For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, this post is very different than what you are accustomed to seeing here. While I usually keep my posts professional (I’ve often joked that writing for my blog is like writing mini journal articles), this post is incredibly personal. I’ve been thinking about writing it for some time, but quite frankly, haven’t had the guts to do it because it’s “not the way we do things” in academia. Interestingly enough, I tend to rail against the notion of doing things in certain ways just because that’s “how we’ve always done it.”
Last week, I was having a conversation with a close friend about my job search and she astutely noted that while I’m quite transparent online when it comes to many other areas of my career, I’ve kept my job search a secret. While her statement wasn’t the impetus for this post, it was certainly the reason I decided to write it sooner rather than later.
You see, I’ve been on the job market for a few years now. This is no surprise to the people who are close to me (as well as my department chairs). I am grateful for the support my institution has granted me over the years, but as I continue to specialize in my field, I am finding that my current position is no longer the right fit. While I’m considered faculty, 75% of my time is allocated to being a student affairs administrator at a non-research focused university. Although that’s been rewarding, as my career has evolved I have focused more on my research and with that has been a related desire to teach more and to mentor graduate students. Even though my research and writing time is limited by my administrative duties, I’ve been able to publish a great deal in top-tier journals. So, I’ve applied for many faculty positions in the last few years. I’d love to be in a department at a research institution where my colleagues are also conducting research in similar areas. I envision collaborating with other faculty members within my home department and across departments (as I’ve already done in some of my research projects). I also envision teaching graduate courses and advising, mentoring, and collaborating with graduate students to share my passion for teaching and research. Furthermore, a research institution would have the support structures in place for other research-related activities like obtaining grants and collecting large-scale data sets.
Now here comes the part that might come as a surprise—I have received rejection after rejection for these positions. Most of the time, these rejections come without ever getting an interview. In a few rare cases, I’ve actually gotten campus interviews to later learn that someone more junior or much more senior had been hired. Even more surprising is that when I have gotten an interview, I’ve been given positive feedback about how well I did. And herein lies the disconnect—while having had much success with my research, I have had no success at finding a new job. In the past year alone, I’ve applied to ten positions, and because of feedback from a few trusted colleagues I even expanded my search beyond student affairs, higher education, and counselor education programs.
I’ve considered many possible explanations, some of which include personality (It would be easy to understand if I was a jerk, but I’m not—people actually like working with me), institutional type (it’s not easy to go from a teaching institution to a research one), my current position as mainly an administrator, and the fact that I’m a full professor and that committees might think I want to come in at that rank. Of all of the possibilities I’ve considered, I’m beginning to consider what might be the likeliest explanation—the fact that I am the only person doing this type of research in education. As far as I know, there are no other educators examining the academic and psychosocial impact of social media. You would think this would be intriguing to a department or a search committee; however, it makes me an outlier. Most of you reading this blog “get it” when it comes to using social media in productive ways; however, I’m guessing that most of the people evaluating me on search committees don’t. My take is that my work is seen as more of a curiosity. I also wonder whether some may think that my work would lead to major shifts in academia and/or the loss of faculty jobs. But to be quite honest, those are only guesses. It’s clear that my research is different than what others are doing in my field, and that very well could be the explanation.
I realize that sharing this is risky especially since academics don’t talk publicly about their job search. But quite frankly, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like a potential employer is going to read this post and not hire me—that’s already been happening well before I wrote this. Besides, whether I like it or not (and to be clear, I don’t), the field of higher education may be trying to tell me something—and it may be time for me to look elsewhere and begin checking out opportunities in the private sector. If you happen to know of an organization looking for someone like me, please feel free to share this post and my cv with them.
If what I’ve written resonates with you, I’d love to hear from you. I’d also love to hear from you if you have some feedback to share or have a story to share about your experiences with the academic job search process. Please leave a comment and I promise I’ll reply to every one.