Every month or so, a disturbing story emerges from the frontlines of the academic job market, contributing to a growing genre of social commentary about the brutality of academe.
A few weeks ago, Patrick Iber, a visiting lecturer at Berkeley, wrote yet another such essay, describing how his quest for a tenure-track position had been repeatedly met with failure, even though he is eminently qualified and well-respected for his scholarship. As a result, he has taken one temporary, poorly paid position after another, with no end in sight. For a young, bright-eyed academic, such relentless rejection can lead to despair, but when combined with the everyday struggles of life—the loss of a parent or the anxiety of supporting a child—Iber shows that it can be soul-crushing.
I have a great deal of empathy for Iber. In fact, our stories are surprisingly similar. Like Iber, I began my doctoral program in 2005 and graduated in 2011. My field is also squarely situated in the humanities: My Ph.D. is in South and Southeast Asian studies with an emphasis on women, gender, and sexuality, and I wrote my dissertation on sexuality in early South Indian literature. I spent years on the academic job market, carefully crafting letters and portfolios for positions in departments that I knew would be inundated with far too many applications. I went to interviews and job talks, sometimes waiting months for a response before realizing that the university in question was not even going to bother telling me no. Like Iber, I sometimes felt that I had lost my dignity in the process. <Read more.>