Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ask the Administrator: A Career in a Crisper

A new correspondent writes:

Within the last year I've completed my PhD in English. In thinking about future jobs, I think I'd be a good fit either at a CC or at a teaching-centered institution with undergraduate education as it's main mission (SLAC, regional state, etc). Here's the catch: I likely won't actually be looking for that job for 8, 10, or even 15 years.

I don't worry so much about explaining to future employers the reasons behind the monster gap in my CV. They are, as you might expect, the usual suspects. (In my case, it's my spouse's far more lucrative job which entails a great deal of travel and frequent moves, a job which, realistically, he won't be able to walk away from anytime soon, coupled with a two year old and a baby on the way.)

Here's my real question: Are there things I should be doing now and over the next several years to preserve my employability so that I'll be just as an attractive candidate 10 years from now as I am today? (Don't mean to sound arrogant, but I really am confident I'm an outstanding candidate for the schools I mentioned, especially a CC).

Thanks for floating this one by your readers!

This is a tough one. My first thought is that ten years is a long time, and a lot can happen. It's incredibly hard to predict what you'll want ten years in advance, let alone what the world will look like. Will the market have improved, stayed the same, or worsened? I honestly don't know. (If I knew what the Next Big Thing was going to be, I'd buy stock in it now.) My guess is that some basic structural changes will start to happen, and the next market won't be so much 'better' or 'worse' as 'different.' But that's a guess, and I've been wrong before.

Since you have the luxury of not needing to make money, I'd take the opportunity to step back from the academic hamster wheel and think about things you'd like to do. If teaching floats your boat, and you have a doctorate in English and an affinity for community colleges, there should be ample adjunct opportunities just about anywhere. (If you have computer skills and a decent internet connection, which I assume you do or you wouldn't be reading blogs, there's also the option of adjuncting online classes. The great advantage there is that you aren't place-bound, so if your spouse gets transferred, you can keep right on doing what you're doing.) The valid complaint about adjuncting is that it pays terribly, but if pay isn't an issue, and you miss teaching, it's a way to stay in the game.

Even there, though, I don't see the harm in taking some years off. If anything, those years could give you a chance both to write and to explore other options. That writing and/or exploration could actually make you a much more distinctive, and therefore appealing, candidate upon your return.

I can understand the concern about putting the career in a sort of crisper. (In my bachelor days, the crisper was more of a rotter. It was where vegetables went to die. To this day, I don't know quite how spinach turns to black soup, but I've seen it happen, and it's not pretty.) But the metaphor is probably misleading. Since you're not place-bound and you don't need the money, you don't fall prey to the “why buy the cow” problem. You're free to reinvent yourself, probably in ways you haven't figured out yet.

My advice for the first couple of years is to enjoy your kids, read widely, write some, and not worry about the market for now. In a few years, if you're pining for the classroom, then by all means pick up a course or two somewhere. But you have an opportunity most academics never get. You can add experiences and skills that most of us just can't. Those will eventually make you a much more interesting and compelling candidate for teaching gigs, if those still hold your interest. And it may just happen that the other stuff you pick up along the way becomes more interesting than a return to the classroom would be, which would be fine, too.

Good luck. You're in an enviable position.

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think? Have you seen someone in a situation like this?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.