#Dispatches: COVID Career Impacts, 2 – Immediate Impacts and Planning for the Future

In our Dispatches series, we crowdsource responses to questions we see about the academic job market and career.

Last week we posted the question: How has COVID19 impacted your career planning? We got 70+ responses in the first 24 hours! In total we now have 90+ responses, far exceeding any previous questions.

We will devote 3-4 weeks of #Dispatches to this question. I have grouped responses according to loose thematics and will combine these as best I can. The thematics are:

  • Leaving the Academy
  • Job Security and Planning
  • Emotional Impacts
  • Finances and Funding
  • Networking and Relationship Building
  • Good News
  • Questions For TPII

These are of course loose categories with LOTS of overlap.

You can keep contributing responses. See the link below. And, for now, I’m retaining the Questions that individuals contributed after their substantive responses, so you can also see the linkage between them.

And one explanatory note: We ask respondents to provide any personal identifying information in their own words that THEY consider pertinent to contextualize their responses. Some of them go to …. interesting places. We only lightly edit them, and I think it’s worth contemplating what people feel is important to share about their identities.


Last week’s theme was “Leaving the Academy. This week I share the theme, “Job Security and Planning” There are so many responses that I am not going to try and weave them into a narrative with my own comments, as has been my practice. Just sharing.

Need Help Envisioning Your Post-ac Future? Read More Here and Drop Us a Line at Postaccareers@gmail.com


It has halted everything. I feel like I need to stay put in my current position because it’s the safest thing I can do right now. I was searching for another job when the virus hit. Now, I am having a heavy load of additional job duties added in my current job because of the hiring freeze. I will do what I have to do. [Administrator, Social Sciences]

I am due to start a tenure-track position in STEM at an R1 late summer this year. I’m deeply grateful that my job still appears to exist and be on track to start, but a number of things are unclear. Will I be able to get a visa in time to start the job? Will I have any graduate students in the first year? Will the lab be open in time? Am I going to be teaching my first classes remotely? All that I have worked for now seems so uncertain, and my thoughts are with those who have had offers rescinded or who planned to go onto the market this Fall. [Post Doc, STEM, 29 year-old bi white woman, international, married]

I’m in my 5th year of my PhD now, and planned to originally go on the market the first time the beginning of my 7th (fall 2021) knowing I would likely – unless I got my dream job/postdoc – go on it again my 8th year. Pretty standard for my department. I am due to start dissertation data collection next month, and my dissertation had an ethnographic component that I have set aside for now and have increased the number of interviews I’m doing. After consulting with my co-chairs, who were frank about the job market prospects, this is still my plan. I’ve done a lot of service and teaching, and lots of publications in the pipeline, so I’m working on a timeline to get several more pieces under review before fall 2021 in addition to what I’m currently working on. Plan B is a higher emphasis on post-docs and/or staying at my university in the 9th year as we have received an additional year to normative time. [Grad Student, Social Sciences, 27 yo white pansexual married ciswoman]

Great question! [Grad Student, STEM, International (Indian) student. Lost Internship opportunities. I had been looking for internships since October and landed one in March. However, it stands to cancel due to COVID-19. Unsure of future as of now]

I am feeling a lot of uncertainty and despair about career prospects after this. I don’t have to go on the job market this year but will next year and the situation doesn’t look good. Luckily I can do research from home so I am able to be productive during the time but now feel even more pressure to get as much research as possible done because it seems like there will be even fewer jobs after this. I have not made any decisions regarding my career yet though. [Post Doc, STEM, 30, white, woman, heterosexual, married no kids, husband non-academic]

I have been trying to get back into academia; however, the halt on hiring has hurt my prospects. Even working in the industry has come to a basic standstill. [Non-ac, Hospitality and Tourism, 48 yo, gay white male. Single]

Response: In Canada, adjuncting is a reasonable career (because unionized): courses pay 8-12k plus benefits. But I would have had to travel to multiple campuses by bus/train to make it work. Not going to happen now. And there hasn’t been a single TT job to apply for in my field, within a five-hour ride from my house and family, in the two years since I’ve been on the market. So I’m out. Looking for post-ac work to do from home, permanently. [Post Doc, Humanities, 49M, in the same relationship for 30 years, straight, first-gen university graduate, grew up poor, walks with a white cane at night. This was going to be my third career]

Need Help Envisioning Your Post-ac Future? Read More Here and Drop Us a Line at Postaccareers@gmail.com

I was thinking to apply for the Lectureship jobs, which are now not being advertised. I don’t have alternative plans yet but I’m preparing myself for unemployment. [Post doc, Social Sciences, 32-year-old woman, white, working in the UK on a temporary migrant visa, Living with my partner]

No advice, but the impacts on my 5-year career planning are:

*Academic Career Planning: I have teaching experience, but suddenly virtual/remote teaching experience is really important, so I am participating in staff training on virtual teaching and am actively thinking of ways to build that experience. *Post-Academic Career Planning:

Before everything, I was already thinking about non-profit organizations with whom I might volunteer my skills a few hours a week starting in this summer. I think this is now even more important both in terms of building experience for a possible post-ac career and also helping people. [Post Doc, Social Sciences, white, woman, 30s, no children/caring responsibilities at this time]

I’ve been really career-oriented from the beginning of my program (thinking about my CV critically, engaging in as much professional development as I can) but I have been very zeroed-in on the TT job market, intimidating and inhospitable as it is. The COVID 19 pandemic has forced me to more seriously plan for marketability in publishing and education administration jobs. I’ve started reaching out and networking with folks in academic presses. I’ve even begun considering adding a certificate in school administration to my degree plan. Those plans look now, rather than like backups or failure to get the TT job, strong options.

The biggest shift in my thinking is that I don’t want to wait to make other life decisions (home purchase, kids) until I “get the job.” I’m plenty confident in my qualifications for the TT job – and I’ll keep pushing hard for it. But the job just might never be there, so I’m making plans that look at all the different ways I can be happy in my career and personal life, forgoing the necessity of centering the TT job in that plan. It’s an option, like my many other options. That’s how my thinking and planning as shifted. [Grad Student, Humanities, 26, married, white, cis woman. PhD candidate, ABD in rhetoric and composition.]

Thankfully, COVID has not affected my recent admission into a PhD program so I will go ahead and begin in the Fall. While my idea is to catch the TT unicorn one day, I have always been aware that I need to have multiple alternatives on the table. My original plan was to build alt-ac skills and experience in the PhD but it was not my #1 priority. With the current crisis, I have come to terms with the fact that I need to prepare for alt-ac much more than I had planned. This, for me, changes the entire trajectory of my 5-year plan. In times of crisis, I tend to shift into problem-solving and planning mode (unfortunately this is likely a product of an intimate familiarity with trauma). Archaeological digs, extra language acquisition, and more conference presenting have been put on a back burner and I have tried to think creatively about experiences that may make it easier for me to find a career I love outside of academia.

More immediately, as with most everyone, I’m not sure where I will live in the fall. My spouse and I are both in graduate school and were going to start a commuter marriage once I began my PhD in the Fall. If my classes go online, I have the benefit of being able to stay in our current apartment and only pay one rent and avoid monthly traveling costs. However, I am not sure how my graduate housing will deal with this situation–whether they will make me pay the housing fee to hold a room for me to live in in the Spring and if so if I should just move to my new campus dorm since I’ll be paying for it anyway. I’m at a point of major transition and I’m not sure what would be best–to delay the transition into a new season of life or to start the process even though I’ll be holed up in a dorm all alone. But that is all getting ahead of myself because I have yet to hear anything about my University’s plans for the fall and what implications that will have on my housing, stipend, healthcare, etc.

Question: Since I am just now entering the PhD and am reevaluating how to best prepare for life after the PhD, how should I plan my next 5 + years? How should I balance the work of my PhD and the need to develop an experience that will not leave me struggling to survive for adjunct work? Since I am in a position to hit the ground planning for the absolute worse, what does that look like? How do I prepare for alt-ac without forfeiting opportunities to engage what I love now, while someone is still paying me (albeit not much)? [Grad Student, Humanities, I am 26-year-old white female and a first-generation grad student from a low-income household. I am married, cisgender, and straight]

Probably will not apply for jobs in the next few years, thus having no leverage to get a partner a position at the same university. Cancelled all travel for conferences, fieldwork, lab analyses. Unsure if my position will still exist in 6 mos or a year….. [Assistant Professor, Social Sciences, White, Female, CIS gender, Married to academic]

It made me decide to apply for tenure now, hopefully hedging my bets that I’m ready. Our university’s collective bargaining agreement states that untenured faculty with less than five years of service will be the first cohort furloughed in extreme circumstances. I’m in year four, so my tenure year will be year five. I’ve also looked at jobs outside of academia and know where at least where to look in case the hammer comes down and I lose my position. [Assistant Professor, Social Sciences, 38yo gay white cis-gendered man. Single, no kids]

Short-term: all my summer research plans are on hold. I will attempt to complete an article without archival research that would make for a stronger essay. I will hold off on polishing article until as late as possible in the hopes that archives open by July.

long-term: I fear for my job security because of the financial fall-out of the pandemic. Therefore I am living in a paradoxical state where I cannot conduct more research but feel like I need to have a stronger research agenda in case I need to find another job. Will there even be jobs available? I am also concerned about the evaluations for this term (the transition was very difficult) and my progress toward tenure. [Assistant Professor, Humanities, 36/white/Latinx/female/heterosexual/single]

Need Help Envisioning Your Post-ac Future? Read More Here and Drop Us a Line at Postaccareers@gmail.com

For the time being my position is secure. However, before the pandemic, I felt confident not only that I would be granted tenure in 2 years, but that my college would be around for at least another decade or so (after that, it really would depend on the fate of Midwestern SLACs). Now, I’m not sure that my college will be open in 2 years. Consequently, I am using professional development funds to enroll in a discipline-specific, intensive summer course to learn to teach online. If my college closes down, or they lay me off, I might be in a better place to make some kind of living by teaching online. I’m still working on a book, and excelling in teaching, etc, but the likelihood that I would get another TT job seems slim. At this point, I’m just trying to make sure I have some type of Plan B. [Assistant Professor, Humanities, I am 33 years old. I am racially-mixed, ethnically Hispanic/Latinx, immigrant, dual citizen (of a South American country and the US), straight, cis, female, in a domestic partnership. I work at a rural, Midwestern SLAC]

Short-term planning: I am supposed to go up for tenure in one year. Tenure clock has been delayed by a year by my university (thankful for this), but I am unsure of whether that year will make a difference. Much of my research is funded by foundations, and most foundations have already said that they will not be funding new grants over the next year (possibly longer); grant funding is the #1 priority for my university. Also, several of my ongoing studies have stopped data collection due to COVID. Thus, still deciding when to submit tenure dossier. Although it may seem unrelated to your question, I also have put on hold plans/hopes to have another baby. (One thing I have learned: the biggest influence on my career plans and productivity is my kids!). Long term planning: I have more seriously considered “plan b” if I don’t get tenure, including thinking about my general skills and professional networks. Thanks for compiling this. [Assistant Professor, STEM, 39 y.o. female, married, two children (ages 3 & 5)]

It has halted my faculty search. Our lab has been repurposed to launch a national COVID project so all other work has halted. There is no time to catch up on writing or analyze new data. It’s scary because my publication hx was mediocre before this and now I’m worried that this time working on COVID will end up appearing as an “unproductive” due to lack of publications during this time. I will continue to apply for jobs but I am not optimistic about the job market in the next two or so years. [Post Doc, STEM, 30-White-unmarried-straight-male]

I thought my brand new Assistant Professor position was safe, but with a lot of hushed conversations behind closed doors I’m now worried they won’t renew my contract for next year while I’m still “untenured,” i.e. expendable. I’m keeping my CV up-to-date and reestablishing connections in my network just in case. If this falls through, I’m probably going to move to the private sector. I’m not sure I could find another AP spot in my field. [Assistant Professor, Social Sciences, 28, White, Female, Pansexual, Domestic Partnership]

I find myself utterly torn. On the one hand, this crisis has made it clear that I can’t continue to live in GA while my spouse is in IL, and it makes me want to quit my tenured position and just do something else (?!?) so that we can finally be together after 10 years apart. Also, I’m terrified of being stuck in GA alone in an apartment talking to kids on a Zoom screen day in day out in the midst of a Covid outbreak (hypothetically, next year). Right now I’m in IL with my husband bc I’m teaching online anyway. Earlier this week I was thinking about quitting and having a little identity crisis. This morning I realized: it would be crazy to give up my job, which is still secure, when there is so much uncertainty and when the likelihood of finding another ac job in the next few years is NIL. I thought: what if I can get them to give me what I want? What if I can live in IL with my spouse, where I enjoy living, and teach for my GA job 100% online? Two months ago, that would have sounded insane to me. But now that I’ve Been forced to cross the bridge into online teaching land, it doesn’t seem so crazy, esp. as now I’m guessing a lot more will be online from here on out. So, I’m going to ask my chair if we can make a deal before I give it all up. I know that I am very lucky to feel that I can even ask for this, but that’s where my career planning is at right now. [Tenured Professor, Humanities, 39-year-old female English professor at a regional state college, with a husband who lives and works halfway across the country]

Immediate: summer plans (already had 1 conference canceled, with another most likely will be), summer money (univ hasn’t said we’re not getting it, but no official word yet), working from home with 3 dogs trying to understand the word ‘work’. Future: tenure (some journals not turning papers around as normal; univ has said we can opt-in for an extra year on our clock), family plans (we want kids), home-buying plans. [Assistant Professor, Business, 33, female, heterosexual, Caucasian/Hispanic, married, no kids]

I am unable to plan my research program and lab setup, teaching will be done online (and this is the first time I am teaching the class ever), and I am uncertain whether a spousal hite for my partner is still going to happen. [Assistant Professor, Social Sciences, Childless female with a partner. Starting tenure track this fall]

Will likely delay archival research and therefore delay completion of book necessary for promotion to full. It is difficult to know when travel will be safe. I have sabbatical next year but if there are disruptions in in-person schooling for my child, I am concerned that I will not be able to make good use of it. I will have to consider whether to cancel sabbatical and reapply for the following year. Currently, we are not allowed to defer sabbatical from one year to the next. [Tenure Professor, Humanities, 50-year-old, white cis-hetero married woman with elementary-age child]

I’ve always known I’m living on borrowed time in academia and that’s, even more, the case now. So I’m pushing projects I had hoped would be bigger, more sustained analyses into shorter articles and book chapters. I know even that is a luxury, but it’s still a gut punch. The reality of earning enough for a living is a place I expected to compromise my values; my research objectives? Nope. It’s weird to know you’re writing the epitaphs of your academic vita. [NTT, Humanities, White, cishet married man in a field dominated by the same]

Finally paid off my student loans so the plan has been to embrace my independent scholar status since I’ve been unable to secure a full-time university position. Now I’m just more anxious about it. [Non-ac PhD, Humanities, 45, female, straight, partnered, from lower middle class socio-economic and immigrant background]

In the short term I’m terrified I will not have my yearly contract renewed at the end of June. Our president said the college will be able to make payroll for the next 8 weeks but doesn’t know after that. I want to plan for next year, but I feel like I’m stuck in limbo. [NTT, Social Sciences, White, 47-year-old cisgender hetero woman, in a long term partnered relationship, primary caregiver to two children (10&12). I am ABD, teaching anthropology in a liberal arts department at a midwestern art private college. I am a lecturer, NTT on s renewable year-long contract]

My renewable position is safe for now, but I will have to watch for my class enrollment so that it will be renewed when the contract is up next.

Question: Is it a good time to look for a position in a more financially stable institution? How do we know? [NTT, Humanities, Female in 40s]

I am the first choice candidate for a dream postdoc research position but am in limbo waiting for a hiring freeze to unfreeze so I have not received any official paperwork yet. [Grad Student, Humanities, I am a 6th year PhD student on a visiting instructor position at my PhD institution. I was planning for a spring defense before COVID happened but now I probably still have a month of writing left and hoping for a summer defense. White, female, 31, cis married to another PhD student]

Not much honestly. I’m best at teaching and I worry I won’t be able to get in front of a class any time soon. [Tenured Professor, Social Sciences, 52 straight married white male]

I’m currently finishing up my master’s degree and am about to start my PhD, which should take about four years. I don’t currently intend to alter my plans. I have health insurance and a stable salary, but more importantly, I see my field of study (quantitative methodology and it’s applications in social science) as valuable whether the academic job market exists in 4-7 years or not. My plan is to pay attention, to be nimble, and to place an emphasis on learning and showing mastery of skills that will serve me in either academia or industry. Maybe it’s also worth noting that I have a history of trauma, and for me, the current situation is requiring me to make use of skills I’ve had for a long time. In a strange way, this feels comfortable. [Grad Student, Social Sciences, 28-year-old white female, single and childless]

Have a resume (not a CV) ready to go!

Question: Are there courses to take related to online teaching that others would recommend? Apparently some of the funds for colleges/universities are going to go to training educators in online teaching techniques. Suggestions for where to spend that money would be valuable. [Assisant Professor, Social Sciences, Single in a rural area]

I am supposed to start my clinical internship this September, but COVID has created so much uncertainty. There are many students who have placements in schools and hospitals who do not know if they will be able to physically attend an internship and/or accumulate the required clinical contact hours. Even if we are able to complete these hours virtually, what will the quality of our clinical learning be? We are all trying to be hopeful but it is also a frustrating time to be in this position.

Question: If students are unable to attend clinical practicum internships in person how can they still acquire the same or close to the level of skill-building through virtual participation? [Grad Student, Social Sciences, 37 yo pan woman, married, 4 children, Filipina, Army veteran]

And one more Question:

Question: I am an early career NTT faculty on a work visa (H1B) in the United States. Prior to the pandemic, I was in conversation with the upper administration regarding transitioning to permanent residency. With the President’s latest executive order freezing immigration processes along with my department’s limited financial budgets for the upcoming year, my request seems to be misplaced. My visa is due for its last renewal soon, and I don’t know where to go from here (quite literally). If you have any advice on how to navigate the permanent residency conversation during this pandemic, I would love to hear. [NTT, Humanities, South Asian on a work visa]

Need Help Envisioning Your Post-ac Future? Read More Here and Drop Us a Line at Postaccareers@gmail.com

Thanks to all our respondents. Please keep addressing this question: How has COVID10 impacted your career planning? Find the form for responses here.

Read the third installment in the series on the emotional impacts here

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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