At what point should you decide that your chosen career isn’t going to work out, and you need to figure out something else? I just got my PhD and didn’t get a job, and I’m in a field where roughly only 16% of candidates actually land tenure-track jobs each year, so even if you’re really spectacular it’s like you may never get a job. Everyone says to give it 3 years (of being on the market), and so I’ve just finished my first year. Being a professor is all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. I’m almost 35 years old. At what point do I sit down and really pray on the fact that I need to drastically reorient myself in terms of what I do for a living? How many years do I spend on the academic job market? On a related note, what if I do get a good job, but years later it turns out it was a mistake to move away from Portland, the city I love most in all the world? How do you reconcile all the competing things that go into a modern life?
You’re asking some great questions, so I’ll ask a few in return.
Is being a professor still all you want to do? If not, start praying on a new career path now.
But if it’s still your life calling, don’t let statistics and one year of searching sway you. Stay on the market until you get a tenure track job. Hopefully that takes less than 3 years, but you’re still young and tenure lasts a long time. Don’t give up. If it takes 10 years, so be it. It’s not like your dream is to host the Today show. Yours is attainable.
In the meantime, what is it about being a professor that you love, teaching or the research and publishing?
If it’s teaching, start teaching. Teach a few adjunct classes in Portland. Or create an experimental course or mini-school at a place like YU or at a facility appropriate to your field. Perhaps you could offer to teach a once a week class to a charter high school. Or see if that guy who quit Stanford to start an online university needs a course in your field. Or try something similar. These things won’t hurt your search. They might even make you more attractive. And you can still work paying job on the side if you need to. Especially since you might need to offer to teach for cheap or free to get started.
If research and publishing are where your passion lies, start writing articles and submitting them to journals. Or better yet try and sell a book to an academic press. Or go in the other direction and publish an academic Zine or start an online journal. If money is an issue, perhaps the first step is blanketing fellowship and grant applications far and wide. Point is a new piece in a journal, or even the news that you’re piece is being considered lets next year’s potential employers know the train has left the station, it’s just a matter of if they want it to stop at their town.
Ultimately, being a professor is about sharing wisdom. While the security of a tenure track job maximizes your ability to do so, it’s far from the only way to do what fulfills you. So don’t wait, start sharing.
As far as the eventuality that you get a job outside of Portland, most professors get the summer off. Which, it so happens, is the nicest time of year to spend a few months here in Oregon.