Monday, October 28, 2013

Thoughts on unemployment (specifically mine)

One of the points of this blog was for me to reflect upon what it feels like to be unemployed. I've gotten away from that over the last month or two as I've focused a lot on health care and a bit on local Houston politics.

But the unemployment frustration continues. Academic hiring processes move on very slow timeline. Even if I get a job, it won't start paying or providing health insurance until July 1, 2014 at the earliest.

Second, is that many institutions aren't looking to give new scholars fresh out of grad school a chance.

For example, there have been 23 jobs posted in American politics on APSA's job site over the last month that are hiring for tenure-track positions. However, one is for a full professor, which indicates that a school is looking for a senior level hire. Three more are for "open-and-multiple" ranks, which mean that the school is nominally looking for anyone who might be a good fit. However, everyone knows that these positions are reserved for mid-career or senior scholars.

That leaves 19 positions hiring for assistant professors, but based on the rejection letters I have received and informal conversations I've had with my colleagues, a substantial number of these slots will go to candidates who are already assistant professors at other institutions. Having had a year or two a research support, salary and other resources will make their CVs much stronger than those of us just out of grad school.

It seems that many institutions (by no means all, but enough) aren't really interested in rolling the dice on developing a new scholar when they can simply raid an established one from another school.

It's understandable -- department rankings in U.S. News and World Report are at stake here. 

So that's what happens in our field. Just like all the other fields, candidates who already hold down existing jobs get preferences, while those struggling to break into the field (or worse yet, those who have been unemployed for a year or two) don't have as much of a chance. The rich get richer and those of us struggling to get into the game lose what little we currently have.

A senior academic with whom I recently corresponded (not on my committee or at a school to which I have sent an application) tried to offer some emotional support. He suggested that the process is full of opaque things that are unobservable to me. He suggested that I should exercise to stay healthy and relieve my stress.

He meant well.

What would relieve my stress is being able to have a salary.

What would relieve my stress is being able to have affordable health insurance.

What would relieve my stress would be having research funding so I have a fighting chance of doing original work before some group of scholars who are better funded and better connected beat me to the punch again.

What would relieve my stress is being able to save for my retirement.

What would relieve my stress is not worrying about having to move my fiance all over the country
when she has her own career to develop.

What would relieve my stress is having a professional identity so I can stop changing the topic when people ask me what I do for a living.

.... which are all things that senior people in academia and other lines of work often take for granted every single day.

Sigh. But I guess, maybe the stress is my fault and if I were to start a regular program of exercise, I would be in a much better state of mind. Maybe like this guy.

This week I'll weigh in on a few ballot measures and some other health care issues. Sometime soon I hope to have a broader post up about the state of play in Texas politics for 2014.

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