Managing “PhDTSD”: Tips & Tricks While on the Job Market
The job market sucks. I wouldn’t wish the stress of it on my worst enemy. However, in our line of work, it’s a necessary evil. And trust me: you’re going to get through it—but it’s up to you to figure out how to navigate in a way that works the best for you. Read on for tips, tricks, and sanity-saving suggestions I gleaned firsthand from my 2015-16 stint on the academic job market.
Start early. Things should be on your radar the spring semester before you are going on the market. Join the WPA-L or any other listserv that shares job postings. Get your dossier on Interfolio up to date, and contact your letter writers with months in advance. Bookmark the JIL and Vitae and the RhetComp Wiki and RhetMap. Sign up for email updates from The Professor is In. Start to mock up drafts (however shitty) of your cover letters, teaching philosophy, research trajectory, evidence of teaching excellence, and sample syllabi.
Stay organized. Like, more organized than you ever thought possible. Start a spreadsheet of applications—organize them by due date. Color-code that sucker: I had different colors for applied jobs, requests for more materials, initial interviews, campus visits, offers. Update when you get a rejection email, or when you notice the search has moved on without you from the Rhet/Comp Wiki. Be just as organized with your folders of positions applied for—and save everything. Copy and paste job info from online postings, because you don’t know how long the link will be active. Screen-shot application confirmation pages. I even created a Pinterest Pin Board for my applied jobs to share with family and close friends (if that’s something you’re interested in).
Think about your “+1s.” My diss advisor told me that being on the job market was like a full-time job, and I scoffed at this assertion. I am the multitasking queen! I can handle all the things on my plate, I pooh-poohed. Not so. The drudgery of updating cover letters to a posting’s exact specifications (and double- and triple-checking my materials for every job) took its toll. And the soul-crushing stress of waiting for replies and pining after jobs took up way more time than I ever expected. I got nothing done on my dissertation from mid-September to late December. The struggle was, in fact, real. So think about what else you have going on: teaching or admin duties, adjuncting at other schools, or writing that damn dissertation. And if you have a significant other, be sure that they know just what this job market thing entails.
Don’t start imagining your life at the University of X. Just don’t do it. The year before I was on the market, a good friend in academia gave me this advice. I listened for the most part—except for one job. And that was the one application I ugly-cried about when things didn’t pan out. So when that Skype interview goes particularly well, don’t start checking out apartments near the campus. Don’t see if there happens to be a yoga studio within biking distance. Don’t Google the local farmers’ markets or hiking trails or boutiques. A cruel reality of being on the job market is that there are many more jobs you won’t get than the one you will. If you start imagining yourself in a locale ahead of time, it hurts that much more when you have to let it go.
Get by with a little (or a lot of) help from your friends. Finally, my single biggest piece of advice in this crazy time of your life is this: You can’t do it alone. Well, you can, but you definitely don’t want to. Join a job market seminar if one is available to you, or chat up people who are recent survivors of the market. Here’s what I did: I created my own Job Market Self-Help Group with two colleagues who were on the market at the same time. The August before the market commenced in full, I met up with my two “job market siblings” to share initial drafts of cover letters and research statements. Over beers and coffees, and largely through Facebook messenger, we connected every day (EVERY. DAY.) that fall and into the spring. These two were my invaluable source of collaboration, commiseration, and celebration. I owe them my sanity and much of my success.
A few final tidbits of advice: You’ve got this. Reach out when you need it. People are much more generous than you could have ever hoped. And (try to) have fun during this stressful and consuming process. My wish for you is to come out relatively unscathed on the other side with just as much valuable advice for others… and hopefully employed as well!
Katherine Daily O’Meara is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition and the Director of Composition at Emporia State University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.