Terry Gitersos – Falling off the wagon: Terry Gitersos revisits academia

Guest blogger: Terry Gitersos

I had hoped that the first blog I wrote for HEQCO would serve as a public, irreversible break from academia.  I was of the mindset back then that my dream of finding an academic position was a virtual impossibility, and I resolved to pursue non-academic employment exclusively and with all my energy.  Well, after eight months or so of unemployment (mercifully, I’ve stopped keeping exact count) I have fallen off that wagon, and I spent a good chunk of my April and May frantically preparing a spate of academic job applications.

Obviously, I would never have contemplated returning to the ivory tower, tail between legs, if I had succeeded in my search for a non-academic job.  However, I should admit that reconnecting with some of my former professors and colleagues – colleagues who won the academic job lottery – imbued in me a renewed enthusiasm for academia, and a desire to give it one last shot.  I assume these sentiments are common for post-academics when they encounter the ghosts of their academic past: they engage you on a topic that you still love but never get to discuss anymore; they tell you how important and publishable your research is; they appeal to your vanity and intellectual competitiveness; they assure you that you would make a formidable professor; they encourage you to give it another go; and before you know it you’re scouring the internet for academic job postings.

A visit with one former colleague was particularly destabilizing.  This colleague and I started our PhDs at the same time, and defended our theses within two weeks of each other.  We also applied for almost exactly the same positions last year, including the tenure-track position at a satellite campus of a state university in the United States that he eventually accepted, so my visit was almost like a sneak peak at what could have been.  From what I saw, life, or at least professional life, is good for him; conversely, my professional life was pretty discouraging at that moment.  It was a simple but powerful juxtaposition, and it’s probably no coincidence that I began updating my CV the day after I returned from that trip.

I had forgotten just how time-consuming academic job applications can be.  In addition to the resumes and cover letters typically demanded in non-academic job advertisements, academic applications require teaching philosophies, research plans, writing samples, proposed course syllabi, “evidence of teaching effectiveness,” and other documents.  Ideally, an applicant alters these documents as required over time, but I hadn’t even looked at them for over a year.  My research plan and teaching philosophy were cringe-inducing – have I changed so much in a year that I can no longer recognize my own writing?   What I thought would be a pain-free two-day overhaul took me closer to two weeks, as I had to rethink and rewrite basically everything.  It goes without saying that my non-academic job search fell by the wayside during this time.

So where has all this work left me?  The job market in my field turned out to be as abysmal as I remembered, and in fact there were probably fewer positions for me to apply for than last year.  My chances of being selected or even interviewed for a tenure-track position are virtually nil, and I have already received notices of denial for sessional positions I applied for.  And do I really want a sessional position in the first place?  I am all too aware that sessional teaching is a lot of work for little pay and even less security and given how scarce tenure tracks jobs are, usually leads to nothing more than additional sessional gigs.  Sessional teaching is a hamster wheel that’s easy to get onto and, I imagine, very difficult to leap off of.

A grizzled career academic once told me at a conference that only the truly dedicated, truly deluded, or truly desperate become sessional instructors.  I am probably the latter at this point in my professional life.  While I adore teaching and would relish an opportunity to lead an undergraduate class and get paid for it (I already volunteer to teach a Canadian citizenship exam prep class and serve as an assistant for an ESL class) the most immediate reason I would knowingly jump into such a precarious existence is because things have gone so poorly for me away from campus.  So while I’d love to swear off academia for good – to proudly and defiantly state, like a post-academic in NYC, that I will never again apply for another academic job, I doubt I’ll feel comfortable doing so until I can find somebody willing to pay me to do something else.

Our opinion is that the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their opinion, and not necessarily those of HEQCO.

Now that you’ve been introduced to blogger Terry Gitersos, we invite you to stay tuned for his periodic HEQCO blogs, which will describe his efforts to crack the labour market. His blog will continue until he finds that post-doctoral job, or until he tires of writing about it… 

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