By Karen Cardozo
Most folks at the crossroads struggle to figure out how hard to push on the Alt/Post-Ac market. It depends on what the academic market does. It depends on how quickly your Alt/Post network and opportunities develop. If presented with a great job on the Alt/Post side first, you might forego the academic market and just leap. But if you had a close-but-no-cigar year on the academic market and a faculty career remains your first choice, it might be reasonable to make another foray and pull back on the Alt/Post front while doing so.
Here are some rules of thumb that might help you decide how to handle your one body problem:
1. Know your viability on the academic market as well as how your own personality type operates. If you’re just starting out in your academic career and have reason to be hopeful, it might be best to segment things and just focus on the demanding academic search first (not least if you still have a dissertation to finish, etc.). Especially if it’s your first time out, give the academic search your full effort and attention (in a competitive market, you may as well not attempt it if you’re going to be half-assed!).
But personality also plays a part here. People with a “one thing at a time” orientation will be driven insane from a back and forth, multi-pronged job search process. For such types, going all out in the academic search and THEN doing an equally committed Alt/Post-Ac search if the academic job does not materialize may be the best way to go. For others with a more flexible or spontaneous orientation, keeping multiple options open may help you cope with the academic search by reasserting a sense of agency and even fun as you discover what else is out there.
2. If you are ready to travel both paths simultaneously for a while, prioritize the academic search, keyed as it is to the academic year and particular interviewing seasons and venues by discipline. Develop a job search calendar and To-Do list that privileges your academic materials and application deadlines. However, knowing that the Fall will be driven by Ac deadlines, you might carve out some time over the summer to have a preliminary Alt/Post-Ac consult or do some initial thinking about where the other path might take you, should your year on the academic market not go well.
Once you are underway with the academic application cycle, you can turn as time allows to Alt/Post exploration. This could be as minimal as beginning to read alternative job listings to get a feel for what interests you and is a good fit. You might also consider networking with one new contact per month as well as taking on an Alt/Post -Ac internship or job (especially if you have already done sufficient teaching, gaining nonacademic work experience will be a real asset). Come Spring or summer, if you’ve gotten no strong nibbles on the Ac market, you might start getting your Alt/Post-Ac materials together and maybe even apply to some positions to test those waters. With an established sense of how to apply for academic jobs, you might decide go out again another year, but now you’re also ready to pursue alternative careers assertively.
3. If you’re an adjunct feeling locked into dead-end positions, or if you’ve been on the academic market long enough to doubt your future viability, or if you know there is something else you’d much rather do, a more aggressive Alt/Post-Ac search is in order. For some (if your exit hasn’t already been imposed upon you), the best way to make this happen is through an affirmative decision to end your academic affiliation – don’t renew the contract, don’t apply for other academic jobs. Knowing there is no institutional safety net and that you HAVE to move on is what pushes some folks to fully take the Alt/Post-Ac plunge.
Another option is the half-way house. If you’re already adjuncting part-time (or if you can reduce your load accordingly), step up your efforts to find supplementary Alt/Post-Ac work that could be the way in to a more viable fulltime job or career. Either the opportunity will arise to go fulltime within your other organization or you can use that part-time Alt/Post-Ac role as the launching pad for other applications.
Some find it necessary to continue in academe fulltime while exploring Alt/Post-Ac options: as long as your search efforts are vigorous and you keep envisioning yourself elsewhere, the risk of inertia will be offset by the positive anticipation of a change ahead. Again, networking often provides both the information and support you’ll need to make a transition. Don’t go it alone.
Wherever you stand in relation to these diverging paths, and whatever your theological outlook, you will probably benefit from the AA prayer:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Cliché, yes. But clichés survive for a reason. Learning to tell the difference between the things you can’t control and the things over which you have real agency is the key to negotiating your one body problem. It’s what turns the problem into possibility and eventually probability of success and contentment.
You can’t control the number of positions available in your academic field in a given year, nor the idiosyncratic behavior of search committees (which is why you shouldn’t rule yourself out prematurely: as Dr. Karen says, “anything can happen in a search”). You CAN make sure you apply to an appropriate number and range of jobs. You CAN make sure your academic application is in the best possible shape (remember: The Professor IS In!).
You can’t control whether you get job offers. But you CAN decide what happens next (accept or turn down a particular job if offered, foray the market again, or go all out in the Alt/Post-Ac vein). Becoming an agent in your own right is the surest way to resist the learned helplessness of the academic job market and indeed, academic culture in general.
You can’t control the number or timing of Alt/Post-Ac openings (which unlike the academic job cycle appear randomly year-round). But through dedicated networking you CAN exponentially increase your chances of being considered or informed when those jobs become available. At its best, the networking process can even lead to job creation, when others realize you have a unique skill set, or you join forces with those who inspire your own entrepreneurial energies.
Which brings us back to serenity and courage – accepting what you can’t change and being brave enough to take the steps towards the changes that you CAN make. The speaker in Frost’s “Road Not Taken” reflects that “way leads on to way” and thus we must be prepared to live with our choices. He looks back upon his two roads with a sigh, remembering that he “took the one less traveled by.”
I don’t know what was lost to the road not taken. But I do know this: many academics who have found alternative work (including Dr. Karen and my fellow Alt/Post-Ac bloggers at TPII) are breathing sighs of relief, secure in the knowledge that their decision to quit the faculty track “has made all the difference.”