“You’re so Lucky…” and the Job Market – An Anonymous Guest Post

An anonymous guest post.  Read this in conjunction with the piece that just came out this week on Chronicle Vitae, “The ‘Joy’ of Pregnancy in Graduate School.”  I think it relates more broadly to the larger hostility to the idea of “wellness” also, as pointed out in the piece, “When Wellness Is a Dirty Word.”  Academia is a strange, strange world.

Last year I was on the academic job market. Being on the job market was just as terrifying as everyone made it out to be. As many warned (including The Professor is In), the combination of pure exhaustion from striving to complete my dissertation/PhD degree and the complete lack of control over my life, finances, and future geographical circumstances made for some disheartened, angry, and hopeless days.  However, there was one aspect of being on the job market which no one warned me about.

I am a young professional, I am not married, and I do not have children. When I was on the job market, I was shocked by the amount or people, from inside and outside academia, explaining to me how “lucky” I am to be single and childless. While I understand how inflexible and difficult both the job market and academia overall can be for men and women (but mostly women) with children, no one told me how skewed people’s expectations of me would be simply because I am not married and do not have children.

Here are 3 common phrases I encountered while on the job market:

“Well, you are sooo lucky you don’t have to worry about moving with a husband and children. Can you imagine that?!”

Correct, I did not have to navigate the circumstances of moving children and a partner into new a school/job, neighborhood, and city. I have imagined how difficult that would be. At the same time, I coordinated my move to an entirely new city where I knew no one and also found it difficult, emotionally draining, and daunting financially.

“At least you don’t also have to worry about your husband finding a job!”

Correct, while I was on the job market, I did not have to think about my partner moving to another city and looking for employment, which admittedly would be stressful. However, I also didn’t have the second income of a partner to depend on during in-between months or if the job market didn’t work out for me.

“It must be nice, you don’t have a family so you can go anywhere!”

While, I do not have children or a partner (yet) I do have a family and friends.

While I was on the job market, I have a mother who has battled breast cancer three times and a brother and sister-in-law who experienced multiple miscarriages. It was painful for me to move away from them despite knowing it was financially and professionally my only option.

At the end of the day, being on the academic job market is difficult for everyone.

My martial status does not make me lucky. My lack of children does not make me lucky.

I survived the job market because good friends and colleagues supported me. Being on the job market is terrifying for all. Please be respectful and supportive to all.

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“You’re so Lucky…” and the Job Market – An Anonymous Guest Post — 10 Comments

  1. Yes, exactly. Academics love to think that normal, basic things, such as being married or having children makes your life full of adversity. I am a cancer survivor and thus children might not be in the cards for me (unless I adopt, and having cancer history makes that difficult too). When I was on the job market, a female faculty member who was interviewing me told me that what I’ve done so far is great, but my first real challenge will be when I have a baby. I guess going through chemo and dying doesn’t count as a real challenge. Of course, I couldn’t tell her this out of fear of ableism. Somehow the feminists of academia don’t really think about those who suffer from health issues as being difficult.

  2. I’m a woman academic married to another academic, and I totally agree with the perspective in this piece. I have stopped thinking of the “two body problem” and think of it as the “two body solution.” I am glad to hear someone speaking about this in public. The job market is difficult, heart-wrenching even… but your job does not love you back even when you succeed. In a healthy relationship, your partner will, and that can get me through some very rough times, including bouts of impostor syndrome. I can’t possibly be SO useless if the person I think is the best in the world also thinks I am the best in the world.

    It is true that it is difficult to move from place to place, finding two jobs at every step. It’s difficult in a different way for my unmarried colleagues, who when they move often have to end serious long-term relationships that didn’t reach the point of being “serious enough” for their partner to relocate (often for another temporary position, which creates major problems for the partner’s career). When I catch up with grad school friends, those who are single report that they’ve left long-term relationships or ended them after attempting long-distance committed relationships when they’ve moved to small college towns, where it’s difficult for them to find people their age to date.

    Being part of an academic couple does mean you will likely need two or three TT job offers to finally both settle in one place, and that may be impossibly hard. But in the meantime, if you can financially weather it, it may mean that you can both keep your careers afloat when you’ve only got one job at a time — because the spouse/partner without a job offer can often gain an affiliation and can perhaps get a postdoctoral or teaching position in the meantime. These aren’t ideal solutions, but I’ve found that as part of an academic couple, I do have more choices than my friends who are single. People don’t talk about these advantages, and they should — if only to realize what the guest post above highlights: the job market is difficult for everyone, there is no “easy” option and everyone needs social support.

  3. So much this. And to the commenter on fb who thinks the author should realize that those comments come from envy, NO. Please don’t go down that rabbit-hole. You’re missing the entire point. Let me try to explain, again, since it appears hard for some to understand what the author was saying.

    Those who make these comments probably don’t intend them to be insensitive, but that does not make them not insensitive. The problem is that few people who have not been single throughout grad school/on the market/on the TT know what it’s like to be single in these times. Whatever their experience being single was, at whatever age and for whatever period of time, is not the same as the person to whom they’re making the comments. Being single at 22 is not the same as being single at 30. Being single for a couple months is not the same as being single for years. Don’t assume that just because you were single once, you know what it’s like. You probably don’t, unless you’ve really made an effort to know/empathize with your truly single friends, in which case you wouldn’t be telling them they’re lucky because you’d know that they don’t feel lucky to be single on the market.

    So to anyone who thinks they’re expressing envy when making comments like the ones described by the author toward those whose choices seem not to constrain them, let me explain. Single people frequently feel envious too — just toward finding a partner and, in some cases, having been able to have kids in prime childbearing years. Because that single person is very much expected to jump and take a job anywhere even if that location/that job, greatly reduces the prospect of finding a partner. And even fewer people recognize, as the author points out, that moving for that job often means leaving behind a support network without anyone to share the burden with — not only no one to help actually move, no one to relieve the angst of being alone in a new place, no one to explore with, no one to come home to and share your day, no one to help find the grocery store or hang curtains or build the IKEA dresser (if there’s an IKEA nearby), no one to make dinner during the frenzied first weeks of a new job in a new department in a new town, no one to spend Thanksgiving with when you’re 3000+ miles from home, know only a few people, and can’t afford a place ticket anywhere.

    The single person is also facing a curtailed set of choices that circumscribe the future; they just happen to be about one’s personal life (finding a partner, having kids, building a new community that will support a single person instead of marginalizing him or her (it happens)). And, frankly, in most cases, it all comes down to luck. So let’s not assume the job market is easier for any group of people. Let’s all acknowledge it’s hard for everyone and try to understand and mitigate the different ways it can be hard.

  4. I, too, am without children, engaged to be married, and on the job market. I’m currently an adjunct, and the full-time faculty at my institution (male and female) love to tell me things like “you think this is hard now… once you have kids, forget about it,” or even, “you’re lucky you aren’t doing this with kids in the picture.” All of these comments make me want to retort, “Well then, it sounds like you regret having your children,” or “Really? So you’re saying that your life would be much better if you had never had kids?” I know better than to ask this, but this is essentially what they are implying, even when I know they would never answer these questions in the affirmative. The biggest source of anxiety I feel from being on the job market at this stage in life is that it directly coincides with prime child-bearing years, and to me, the prospect of missing out on having kids because of chasing an almost impossible-to-achieve career is my biggest fear. The catch-22 is that wanting to secure a stable job before starting a family so that I can provide for my children is the very thing that is currently preventing me from having them in the first place.

  5. “I was shocked by the amount or people, from inside and outside academia, explaining to me how “lucky” I am to be single and childless.”

    Once you get a tenure-track job, your colleagues will soon start wondering *why* you are single and childless. You won’t be “lucky” anymore, you will be “bitter” (if you complain about sitting on more committees because you’re “available” – see, you don’t have a partner, so you have time), “too picky” (if you refuse to settle with someone from the surrounding community, where pickings are admittedly slim), “unlucky” (if you complain about being single), etc.

    I’m getting a bit tired about people saying single, childless women have it good: we’re on our own, FFS, and while some of us are perfectly content with that, others are not. Others would have liked to settle and have kids, but the market is so bad that sometimes it’s not possible. I moved six times in five years for work. Try getting in a relationship. Try having a kid. I would have liked to, that did not happen, and it was not my choice. And quite frankly, the shit piling on single women rubs me the wrong way.

  6. Thank you a million times for this post and for the insightful comments so far.

    As a now single child free 30-something year old female, I concur that the refrain of “you’re lucky” seems to be the default response to just about anything regarding my life or circumstances, no matter how i might feel about them. I moved from my home city for my current job; my long term relationship didn’t survive the relocation. My 40 year old partner decided he didn’t want to start over again building a career here and went back to his networks in our home city. I was told by a colleague that I was “lucky” to find out I had an ‘unsupportive’ partner before I wasted anymore time with him. Yes I definitely count myself lucky to find myself dumped and friendless in a big expensive city 100s of miles from my support networks.

    Consequently, I am the only unpartnered faculty member in my department. Apparently that makes me “lucky” because unlike everyone else I can (and should) supposedly move anywhere that will take me for a TT job, irrespective of whether I want to live there, work there, or leave where I am currently. I am frequently pushed to apply for jobs in undesirable locations. Meanwhile I am told that other colleagues who are married ‘can’t’ apply for those jobs because it’s not so ‘easy’ for them to move. I am concerned there is an implicit bias here that married colleagues have more ‘right’ than me to stay here and I’m somehow being greedy or unreasonable to not just apply for any and every TT opening in my field and accept whoever will take me. Which come to think of it, is not so unlike the pressure placed on unmarried single women my age to “settle” and take whoever will have you before your currency expires.

    For example – When a married female colleague was recently headhunted for a full Professorship in another state I asked why she did not accept it and she looked at me blankly and said “I like living here, I don’t want to move there”. I think anyone should be able to turn down any job for whatever reason without judgement. Yet if I turned down a job offer on the same grounds there would be muttering that I was being ‘silly’ or sabotaging my career.

  7. I think the OP misses the point entirely. They are lucky to be single on the job market because being single makes it easier to choose a job on the job market. This is not to say that being single makes the OP lucky in all connotations. To make an absurd analogy, lets say the OP was a tall person who I said was lucky to be tall while we were looking around for something on a high shelf… I don’t then mean to imply that they are also lucky while walking through an underground parking lot. It is an interview, so in this situation yes, they are lucky. In the balance, perhaps not. Depends on their inclination for partnership. I believe that the OP has interpreted a comment out of the context in which the comment was made, perhaps somehow intentionally. Does the OP then think that moving kids to a new city is somehow a complete joy while moving alone to a new city is insufferable? Lots of things are hard, we make choices, we get lucky or unlucky, and some people like to complain about it.

    • Nope, I think you’re missing the point entirely. There are different sets of challenges that come with moving as a single person, as a couple, as a parent. Some are easier logistically and financially and some are harder.

      Moving alone to a new city (or rural area) means not needing to worry about a aprtner adjusting or finding a job, but it also means having no support network and no supplemental salary of any sort.

      Moving without children means not needing to figure out where they’ll go to school or how they’ll adjust. But it also means no built-in avenues to meet people (daycare/school/kids sports/etc) and to build community.

      As you say, “lots of things are hard….we get lucky or unlucky.” The author’s point is that this is just as true for single people as it is for partnered people and parents, and it’s a real problem that many assume that it’s easier to move as a single person when it’s actually also hard, just hard in different ways. Not sure why this is so challenging to comprehend, however.

  8. Thank you for this post. I think it points to a more general phenomenon of academic “grass is greener” syndrome that comes from many people competing in a small job market. It is difficult to retain empathy when our colleagues are our competition. Junior academics tend to size each other up in terms of advantage and disadvantage, and feel inordinately envious at any perceived advantage while ignoring or dismissing disadvantages the other person struggle with in private.

    I am a youngish, married female academic. My husband relocated across the country with me for my site-specific dissertation field research. He found an excellent job in the new city and his career is taking off. It seemed cruel to force him to uproot again, which limited my job search to local institutions. I was okay with this. I would’ve struggled much more getting through grad school without his material, emotional, and financial support. Nobody has it that easy. Every choice in life is a trade-off, with its own hidden and unforeseen costs and benefits.

    And the assumptions around children are equally silly. I’ve been told by other academics how “lucky” I am that we “waited” to have children for the sake of my career. My husband and I desperately want children, but have been struggling with infertility for 6 years. Thank you for your rude assumptions around my painful personal circumstances during this light social chat, though! Now if you’ll excuse me, the hors d’oeuvres table is calling.

  9. Thank You so much for this! I just finished, and had no luck on the job market this past year… I’ve been dealing with condescension and paternal head-patting about my anxiety over next steps for the past four years. I came into my program at 34 (I am now 40). I left everyone I hold dear thousands of miles away, and haven’t even had a chance to find a real relationship because I’ve been trying to get this car on the road. When I have told my advisor and colleagues that I’m looking outside of academia they tell me I’m giving up too easily, and that it takes a few years. I don’t Have a few years – in fact, in a few months I won’t have a paycheck. This is not lucky, it is Extremely stressful. I have No backup, No safety net, No one to strategize with. The prospect of enduring this kind of trauma and uncertainty for the next x years is more than I am prepared to endure.

    Instead, I have made peace with that fact that I must do what’s right for me. When I begin to question this I remember one of my favorite Indigo Girls lines: “Mercy, what I won’t give to have the things that mean the most not to mean the things I miss.”

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