The four-year nightmare has ended; I have finally gotten a tenure-track job. I will start in August. I will probably be deleting this blog – or at the very least making it private – in the near future as I realize (have always realized, but seemed like I had little to lose) what a professional liability it might be. Nevertheless, it felt strange ending my sometimes effusive but more frequently sporadic commentary on the state of higher education and my own relationship to it without one, last final summation of everything.
I never really spent much time thinking – throughout those four years – how it would feel to actually obtain a tenure-track job. By this, I mean a tenure-track job in general rather than any specific one. For each job at which I went to campus, there was a moment where I blissfully or fearfully or both imagined my life there (with the minor exception of the job I actually received where the thought never occurred to me). However, I never imagined what it would feel like to know that I could stay in the academy. Did I think I’d feel happy for any thing more than a few moments? I know myself too well for that. I guess, if anything, I would have imagined I’ve have suffered some degree of survivor’s guilt. Yet I do not. I cannot say I think I “earned” a job by having gone through what must be admitted to have been an exceptionally brutal four year process, but I do think that had I gotten the types of jobs for which I interviewed my first year on the market during my first year on the market I would probably have entertained something like that.
I guess it doesn’t really register because I still don’t think that I am (semi) secure now. I don’t know what that feeling would mean. I have been fortunate enough to never have been in a truly precarious position (i.e. I have never adjuncted) — although I came very very close. Maybe this is part of my lack of relief? I still haven’t registered that I don’t have to go on the job market again next year; indeed, I’ve already started compulsively checking hnet and the wiki even though, in all probability, I will not really apply to anything.
Or will I? Of the 14 first round interviews and 11 campus visits I had over the past four years, the job I received is the least prestigious of all the institutions for which I interviewed. I gave a teaching demonstration in a 20th century US History class and was not asked a single question about my research the entire time I was there. There are really no research requirements for tenure at all – a conference a year could get me to associate. When I reported to my committee they were polite and congratulated me, but I think we all knew what was going on. I could say I never imagined myself at a teaching school in the south, but that is not really helpful – I spent a good deal of my first two years on the market imagining myself in a non-academic job. And if I am completely truthful with myself, I’d say that, barring unforeseen problems (toxic department, not being able to stand the climate etc.), I’m not particularly inspired to seek a better situation except for very stupid (prestige related) reasons. Is it wrong to just say I am not a researcher and that the idea of having to produce a book to stay at a job kind of intimidates and sickens me? So hard to know where lies imposture syndrome and where lies self knowledge. I do, however, feel pretty confident about my teaching skills and particularly my ability to teach at this level. I moreover increasingly find teaching more meaningful than research. At least there I can be fairly confident that I have some impact, however minor, on someone. Research right now just begs the question — why?
Maybe I would feel differently if I hadn’t been so personally rejected so many times by research institutions. I was already pretty exhausted by the time I went on the job market, but at that point I still believed in turning my work into a book. Now, having published three articles in major journals, I just don’t see why I fetishized the book that much. When I look at my life, it seems that all ambition has ever done has made me unhappy whereas most of the things that have made me genuinely happy have not been linked to goals at all or only very tangentially (for example, the friends I made in grad school). I know they tell women to “lean in,” but at this point I’m not certain whether that itself is some form of social pressure.
It also does beg the question also of where I get the idea that associates being at a research school with superiority over being at a teaching school. A job is a job. Pay may be better at most research places, but for most not that much and the cost of living where I will go is low. So this is not an issue of monetary value. It is instead something about prestige. Where does this prestige come from? Is it because different people — “smarter people” — end up at R1s? A different decision from any one of a number of search committees and I could have been at some of the best schools in my discipline. I cannot believe that there is that large a distinction between those who end up at teaching schools and those who end up at research schools aside from maybe the experience of the former and the trendiness of projects for the latter. And why IS it more prestigious to be at a research university? Sure, they have the cachet of being “better researchers” and therefore have the resources to research – but, at the risk of sounding philistine, aside from a small minority of really groundbreaking thinkers and research, who reads what academic historians write besides a small circle of other academic historians? I have always fetishized creation of intellectual products over personal relationships, although I would arguably say I am better at having good friends and as a teacher than I have ever been at producing excellent work. Maybe this is just a means of devaluing myself?
One very wise friend of mine has suggested that I have a sort of “fret hole,” which, having been temporarily filled by finding a TT job, was quickly reopened so that I could again stuff it with my various self-doubts. Indeed, had I read such an entry from someone else, say, last year, I would have rolled my eyes and thought about first world problems. Certainly it’s a first world among first world problems. Yet that in and of itself does not make it go away.
For the time being, I will just try to be grateful and to find the energy to think straight again and also to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect “happily ever after” except in fairytales.