As all academics know, going on the job market can be a nightmare. Suddenly you, the hopeful candidate, the amazing scholar, are reduced to a quivering mass of fear and visions of receiving a PhD, then working as a Wal-Mart checker. Or a barista. Or on Wall Street. You know, whatever your less-than-ideal profession is. (And no offense to the wonderful people who *do* that work).
This gives my English brain a headache.
This fills me with joy!
As you read articles that offer despairing percentages and, in turn, dash all of your hopes of becoming a tenure track assistant professor, or landing that awesome postdoc, your (non-academic) family and friends pepper you with questions about what, exactly, you will be doing after spending 7+ years researching.
It can be a difficult conversation to have. You might respond with what sounds like gobbledegok to others:
“The market looks good this year–there are a lot of Anglophone jobs. But you know, Anglophone is really not Transnational, and I think most schools want Global Modernism, so…I don’t know what will happen.”
But your family and friends have no idea what that means.
They don’t necessarily understand what it’s like to feel like you are on top of your game, but also worry that you might KNOW NOTHING AT ALL. Or how you might feel when you sit at the computer and send millions of applications out into the world, knowing that your cover letter is fighting against others from candidates who are just as qualified as you are. Or better.
This post is for the people who have emotionally, financially, and/or spiritually supported you all the way through graduate school. They don’t know what the heck you’re talking about at family barbecues, or why you’re still poor after being so smart, but they listen anyway.
Loving a person on the job market requires a slightly different skill-set, however.
1. Listen to them.
Okay, you always listened to them rant about their research. But this is different. Do you see how nervous they are? How strained they seem? How they aren’t getting sleep? When they tell you that they are about to crack, really listen. This isn’t about their research anymore, and it’s not necessarily even about getting a job. It’s about dealing with their fear, and figuring out a way to build them up in a process that is designed to break them down.
2. Separate the truth from lies.
If your frantic loved one tells you “I won’t get a job and I will be poor and die alone and be the ultimate failure,” remind them that, first, they are brilliant. And secondly, they will get a job. They will not be poor, because they are resourceful human beings who will rally if they don’t get their dream job. Finally, they will not die alone because you and an entire community of people will be there for them, and one of them is sure to have a single cousin.
Or something like that.
3. Ramp up the support effort.
Pull out all the stops. If you know your loved one needs food, then make it, and send it over. Take them out for a meal, or a drink. Call, text, or email to let them know you are thinking about them or praying for them. For the ballers out there, pay for a cleaning service, or for them to have a massage. If they are fitness nuts, pay for them to have personal training session. If you’re not wealthy, then offer to walk with them somewhere. Occasionally drag them out of the house to do something fun (even if you know they will complain about their lives the entire time.)
Do whatever you have to do or can do to make their lives easier.
4. Don’t be offended if they drop off the face of the earth.
Even the most loving, kind, and attentive person can fall off when trying to balance writing a dissertation, dealing with job market deadlines, and (in some cases) teaching, going to conferences, and publishing. Your academic loves you. They really do. And they should call more often. But usually they’re just trying to put on clean clothes and eat something before they tackle a massive to do list.
5. Do not ask when they will graduate. Or when they will find a job.
Asking a person when they will graduate is almost like asking a single person when s/he will get married, or a couple when they will finally have kids. It can be offensive and off-putting, and it puts people on the defense by forcing them to describe their department’s intricate matriculation to graduation process. It reminds them of how long they’ve been in graduate school as well. They are hearing this:
Just know this: they want to be out of grad school badly. But their defense date is based on a number of factors: revision, getting the edits and paperwork in on time. They will let you know when they will graduate.
Job searching too, is not an easy process. When they do find a job, they will let you know. In fact, if you’re consistently supportive, they might just tell you everything. But don’t push for those details–it adds stress to people who are already almost at the breaking point.
6. If you don’t know how to support them, just ask.
Love an academic today! This will guarantee that, if nothing else, you will get a hearty thank you in the acknowledgments section of their first book.
One that you might not read or understand, but…it’s the thought that counts.