I was asked yesterday, via Facebook message, if I had set up any job interviews during the upcoming AWP conference in Chicago. I wrote back, “No, I mean I’m only just at the very beginning of the PhD program at OU. Isn’t it a little early for job interviews?” No, said the reply, and referenced this article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education.
I’m more than a little daunted by the idea that I should already be looking for a job when I’ve only just started the four to five year journey toward earning my degree. (And I don’t actually think the article is suggesting that I should be interviewing for one yet, only that I should be “networking”–an ambiguous phrase that smacks of falsity and opportunism–and taking care to tend my future desirability as a tenure track faculty member.) Here is a scary number from the article: only four tenure track positions in creative writing were added to MLA’s job list last year. And here is another scary number: only twenty new positions were added to that list last year. But maybe the scariest number of all? I will be fifty when I complete the program. Fifty. Is it even possible to compete for tenure track jobs at that age? I don’t know. But I do know that means I don’t have the time to, as one person in the article did, wait twelve years for the right job to come along.
So, really, this blog post is an open question: How should I be using my time at AWP to limit the risk that I’ll be stuck permanently adjuncting? What should I be certain that I don’t do? (Besides the obvious. I have a friend–in a different field–who killed off several promising job leads by getting really drunk and expounding loudly on his theory that the hard work was behind him because tenure track faculty get published by listing themselves as first author on work that’s really all been done by their graduate assistants. One of the good things about being old is that I’ve already learned certain lessons. Too often, the hard way.) For those of you who have already successfully found tenure track positions, what if any place did these conferences have in your landing such a job? For those of you who, like me, aren’t yet looking, what are your strategies? (Even the word “strategy” here seems a little icky to me… a little lawyer-hanging-out-at-an-accident-scene-looking-to-hand-out-my-card… but I understand that is a squeamishness I probably need to overcome.)
Last year, I treated AWP primarily as an opportunity to meet editors I’d known only by email and other writers whose work I admired, and was much more focused on the writing community than on the academic community. But this year, when some of the doom and gloom about the academic employment landscape has finally made an impression on me, I’m wondering if that should change?
Your thoughts, friends and colleagues, would be gratefully appreciated.