Getting slapped around by irony

Another academic jobs cycle has all but come to a close. After submitting to all available openings in his field, My Better Half scored exactly zero interviews – so far, anyway. We haven’t extinguished all hope just yet because some places are still reviewing applications, but let’s face it, chances are not good. So we were looking for silver linings yesterday while My Better Half was sorting through the mail. I said “At least we’re not going to be moving to North Dakota?” as he unfolded a newspaper clipping that his dad had sent in the mail.

This article, in fact:

newspaper-article-job-boom-north-dakota

Oh the irony!

PS – I don’t care, I’m *still* not moving to North Dakota. I’m sure it’s lovely and all, but it is not for me.

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

Oh.

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

Sonofab*tch.

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.

duct taping it all together

Here it is just after Labor Day and I have no idea where summer went. Oh, wait, I live in PHX so for all intents & purposes, it’s still here, sticking its ugly thumb in my eye until at least Halloween. But the “fall” semester descended upon us a couple of weeks ago, and it is the. last. fall. semester. ever.

Or it was supposed to be.

My Better Half™ was supposed to graduate in December. Now that’s up in the air. His committee needs time to read the thousand pages he’s written or some sh*t like that. Can’t they just nod and go to their happy place like I do and sign something that says “yeah, whatever, sounds good, nice work!”? The point is that the patience that I had allocated to get me through one last semester of nonstop thinking anxiety about what the job market will hold for him and him stressing 24/7 about final edits and graphics and keeping up with all the department and graduation paperwork, and Oh yeah that whole what the F*CK to do after graduation needs to be spread out even more. Our idea that we would be able to reclaim more work-life balance and spend more time together as a family doing fun stuff has been pushed out to an even more distant horizon.

I’ve been doing my best to deal with that. Deep down I’m pissed. But deep, DEEP down, I’m still pissed but also part of me is the tiniest bit relieved that he won’t graduate until May because 1) it will look less bad to not have a job a year from now when you’ve only been unemployed since May (on paper anyway) and 2) the job market BLOWS so who cares? What’s the rush? The past couple of years, the academic job market has been great solidly not sucky in his field. If you’re a bioarchaeologist. (He’s not). This year it seems to be decent marginally not sucky if you’re a cultural anthropologist. (He’s not). But it doesn’t stop my brain from leaping ahead and connecting the dots unnecessarily. When the job alerts that we’re subscribed to come in, I find myself going “would I even entertain living THERE? what about our house, what about our kids, what about my job?” before I even get to “Desired Qualifications: Active research agenda in race and ethnicity, sociolinguistics, and award winning publications in the economic exchange systems of Sons of Anarchy.” I mean, come ON! Now if it were just Game of Thrones Beheadings he’d stand a chance… But at least the piecing together consulting + adjuncting work here is the devil we know, the job market is a complete unknown.

What’s made all that harder even still to deal with has been just a lot of adjustments in my personal life. This time around, I’m really feeling the isolating effects of having a baby. Part of it is I have very little energy left over after a long workday & two kiddos 3 and under, so I can’t summon the energy to think about what there is to go do, nevermind go do it. I’m just tired. All. The. Time. Also, just the timing of where our kids are at socially. Baby is at the peak of separation anxiety and requires being held at all of the times. So it’s just not all that fun to go out with them – I have to hold him. And when we do go out, Dawdler Toddler Preschooler stands frozen in place, clinging to my legs because she’s around “strangers” (i.e., anyone she doesn’t live with), so I can maybe get in 90 seconds of adult conversation at a time. And we almost never, EVER get to go out without them – it’s just too much money for a sitter when you’re only one full-time income and have 2 kids in daycare and no family nearby to dump the kids off with. I think we’ve been out once without the kids since Baby was born. Which will be a year ago in 3 weeks. (Or should I also count the time we used a sitter for us to have a date night the night I was IN THE HOSPITAL GIVING BIRTH? So twice then?)

Part of it is just the rhythm of life with a baby (not just particular to our current financial & geographical circumstances). You find yourself housebound when the baby’s asleep. In other words during the very same block of time you could be getting something done, you’re stranded inside your home seeing as Child Protective Services doesn’t look too kindly on leaving the little ones at home alone while you run errands. Thank God for the interwebz…but there’s only so much shopping and reading and movie watching you can get done online. Amazon’s not all that convenient when it’s milk you need FOR YOUR COFFEE or library books to return. And when you can venture forth, you’re got a little person (or in my case, two) attached at the hip, so heading to that new movie you’re dying to see or out with friends for a beer is not in the cards. And even if you can get out every once in awhile, social things can just be such a pain in the ass when you have to lug around a diaper bag stuffed with diapers, changes of clothes, hats, sunscreen…I’m cranky just typing a list never mind hauling it all around. As a result, all my “free” time becomes the spare moments I have for errands + gym + fun. In other words: no time left for fun 99% of the time.

And do I even need to mention life in Arizona during the summer? It might be fall where you are, but here it’s still 109 out there. Or so I hear, since I am too scared to peek out through the blackout curtains. People hole up indoors and/or take a bunch of time off to get the hell away from the Death Star. It should go without saying that I’ve been avoiding Face-stagram all summer because I’m seething with jealousy at all my friends’ trips to California, Hawaii, the beach, hikes in Flagstaff, and everywhere else that isn’t 109. So between the isolation of being at home with Baby and being indoors while it seems like the ENTIRE rest of the world is out having a blast has taken its toll. I guess while much of the rest of you get seasonal affective disorder from gray wintry days, I get it here from all the sun. I like a nice sunny day here & there. But it’s hard to appreciate when you’re living on the surface of the sun. It is relentless – brandishing a hole in my retinas and a deep resentment in my skin expressed by eleventeen million new freckles every month. I need weather. I need seasons. I could more easily accommodate living here if I ever got to escape and experience weather that would make me more appreciative of what I’d be coming back to. But since we’re still living the grad school life, there are no funds to get us out of here from time to time. Since I’m long winded today, I’ll also save you the details of our car troubles, too. As in: much of the summer spent WITHOUT AIR CONDITIONING in our one and only functioning vehicle. Bottom line: it’s hard to get out of the house, which feels really isolating.

You know what else feels isolating? Not being in sync with your friends. Our closest friends have all moved in the last 2 years. Every. Last. One. And now I’m struggling with knowing where to find our kind of peeps. We find ourselves gravitating more and more towards hanging out with the parents of our Dawdler Toddler Preschooler’s friends because if nothing else, they get the whole kids thing. The whole there is a naptime and a bedtime, and it’s tough to get out during those times and no, we can’t wait til 11-ish on a Sunday at a hip restaurant for an hour to have breakfast because we’d all be dying from our kids’ whining us to death from low blood sugar. I’ve been trying to make new friends at work. And, uh. Yeah, see? That’s about the only place I go besides the gym. But, it’s slow and hard, and y’know, just takes time even when you do make a work friend. Which I haven’t really yet.

So I’ve been holding it all together. Trying to just make my way from work to the gym to daycare. Repeat. It’s been going o-kaaayyyyy, I guess, but not great. I think that all of these things will get better soon. But I just don’t know when “soon” is.

A Public Service Announcement

The following are incompatible:

  • Trying to catch up on sleep at any opportune moment while living in a household with
    • a Dawdler Toddler who invents every excuse under the sun to delay bedtime (because that’s what toddlers do)
    • a 7 month old who refuses to sleep through the night for no good reason whatsoever

– while also –

  • Trying to relieve My Better Half™ of many parenting duties so as to permit him blocks of uninterrupted time and focus to write a dissertation.

The following are also incompatible:

  • Trying to escape the soul-crushing pressure to finish a dissertation so that one can have free time again (aka, sleep, attend to the monstrously long honey-do chores list so our house does not fall down, and for the love of all that is holy, relax for the first time in months years)

– while also –

  • Knowing that ‘free time’ should really be defined as the pressure of “hurry up and get a job, goddamnit!”

And, finally, the following are also incompatible:

  •  Trying to predict whether one will be able to find childcare on such short notice should one accept an offer of seasonal archaeological fieldwork

 – or –

  • Deciding to turn down said job offer in order to avoid bringing in a chess master to calculate and predict the matrix of childcare solutions such a job would require, with the hopes of finding another part-time job that may never materialize

Those who attempt to reconcile these incompatible goals report side effects including sleeplessness, restlessness, frustration, stress, loss of patience, and an inability to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Baby on the Brain

I am now almost one month away from my due date – July 4! So apologies for a totally unoriginal post about how the waiting is killing me, but…the waiting is KILLING me.

I go to work but it’s just a matter of going through the motions to get through each day. My attention span is that of a gnat. Even if I could follow all the jargon and get up to speed on everything I need to know at my new job, I can’t. So I just try my best to pull a George Costanza and look busy. My boss has been taking me off projects that were assigned to me, and with good reason. Not only can I not concentrate but “you could be gone on maternity leave any minute now!” True. So I go to project meetings to follow along, but I don’t have anything to contribute because my mind is elsewhere. I make lists of what still needs to be done before Baby arrives (assemble crib, install car seat, wash onesies…) to look like I’m following along and taking notes. When I’m left to my own devices, I scurry back to my cube where I stare off into space as I note kick counts or read my weekly update from the pregnancy countdown websites. It’s hard to devote any attention to work when so much of my mind space is taken up with the much bigger matter of giving birth and taking care of a tiny little Baby soon.

I just can’t focus.

At all.

I knew starting a new job always entailed a learning curve, and that’s especially the case now that I’m starting a whole new industry and career trajectory, but I can’t even muster a single original thought about that at this moment. Trying to learn a whole new field while I’m pregnant…and this close to giving birth in particular…is just a whole different level of difficulty. It’s impossible it is to divide my focus between such a monumental life event and such huge changes to my work at the same time. I have had a TON of changes with work over the past 6 months – going from working full-time in my chosen profession to being laid off, unemployed, marginally employed in a low-skilled position, to working full-time in a totally new field – and I don’t think I’ve been given the chance to process that with everything happening so fast.

So I try to keep up and pick up what I can at my new job, but realistically, I’m going to have a secondary learning curve  – the real one – after my maternity leave because right now, I just can’t think about anything besides Baby. Everything that I learn seeps out of my brain simultaneously.

Unfiltered Thoughts: Advice for Working With a Pregnant Lady

I just started my new job a few days ago, and unlike at the interview, now I am obviously showing. I’ve made the switch to maternity clothes and I definitely look pregnant. My new coworkers seem to be really quiet and maybe even shy, so I’ve been keeping to myself, using my lunch hour for a walk since it seems like everyone here just kind of eats at their desks by themselves. Today, one of my coworkers approached me and said, “So….when are you….uh….” and then made a motion of ‘pregnant’ across her belly. And when I said “I’m due July 4” she said that she’d be winning the office pool, then. Because that doesn’t make the I-just-started-a-new-job-six-months-pregnant-lady feel awkward. At all.

So a bit of advice to those of you working with a pregnant lady, whether she’s a new coworker or not:

  1. Do not have a behind-her-back office pool about when she’s due (or if she’s even pregnant).
  2. Do not eat fish at your desk. Or cheeseburgers. Or anything with onions. In fact, stick to foods that produce no odor, or EAT IN THE KITCHEN or GO OUT TO EAT.
  3. Do not act jealous when your new coworker’s upcoming maternity leave is announced. That six weeks that sounds like “vaca” to you, moron? That’s for her to recover from squeezing a baby out her hoo-ha, and bonding with the little baby. And btw, she might feel bad that she’s not getting the 12 weeks that other new moms get at ‘real’ jobs under FMLA.
  4. Under no circumstances should you ask “Are you sure you’re not having twins hahaha?”

I’ll post more as they come up, but that’s a good starting point.

Welcome?

I started my new job today, 29 weeks pregnant. Last I saw them, I was not obviously pregnant. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but at the final interview, I was still fitting into my regular clothes without any problem. Now that I’m fully third-trimester, I’ve all of sudden had to replace my wardrobe overnight. I had to rush out over the weekend & get one workweek’s worth of maternity clothes – 2 dresses, 3 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, and one pair of jeans. There’s no doubt now that I’ve got a rather fashionable bump (thanks, Old Navy!).

Once again, I was nervous about the awkwardness of starting a new job while very pregnant, but two things were working in my favor: (1) I just started a (different) new job 2 weeks ago so that experience is still pretty fresh and (2) my new boss knows from the outset that I’m very, very pregnant (unlike my last job). As a result, I’m feeling quite warmly welcomed to my new job – they chose me even knowing that I will soon be gone for maternity leave –  and now that the awkwardness of getting through my second first day on the job in just two weeks is over with, I am relieved.

Until my new coworker approaches me and asks “so when are you, uh…” and then makes a motion of rubbing her own belly in lieu of finishing the question. I smile and say “July 4” she responds with an overly loud “I KNEW it! I told them you had to be about 30 weeks pregnant!”

Um, thank you, I guess, for your uncertainty about whether I’m just locally fat, but seriously? You guys couldn’t just, well, ask? Is there some sort of betting pool?! Scratch that welcome feeling. Now I just feel self-conscious as I waddle out to my car to go home.

When it Rains

Two weeks into my new job, I got offered another job. Note that I don’t say a better job, because I’m actually a little surprised to find that I really am enjoying what I’m doing now. But the new job is offering me way more money AND guaranteeing me at least 6 weeks of maternity leave. Unpaid, but that would be the case anywhere. And, with the unknown of my current job giving me “leave” having yet to be determined, a guaranteed maternity leave of any sort is a deal-maker.

So I start my new new job in 2 days!

An Embarrassment of Riches

Having just landed a new job, and having started it (and it’s actually a half-decent job at that), I just got offered another job. I won’t say that it’s better, except that it is. It pays way better, it’s closer to my house, it’s less structured, and I really like the people I’d be working for. So when I told them, I’m, uh, 6 months pregnant and will need some time off this summer, they were all, “ok, no problem. How much time will you need?”

So I guess I start a *new* new job in a week!

Just a Tiny Bit Awkward

Well, this is just a little bit awkward…

I started my new job on Monday, and, while I was really excited to start my new full-time job, I was also really nervous. Not only am I starting a whole new job, I’m starting a whole new job when I’m 6 months pregnant. I just didn’t know what I was going to say if (when?) people asked me about my, er, condition. I mean, I’m just meeting new coworkers, my new boss (who is a training manager, a temporary boss for the next 6 weeks until I get assigned a manager who will be my real boss once I finish training and start work), I’m a little out of practice when it comes to sitting in an office for 9 hours a day, and I’m not sure how I will get through that – sitting for hours on end hurts my back, I have to pee all the time, and I have to admit I’ve become quite accustomed to taking a nap to alleviate my constant companion, fatigue. OMG – how will I even get to my new job at 7:30 a.m. without caffeine?! Basically, I had a lot of unknowns to sort out heading in to this week, so I didn’t even have time to give thought to how I would answer any questions about the Baby on board.

Luckily for me so far the training has been very passive. All new employees in one big classroom watching presentations by various college administrators and department heads talking about things like the college’s long-term goals, which departments do what, and workplace policies. During breaks and lunches, people kind of scattered and did their own thing. We don’t even know who’s in what department, who we’ll be working with, and so while the cool kids some folks have kind of naturally ended up eating lunch together or heading outside for a smoke during breaks, the shy folks (including me) have kind of scattered and gone solo. I have to pee every 5 minutes anyway, but not wanting to call a ton of attention to myself, I’ve been trying to hold it rather than ducking in and out every half hour, so by the time a break comes, I’m taking 5 out of our 10 minutes just to pee. And by the time I get out of the bathroom, it’s totally weird to just elbow my way into a group to join in a chat. Besides, taking little walks around the hallways during the other 5 minutes helps relieve my backaches, anyway. At lunch I’ve been taking a walk outside lying down in my car hoping that will help both my extraordinary fatigue & back pain. I’ve been able to breathe a big sigh of relief that there hasn’t been any forced sharing of personal info.

That was the case until today, anyway.

Starting today (and for the remaining 5 ½ weeks of training), we broke into small groups based on our job titles, so that we get intensive training specific to our new roles. Instead of being in a room with, I dunno, 40 other folks, I’m now in a group of 10 academic advisors. And instead of an orientation led by dozens of different people, we now have one trainer who will lead us and serve as our boss until we start actual work. Rather than passively watching  presentations, we now have to pay close attention and participate. And we are doing lots of ‘get to know you’ activities designed to elicit personal information so we can bond as a team. Things like, “Spend the next 5 minutes chatting with your neighbor so you can introduce her/him to the group. You’ll want to share at least 3 things about them!” Obviously, I can come up with 3 things about me that don’t involve that I’m about to be a mom for the first time, but we’ve done about 5 of these types of games just today. I’m not all that interesting, people – I’m gonna run out of other fun facts about me really quick.

Look, I’m not ashamed AT ALL to be pregnant. And while there’s nothing to be ashamed about to be 6 months pregnant and starting a new job, it’s still just awkward. Hi, I’m Beth! I like reading and music and baking…and oh yeah, I’m about to be a new mom! Nice to meet you!! I can’t imagine something I’d love to discuss more with total strangers than how it is that I find myself 6 months pregnant AND starting a new job.  But another thing that gives me pause is that I don’t know how bonded I am going to be to these folks. As I mentioned before, this new job has a hitch. I have no clue whatsoever if I’m going to get a maternity leave until I meet my real supervisor…six weeks from now. From now until then, I report only to my trainer. We don’t know who our future supervisors will be…and we won’t know for six weeks. And with all the strict policies and lectures we got during the first 3 days of orientation about how critical it is to not miss any time during training, how we’ll be written up if we do miss any time…I have no reason to believe that this is anything other than: work until Baby decides it’s time to come and then I’m unemployed again.

So far I’m holding steady – nobody has asked me about my baby bump…and since these folks have never met me, and I’ve gained a lot of pregnancy weight, maybe they’re just erring on the side of caution. (After all, the worst sin is to ask a woman when she’s due when she’s, um, not.) But while you think I’d be using this time to figure out what I will say if when it comes up, I’ve been too busy with other things. Trying to stay awake in the absence of caffeine, trying in vain to ignore my back pain & sciatica without any Tylenol, heat pads, or yoga moves at my beck & call, and trying not to sweat through every single item of clothing I own.