what I say here may not be advice that all should or could take. I should also note that I perused my "on the market" posts of last year, and I didn't really write about this aspect of my search, so a full-on post rather than just a comment is probably in order. What I wrote most about last year was the "why" of my decision to go on the market generally, and about points in the process, like telling Very Supportive Colleague, but not about the how I came to the decision to tell or not to tell. But so anyway, here I go.

First things first. I think that in fields like English, where the market is impossibly over-saturated, that one can feel (rightly or wrongly) like a traitor to one's current position if one chooses to look from a job. Moreover, one can feel like a traitor to all those folks who don't have tenure-track employment and who've been on the market multiple years. I know that I had those feelings last year. The thing is, it's stupid to feel that way. It's *normal* to keep one's career options open, and it's *not* a betrayal of one's current institution or colleagues to do so. It's a job, not a marriage. Taking a job does not include making vows of lifetime commitment and fidelity. Taking a tenure-track position is not the same thing as taking religious orders.

Moreover, pretty much the only way to raise one's base salary is to get an offer from another institution. Because of the realities of salary compression, it's likely that time spent on the tenure-track will ultimately mean that after a few years one is making below the market value in one's discipline, and it makes good sense to try to up one's base salary whether by getting another offer and taking it or by getting another offer and using it to negotiate with one's current institution. This is easier to do when one is looking at the assistant professor level, because once one enters the limbo of tenured associate professordom, one doesn't have as much capital with which to get an offer that will allow for such an increase. Particularly if one is at a teaching institution, getting tenure means that one is most likely going to fall behind others at the associate level in terms of research who would be competing for the same few jobs that might appear, and so would be much less likely to be able to move or to be able to get an offer. Ultimately, it's a good thing for one's current department if people look and get offers from other places because it can better enable the department to convince those who hold the purse strings to hire people in at higher salaries, to work harder to rectify inequities that result from compression, to deal with workload issues that might be making faculty look elsewhere, etc.

Finally, it's important to recognize that given the realities of the academic job market generally that most people's first jobs don't necessarily land them in a location or type of institution of their choosing. Your colleagues know this. It's not wrong to want to be closer to family, to be in the same place as your significant other, to be in a place where it's easier to have a vibrant life outside of your job, or to teach a different student population or at a place with a different balance of teaching/research/service. Those things, ultimately, can actually help you to do your job better, because a person who's happy is likely to be a happier and more productive colleague.

But so. If it's so great to look, why do people choose to search on the down low?

1. Fear of retaliation. The culture of your institution/department is such that looking for another job makes people think that you're not committed to your current one. People are suspicious of those who keep their options open, and this (potentially) could hurt your chances of getting tenure because people see you as a "bad" colleague.

2. Fear of embarrassment. You don't want to tell your current colleagues because you don't want to look like an ass if you don't get an offer.

3. Fear that if people know you're looking that they will then believe that you hate your current job/your students/your colleagues. If you're in a snake pit filled with conflict and mutual loathing, a decision to look will be rightly read as an insult to your institution and/or your colleagues. See #1.

4. You're not really committed to leaving the job that you've got should you get an offer. In other words, you're just testing the waters even though you're totally happy in your current position, but if you got an offer you wouldn't really take it. (I'd say if this is one's position there's no point in sending materials out, but that's just me.)

5. You're applying to a "dream job" (because it's in your hometown, because it's at your alma mater, because it's the top department in your specialty according to the rankings, whatever) and you feel like it's such a long shot that you don't think it's worth mentioning. See #2.

Now, all of these are real concerns, and they shouldn't be taken lightly. That said, the reality is that even if you try to search under the radar, if you get to the interview stage, people at your current institution may find out that you're looking anyway. My initial feeling when I decided to put myself on the market last year was that I didn't want anybody to know, mainly because of Reason #2. After discussing it with Job Search Mentor, though, and realizing that if I had any success that I'd ultimately have to come clean and that it might look even worse if I waited until later in the process, I decided that I'd rather be embarrassed than spring the fact that I'd been searching for months on them later in the process. For me, being up front meant not feeling like I had to live a double-life or fear being "found out" before I told. Now, I didn't stand up in a department meeting and announce my search to all and sundry, but I told the administrators in my department, and it gave me a sense of calm, and I think that they took my directness about my intentions as a sign of my professionalism. Also, telling meant that I could get a letter from a person in a position of power in my current department, which is really helpful if one is looking as an advanced assistant professor.

So, I've addressed some of this in the previous paragraph, but to be parallel, I should probably list the reasons to tell:

1. Being direct about your intentions can reflect positively on you. It shows that you trust your colleagues, it shows that you are professional, and it means that you get to control who finds out, when they find out, and how they find out.

2. A letter from your current institution will help in your success on the market. Especially if you've been out of graduate school for a few years, the people who can best speak to your collegiality and your teaching and service record are not your grad school mentors. Moreover, such a letter can alleviate search committee fears that the reason that you are looking is because you won't receive tenure at your current institution or that everybody in your department hates you.

3. You aren't unhappy at your current institution. This may seem counterintuitive, but I feel like if you're not desperately trying to get out then it makes it easier to tell. Everybody has reasons why they might want to send out a few applications. If those reasons are personal (relocation issues) or if those reasons are professional (hey, I do a lot of research and I'd like more support for that, for example), then you might as well just say, "look, I'm totally happy here, but jobs x, y, and z would be great jobs for me and so I feel like I should give it a shot." If your colleagues are reasonable, then they should be able to grasp the fact that looking doesn't mean that you don't enjoy your current position.

Now, this year, I haven't done any Grand Reveal about my intentions to look. I asked my colleague to update his letter, and that's all I'll do until I get further in the process (if, indeed, I do get further in the process). I'm pretty relaxed about looking in part because I am not using this search to do soul-searching about the state of my life in the way that I was last year. If nothing pans out, I know that I can be happy getting tenure and remaining at my current institution. I have great colleagues, I do valuable work, I feel like I have a great deal of autonomy that I might not have in another position, and I have been able to achieve everything I've wanted to achieve in this career right where I am. I'm looking because while I'm content here, I am not bound to this place. I don't have roots here, I don't have a family, and I don't have a reason to stay. And I'm ambitious. And hell yes if I can get a job that would allow me to do more in this profession, I want to see if I can make that happen.

But I don't care about the affiliation on my nametag, and I'm not just trying to get higher up on the food chain, not really. I don't think that any job at any "better" university or any more researched-focused university would necessarily be a better fit for me. My priorities right now are more about trying to find the best possible balance between what I want professionally and what I want personally. The personal in this location hasn't been exactly stellar, and so that's as much a reason that I'm looking as anything. The professional is ok in this location, but I wonder what I could do at a place that had higher expectations for me and more support directed at those higher expectations.

But to answer EE's specific question, I'll venture the following. Assuming that you're in a department without a lot of crazy political maneuvering and vitriol, I'd think that it would be ok to have a talk with your chair about the job opening that you describe. You might say something about having noticed the job ad and that you're thinking of pursuing it, but you want advice about what the chair thinks. Your chair might actually be an advocate for you and help further you in the process. I wouldn't couch the revelation that you might apply for a job or two as "I'm planning on leaving this job." I would say, "I'm keeping my options open, and one thing is that I would like to be in the same location as my S.O. and this job could potentially allow for that, but I'm very committed to this job and happy with this job should that not come to pass." Don't make your chair think you've checked out of your current position, if that makes sense. Not knowing more about your specific situation, though, means that I might be offering you bad advice. Is there a colleague in your department with whom you are friends and whom you can trust not to gossip with whom you can discuss your quandary? Ideally somebody who's been there a few years and has some historical knowledge about what's gone on in the past? You also might talk to other mentors that you've had from grad school about your options. I know that helped me a lot with my decision last year to tell. Basically, I needed somebody to tell me that it's ok to look and that I wasn't committing some sort of crime by doing so. Also, I should probably mention that I was a bit more confident about going to VSC about it last year because he had mentioned a year before that people shouldn't hesitate to ask for letters if they needed them, which did give me a sense of how he'd respond if I told him. You may not be in such a great position as I was regarding that.

The thing is, there's no formula for this stuff. Honestly, if I were in a different place in my personal life, I might not even consider sending applications out right now. If I were in a different and less supportive department, I might not be so open about the fact that I am sending applications out. The reality is that I really think it's most likely that I'll end up staying here. I feel like I'm applying out of my league this year, and I'm in no way confident I'll even make it past the first round of cuts. But you know what? That doesn't matter. It's not wrong to apply. It's not wrong to leave oneself open to possibility. And if people can't deal with that? Well, then that's really about them, and it's not about anything I'm doing.


Flavia said...

God, Crazy, it's like you read my mind--I was actually going to drop you an email to ask you just this question. I'm *thinking* of applying for three or four jobs myself, but absent the LDR excuse, and given that this is only my second year in a job that I really, really like, I feel a lot of hesitation about talking to my chair, even though I adore her (and she's changed jobs a few times herself, so I know she doesn't have insane ideas about loyalty).

I still haven't decided what to do. I've got a good explanation for one and possibly two of the jobs (they're in big cities I've lived in and have friends in, and one's the institution where I taught full-time before this job). . . but that R1 job an hour away? Whose appeal is partly that I could stay in this region? Um. Hard to explain without seeming traitorous.

I think you said once that you sent out a few applications in your first or second year at RCU. What did you do then?

Dr. Crazy said...

I did send out a few (stupid) applications in my second year. Why were they stupid? Well, because I hadn't really grown at all as a candidate since my first time out, and I was really half-hearted about what I sent out. I didn't tell anybody I was looking in my dept., mainly because I knew I was half-assing it and wasn't likely to have anything come out of it. I didn't even get a request for more materials.

What I'd say about your situation, though, is that there's no reason why you have to reveal all of where you'll apply. You'll still use a dossier service, right? All you need to say is that there are a few jobs that would take you closer to family/friends and so you thought you'd give it a shot but that you're really happy where you are. The R1 job an hour away only becomes an issue if you get further in the process, and if you do, you could then go to your chair and say that you wanted to tell her about it before she heard from somebody else, that you'd figured since you were sending out a few applications that you may as well send one there as well. Remember: one part of this is that getting an offer someplace else means room to negotiate with your current institution, so even applying for something nearby works to that end and isn't necessarily a betrayal of your current job.

That's what I think, anyway, for whatever that's worth. Also, and this is one of the things I've thought about as a positive of one of the places that I'm applying this year, getting a job at a research university that's not terribly far away from your current institution means that you'd be in a position to help students at your current institution should they try to apply to Research Institution's grad programs, etc. Moving on to something else doesn't mean that you lose all ties to your current institution, or that the bonds of collegiality are necessarily severed. Or at least I don't think that it should mean that.

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, and another thing: I hate the heteronormative bullshit that makes an LDR the only justifiable reason to go on the market. Dude, there are good reasons to look for a new job that don't involve being in the same place with one's boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Yes, wanting to stop being in a LDR with one's love is a huge reason to go on the market, and I'm not dismissing that. But it sucks to feel like if one doesn't have that reason that people won't understand or will judge you negatively for putting yourself out there. (By the way, I'm not saying that this is what you were saying, but it's something that I've felt and that bugs the shit out of me. I mean, Jesus, it's not my fault that I don't have an S.O. It doesn't mean that I have to resign myself to spinsterhood and mindless dedication to my current job.)

Sisyphus said...

Hear hear on the no need to resign self to spinsterhood and mindless dedication to the job thing. I kinda worry about what would happen if I got a job like my friend, who's married but having severe culture shock from having to move somewhere with 300 residents in town and hours driving to the next little town.

And as for Earnest English --- I think she is just starting her new job that she got (she's first year). Does that make a difference?

Dr. Crazy said...

Hmmm.... First year in the new job.... (I haven't been keeping up with my blog reading so I'd forgotten that she's just starting - sorry!)

Well, I think my first thought would be to give the job a year, only because it's hard moving to a new place and a new job and those first few weeks it can seem like the worst thing in the world before you've gotten acclimated. Also, you don't have enough of a read on personalities to know whether telling or not telling would be best. But if you *were* to apply for anything in that situation, I'd say it should really be a dream job and if it's a job where your chair has connections, you should say, "look, this would be my dream job and it would mean that I wouldn't be in a long distance relationship, and that's the only reason I'm considering applying." But I don't know. I do think that it's different to tell when you've already demonstrated your commitment to the place than when you're brand spanking new....

gwinne said...

I agree with much of what Dr. C said in her original post and comments. I told my dept chair when I went on the market during my fourth year there, because I needed to ask him for a letter. I was very casual about it, explained my reasons (family) and the very limited nature of my search. He was very good about it. But for someone in the first year of a job, no way I'd tell--that's a real slap in the face of the people who just went through the hassles of a national job search to hire you. I don't see how anything could be gained by telling in that situation.

Dr. Crazy said...

I just wanted to say that I see where you're coming from, Gwinne, about never telling in one's first year. I only think it would be essential if EE applied to the department with which her chair was formerly affiliated, as I'd suspect the chair will find out more quickly than normal in that case. And I want to reiterate, though, that my personal opinion is that if one is only just starting it doesn't make sense to go right back on the market. How do you even know how you feel about the job at that point? Yes, one wants to be near one's SO. But you took the job for some reason, right? Why not give it an honest shot this year and then go back on the market next if you still feel the same way when the academic year is done? (Of course, I'm speaking as somebody who's not been in this particular situation, so feel free to disregard. I'm a careerist spinster :) )

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I think applying in your first year is difficult, mostly because you don't really know anything about your current job yet, you're not really any better/different a candidate than you were the previous year, and it takes up so much fucking time and energy that would probably be better spent on the job. Plus it's a little harder to make an argument about why you want to leave if you've scarcely been at a job. On the other hand, jobs come round when they come round, and it's hard to pass up one that looks perfect. So it's hard to say.

Just to throw it out there, I didn't tell my department when I applied from a job - I just told them when I got an offer. I did tell a few trusted non-dept. colleagues, two of whom wrote letters for me (my school was very small and I had worked very closely with these two people even though they weren't in my department). No one seemed to think it was at all inappropriate not to have told my department, FWIW (which isn't to say doing so is wrong or anything). In my case, I didn't have a bad relationship with my department, but my sr. colleagues were of a very different academic generation than I was, and I was afraid that they wouldn't understand why I was doing what I was doing (nor, to be honest, did I really want letters from them - again, not because they didn't like me - they did - but because at least two of them were so out of touch with what I see as the current academic world that I was worried their letters wouldn't be very good. Looking back, I think that was silly, but it was how I felt at the time).

It turned out that they were really nice about it, and really not surprised, either (it was the kind of place a lot of young faculty tried to leave). But I'm still glad I didn't tell them, because I would have felt weirder dealing with them if they knew I was applying than I did when I was keeping it from them. (I mean, there were a lot of things I didn't tell them!)

Again, this isn't at all to say that telling one's department is a bad move - just another perspective.

Flavia said...

Thanks, Crazy (and others). And no, I didn't mean to imply that people with an LDR get a pass, at all--I would have absolutely no compunction, as a single person, telling my chair that I was looking for personal/lifestyle reasons (friends, nature of the surrounding city, etc.) in, say, my 4th year. Maybe even my 3rd. But as a *2nd year* in a good job that I'm basically happy with, an LDR would have provided me with an easy excuse--whether it was the whole truth or not--that I definitely feel I'm lacking now.

I don't think that my department expects to keep all the young people it's hired in the past three years, and I really don't forsee any negativity when some eventually do leave. But it does seem to me that, absent a real cultural/professional mis-match or a strong personal reason (partner, aging parents, whatever), the second year is a little early.

And if I believe that? Well, maybe I shouldn't be going out in the first place, and maybe I won't. I've called on my advisor for advice, and a significant part of me is hoping that she vetoes the idea so that I don't have to do the hard work of deciding for myself!

Dr. Crazy said...

See, that's my point, though, F. It's that the LDR shouldn't be an "excuse" that is needed- whether in the second year, or ever. In the real world, people change jobs. People explore their options. Whether they've been in the job a year or two or four or whatever. My point here isn't that it's wrong to look in the service of an LDR at all - it's just that it's totally fucked up that it's a more *legitimate* reason than others - and if we think that it would be "ok" if we looked in the second year as opposed to the fourth because of an LDR, that's what we're saying. We're saying that reason is *worth* more than other reasons. And I think that this is much more an issue with female faculty than with male, too, which makes it an even more pressing issue in my mind. Why is it that a man can look for a better job just because it's "better" - and without censure - when a woman needs to (or feels that she needs to) justify it with a relationship?

Flavia said...

Well, yeah--but in the "real world," people don't usually tell their supervisors when they're looking for a new job, and they certainly don't need them to write (somewhat time-consuming) letters of recommendation for them.

That's where the sticking point is for me. Exploring one's options is something I fully support (obviously), and if one's colleagues don't understand the reasonableness of doing so--or of taking a new job when it comes down the pike--well, too fucking bad.

But it's something else again to expect one's colleagues to *help* one find a new job. I have every right to expect my colleagues to understand. I don't have a right to expect them to be thrilled. That's equally true in the real world.

(And I may be deluded about this, or lucky, but for me this isn't a gender issue. You're likely right about the overall pattern here, but I don't think it's a factor in my indecision; I've seen no evidence that women in my department are expected to make more sacrifices, do more service work, be better "team players," etc., than men. And I'd be just as pissed--or just as pleased--at a man in my department skipping out after a year or two as a woman.)

gwoertendyke said...

thank you for posting on this and for addressing the many concerns so honestly and in depth.

Earnest English said...

Darn, I thought I left a comment and I see it's been swallowed up by cyberspace. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate my question being taken up in such depth not just by the fabulous Dr. Crazy but all y'all. Also, I hear what a couple of you are saying about not going out on the market in one's first year. I know that I shouldn't feel the need to justify it, but I do -- my position is a bit unusual. I can't explain fully, but both the location and the culture (and I'm not even talking about the culture of the department, which is a whole other story) make it extremely unlikely that I would want to stay for long even without the SO factor. It's actually a challenge for the university, because this is the kind of place people like to visit, but not stay at. And then I have this extra layer -- an identity-related layer -- that makes this problem more acute. (Oh I sound so precious, like some desperate liberal in Bible belt country -- I assure you it's not that!!!) All this to say, people here will not be surprised if I leave, especially given the extra layer. All the same, I don't want anyone to think I've checked out of my job before I've been in it a month. I signed on, and I'm committed to doing what I can -- even volunteering for extra work. All the same, I can't stay. Just can't. So I'm just not going to tell my chair. I think that's the best thing. Hopefully, the chair will be willing to give me a rec at the end of this year. Thanks again all. Your conversation helped me think through my particular situation. Sorry I have to be so cryptic.