Thursday, May 31, 2007

:: Market / Place ::

I was reading a blog post on Crooked Timber, written by scholar Michael Berube, about how his family (particularly his wife’s parents) just don’t “get” what he does. They don’t see sitting and reading for hours as work and thus feel completely justified in, say, interrupting him while he’s “working” at their house over Christmas or whatnot. And while he is completely understanding of their perspective, he’s still a bit frustrated.

Berube also notes that they never came to understand the academic job market, either. When he was looking for his first job back in the last 1980s, his mother-in-law told him to look for something in Western Massachusetts. He had to explain that he would be lucky to get anything, anywhere. If he wanted a job at the end of the Ph.D. tunnel, he’d have to take whatever he could get.

My family, extended, in-law, and otherwise, seems to “get” what I do a bit more than Berube’s does. They may not necessarily think that reading all day can be exhausting, or stressful, but they certainly seem to respect that what I do is a lot of work, and that it’s work not everyone would want to do. So I appreciate that.

But I’d say my family and friends definitely don’t get the job market. But then, I’m not entirely sure I fully “get” the academic job market. When I started all of this, I knew that the market was what they call “tight” but I didn’t know at all what that meant. I, like Berube’s family and my own, imagined that I would more or less get to choose: big school or small, near home or far away, New England or Midwest. Brian and I came to Ohio knowing that we wouldn’t necessarily get to stay right here and even knowing that we wouldn’t get to pick a specific school, but I did imagine that I’d have some kind of say in where we’d go.

Of course, I DO have a say. Let’s not pretend that I am automatically assigned a school someplace and that I have to go there unthinkingly. No. I have to apply, I have to interview, I have to be given an offer, and I have to accept that offer. At every step along the way, I am perfectly free to choose “Yes, I like this place” or “No, definitely not.”

But I may not end up with a job in the end. In fact, the pickier and choosier I am, the less and less likely I will be to come out of the whole process employed.

If we decide, for example, that we want to go back to New York – not Rochester, even, but just the state – my chances of getting a fulltime job will be drastically reduced. If we decide we want to stay right here in Columbus, the chances are reduced to practically nil. Sure, there are probably ten colleges and universities right here in Columbus, but there are so many other factors: are they hiring? are they hiring someone with my expertise? could I beat out the other two- to four-hundred applicants from around the country for this particular position? would they prefer to hire me as an adjunct professor, knowing that I am at their mercy because I want to stay in a particular city?

I’m thinking of this because here I am, this place person, right? I’m writing my dissertation about place, but I’m also the kind of person who cares where she is, what her surroundings are like, etc. Only half-consciously, I only considered beautiful colleges when I was applying to schools as a high school junior and senior. While my friends were all moving to New York City after college, I chose Boston because I like the vibe there, I wanted to be able to go hiking and snowshoeing, I liked the way the streets aren’t all lined up in perfect squares. When we came to Columbus, it wasn’t eight months before Brian and I chose a nice quiet area outside the city and bought a condo. We ride out bikes along country roads and take walks in our quiet neighborhood. And now, when I get frustrated with our place, it’s not the condo but the fact that I don’t have an ice cream place within seven miles or a public park I can walk to.

Will I possibly be able to just go wherever the job market takes me? Even if it’s a place I really don’t want to go? Even if the town is ugly? Or unfriendly? Or too hot or cold?