I’ll be over here, avoiding the interwebz

One article that’s been making the rounds this week – at least in my inbox and on my feed – is this one from Slate that attempts to demystify the academic job application process for non-academics. I had made myself a deal to stop reading anything about the job market. Because it’s all too familiar that the tenure-track job market is bleak at best. Or that winning a tenure-track job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And that even full-time non-tenure-track jobs are scarce as teaching gets farmed out to adjuncts. And that Ph.Ds continue to face the choice of either accepting the unsustainble pay and working conditions that come with being an adjuct or opting out of their academic field altogether. There may be 100 reasons to go online and find out why you should not go to grad school. But especially if you’re about to graduate with a Ph.D, you just might want to avoid the web altogether.

If you don’t, you’ll be faced with articles like that Slate one. But at least that one comes in handy for explaining to friends & family why this any time of year is a terrible time to ask an academic “So….how’s the job search going?” As you can guess, for some reason, I read it, hoping it would be…I don’t know, funny, maybe? That we could all chuckle at how ridiculously awful the prospects are and how tiny the chances of landing something. See? The potential for hilarity is oh Jesus they just used the phrase ‘existential death spiral.’ Closing that tab.

In my house, we’re already knee deep in hopelessness about this year’s market in My Better Half™’s field. So far there are seven – SEVEN! – jobs nationwide that he at least sort of qualifies for. As we read a result from the job alerts we subscribe to, we even hold out hope because we’ve seen several that open with “The ideal candidate will teach…” YES HE TEACHES ALL OF THOSE AND HAS GREAT TEACHING EVALUATIONS AND


That’s when we scroll down to the qualifications and realize the futility in applying. Sometimes it’s because every last minimum and desired qualification is aimed at demonstrating the candidate’s success at securing *research* dollars – nothing whatsoever about teaching experience and abilities. Sometimes it’s because the job specifies “Strong preference for research experience in the river beds of southeastern Ohio” or some sh*t like that. And sometimes – and I’m not even making this up – it’s because the job specifies that while you should have a Ph.D. in one field, you should also have Ph.D.-level research expertise in another entirely different field too. Sorry, we didn’t realize he should have been pursuing a dual Ph.D. in anthropology and pediatric dentistry at the same time. Sure, he’ll still apply because we know that nobody is ever a perfect match for any job in any field. But who knows? Maybe there is that one candidate out there who matches all those qualifications more closely. (There usually is when it comes to academics).

Luckily, My Better Half™ got real with himself two years ago as he began to track the academic jobs and determined that if teaching was his desired end game, he would pursue community college jobs, where work is all about teaching and not 100% research-focused. Wait. Where do community colleges list their jobs? Our job alerts at Chronicle of Higher Education and HigherEdJobs.com are surfacing only university – and the occasional yet even more highly coveted private liberal arts college – jobs. As time passed, we began to wonder about this more and more. After a year of receiving these job alerts, we had seen only one community college job. Perhaps they just don’t advertise nationally? We finally broke down and sheepishly emailed the advice columnist at the Chronicle of Higher Ed who covers the community college job market, and he responded that community college jobs are typically posted at HigherEdJobs.com. Oh, well, let me go in and alter our search alert so that


Our HigherEdJobs alert HAS been set to include community college jobs for the TWO YEARS we have had it set up. It’s just that there haven’t been any community college jobs for the alert to capture.

Some days it’s easier than others to say “F it. We’ll just take our own path and opt out of this academic job crisis nonsense and figure out plan B and life will be just fine.” Other days, it’s harder to see how to make our way out of path dependency. Especially when you open an article only to be faced with a nice summary of all the work required to apply, only to face such terrible odds.

Because Nothing Says “An Appropriate Vacation During Pregnancy” Like Vegas

With unemployment looming on the horizon, I could care less about taking time off from that unemployment placeholder that I call a “job” these days, and while I would like to save my vacation time so that I can get paid all those hours after my last day (thereby extending my income as long as possible), I also am completely out of give a sh*ts. And tired of concealing my nausea at work. So when My Better Half™ had a work trip in Las Vegas, I jumped at the chance to go along for the ride. (Not because I love Las Vegas. I actually hate it. But just getting out of town for a few days sounded like just the thing I needed).

Though I’m not part of the conference, I keep running into people I know who invariably ask “What’s new?” Well…a lot!. Let’s see: I’ve been laid off and haven’t found work yet so I’m unemployed in a matter of weeks, I’m giving up on museum work and don’t know WTF to do with my life, and, hmmm, what was that other thing? Oh, yeah, we’re having a baby!! Of course I can’t tell them any of that last part. It’s way too early. We haven’t even told our families. So I just make small talk with conference folks until I can make for the nearest exit at the first opportunity.

This line of questioning does make me think about how to break the news to friends. I guess ‘break the news’ doesn’t quite feel right. After all, this is something we’re very excited (and really a little nervous) about. But here’s the thing: I haven’t gone around broadcasting to our friends and family that we’ve not been trying not to get pregnant for quite awhile now. I’ll wait while you re-read that sentence. Ready? Ok. It’s been a private thing for us, and I figured we’d share any exciting news if/when we had the good fortune to get pregnant. It’s clear that most of our family & friends assume that the absence of a child in our house after 7 years of marriage means that we’ve elected not to have children, and I’m fine with them thinking whatever the hell they wanted to about that so I’ve done nothing to disavow them of that notion. We haven’t found the need to share that we wanted to wait to have kids (for a variety of reasons), and I guess I figured that if we did let anyone in on that reasoning, we’d constantly get a barrage of unsolicited advice and none-of-your-business questions.

An aside: One reason we waited was so we would have more income. In the 7 years we’ve been married, one or both of us has been in grad school at all times, earning very little, and there has been only two periods of time during which we had health insurance (nevermind any other benefits).  Little did we know that when we finally got to feeling more stable financially, it would take us a long time after that to get pregnant. So long, in fact, that we now find the whole stable bank account thing eroding out from under us. I want to slap whoever it was that said that irony is dead. (Update: if only we knew who the F that was.)

So now that we’re having a baby at long last, I’m at a loss about how to tell people, even though I’m certain they’ll all be just as thrilled as we are. That doesn’t make it any less clumsy to tell someone out of the blue, that hey, by the way…you know how we don’t have kids and you probably thought that was by design and how it would always be? That’s about to change!

Family & close friends aside, the whole transition to unemployment complicates things and makes such an announcement even more awkward. Hey, former coworkers? You know how you thought I was going to just be unemployed? Not so fast! I’m soon to be unemployed…while I’m expecting a baby! Hey, future employer? You know how you are weighing in your mind whether I will be the best fit for your organization? How about I throw in the mix that I’m not just someone coming from a different industry with lots of skills and work experience that’s difficult to translate directly to your industry…I’m also going to be a mom in about 6 months!

Just thinking about all that makes me feel that, for now, I’m okay with putting off figuring out how to tell people the news.  

Laid Off and Knocked Up

Note: Because I relocated my Laid Off & Knocked Up posts from another blog to my regular blog, I have deliberately assigned the wrong year for this entry – 2010. The events below actually took place November 7, 2011 but in order to keep all the blog posts in the correct order, I had to assign the wrong year to keep this entry first in the series. Okay? Cool. Read on:


Exactly one year ago today, we found out we were having a baby.

In one singular moment, you go from envisioning what it might be like to be a parent to having a ticking time bomb until you will become a parent. No matter how prepared you think you are for the moment when you find out you’ll be a parent, you just aren’t. Sure, logically, we’re no dummies. We could put two and two together – or, rather, one and one together to equal three. And sure, we sat around thinking, “it would be nice to have a baby someday,”  but, especially after years of living in that mindset, it’s still startling to discover that “someday” has just been recalibrated to mean “in less than 9 months.”

I had often found myself wondering in some daydreamy way, “I wonder what it would be like to have a baby.” But when that became “Uh, so I have exactly how long before there’s a BABY?!” I found myself living at the intersection of exhilaration and panic attack. Especially because I had only 10 workdays left before I was getting laid off.

Like the pregnancy, that wasn’t exactly unexpected either. My boss had already tipped me off back in August that I’d be losing my job at the end of my contract in November.  It was nice of him to give me some warning so I could have a jump start on looking for work, but my efforts to land a new job before my last day hadn’t panned out. I had spent the last 10 years trying to make it in the museum profession…and had largely failed. With this layoff I was determined to make a break from museum work and try something new, but I didn’t have a clue what I could or would want to do.

I was starting to panic. If there’s ever a time to stanch the flow of money out the door, it’s when there’s a new baby on its way. I needed a job, fast. So while I was beyond ecstatic about finally getting the chance to become a parent, that exhilaration was dampened by my nausea at being unemployed at one of the most critical times to have a steady income. Or was that just the morning sickness kicking in?