Wednesday, September 29, 2010

16. Where you live will be chosen for you.

While you may have some part in choosing where you will attend graduate school—admission committees will have their part in the choosing as well—you will have very little choice in the matter of where you live after you complete your graduate education, at least if you plan to remain a professional academic. This is because there will be so few open positions for which you will be qualified at the moment when you enter the job market (see Reason 8). Remember that most faculty openings (especially in a sluggish economy) are the result of faculty retirements, so your job prospects will depend on your graduation coinciding with the retirement plans of someone whose position will be replaced. When budgets are tight, retirees are often not replaced at all.

Unless you have received some inside information, there is little way for you to guess where the job openings will appear in any given year. You may be in graduate school in sunny Southern California, and be quite happy there, but the only job announcements for someone like you, whose specialty is eighteenth-century French literature, are for positions in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Idaho. Every other job seeker in the country (and perhaps beyond) with a PhD in your specialty will apply for those three jobs, and because you have devoted eight years of your life to the subject and you aren’t ready to jump into something completely different, you will, too. And if you manage to land one of those jobs, you may very well spend the rest of your working life in Alabama. The job market will determine where you live.
 


25 comments:

  1. When you're very young, the concept of "going wherever the jobs are" might sound romantic, sort of like being an itinerant medieval journeyman. But many people, as they get older, start to value having some control over where they live. When your parents start to age, you might want to live near them so you can care for them--or if you have children of your own, you may want them to be surrounded by cousins and aunts and whatnot.

    Even if you don't prefer to live near family, you should still think long and hard about other geographic preferences you have--and whether you can live without them. If you're a nature lover who hates city pollution, could you deal with getting your only job offer in New York City? Conversely, if you love the museums and nightlife in big cities, could you handle living in North Dakota? If you're an avid Richard Dawkins fan, how do you feel about living in the Bible Belt?

    You might not have all the answers to these questions at age 21, so it helps to take several years away from school and experience living in a variety of places.

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    1. It's not just that you may not end up at a very good school or
      give up mountains and oceans and even trees. You could be
      dragging your spouse and children off to decades in
      Starkville, Miss., Tuscaloosa, or Baton Rouge. Some people will
      be fine there. But it is not just a quaint stereotype that some parts
      of the country are more racist, sexist, homophobic, fundamentalist,
      superstitious, and more fixated on their guns. Not everyone will be
      like that. You will meet some amazing people who are fighting hard
      for justice and progress. But more than a few of your students will
      be like this, and quite possibly some of your kids' playmates and
      teachers (creation science, anyone?). Just look at the front page
      of any paper at the laws these places are passing these days.
      E.g., http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/08/mississippi-sex-ed_n_5110538.html
      On the other hand, where else could you lead a field trip to a cock
      fight, snake handlers in church, or maybe even a cross burning?

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    2. Concealed handguns legal in your classroom. What could go wrong?

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    3. Just a wee bit prejudiced, aren't we?

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    4. Not at all. I love cock fighting

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    5. "Concealed handguns legal in your classroom. What could go wrong?"

      A lot less than in "firearm-free" zones like Virginia Tech.

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  2. This is by far the weakest reason not to go to grad school, I've always thought. If you have any full time job requiring 50-60 hours of work a week, then where you live is overrated. You will spend most of your day working and your evenings at home whether you live in San Francisco or Tuscaloosa. Travel on week-ends or, even better, discover what's interesting about where you are. There are cool places and people hidden in rural America.

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    1. For me this is the best reason, and if you are a person for whom place is important then it is not a weak reason.
      I am a professor of going on 25 years in what would be called a good job (private liberal arts college; highly selective, capable students) that is located in a part of the world whose terrain and climate--both natural and social--are still, after 25 years, foreign to me. I have learned to appreciate the place I am--exploring the terrain, taking up new pursuits outside--but I will never feel at home here; in fact, every year that passes brings a greater longing to return home; the only saving grace of my job as a professor is that summers without teaching allow me to travel home for long stretches of time (I can do my writing there). (PS: I'm half of an academic couple, so finding another two jobs kept us where we are.)
      The fact is that for some of us, the consolation of place balances out those long hours of work.

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    2. People differ a lot in how much this location matters to them. Some are happy raising children in Tuscaloosa. Others, not so much.

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    3. http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/04/segregation-now/359813/

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    4. 1. Some people don't spend most of their evenings and weekends at home. They go out and enjoy what their surroundings have to offer - whether that's hiking and cycling in rural areas or museums and restaurants in urban ones. Of course there's a huge difference between Tuscaloosa and San Francisco.

      2. Travel on the weekends with what money? Your average assistant professor in these small rural towns is making $60-70K a year. Since they live in a small economy, they may be supporting a non-working spouse and some children. Where are they supposed to muster this money to fly out every weekend? (and from where? Many of these universities are in small towns several hours from the nearest airport.)

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  3. There are good things about virtually every place in the world, but that is not the issue. If you want to choose where you live, you will probably have to choose to leave academe.

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    1. This was precisely what led me to finally commit to leaving. My advisor understood immediately ("Yeah, the job you want being posted in the town you want, even if you were guaranteed to get it, is a once in 10 year event") which made me wonder why he hadn't mentioned it at all, ever, despite knowing I had a spouse outside academia.

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  4. This was the big clincher for me when I was deciding whether or not to go for a PhD in English. At about the time that I started imagining myself as a professor (sophomore year of college), I also started imagining myself living in California, the Pacific Northwest, Boston, the U.K., or some of my favorite neighborhoods in my home town of New York City. On some level, I realized that I tend to fall in love with places way more than I do with potential career paths.

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  5. My brother-in-law has a PhD in Engineering. He and his wife live by choicein the small town where he graduated. He wouldn’t even consider any job opportunities that would have required him to move even a couple of hours away.

    The only job he could get without relocating was teaching remedial math courses (as in lower than pre-algebra) part-time. He and his wife barely scrape by, are on public assistance, and are expecting a baby. The university he wants so desperately to work for is experiencing budgetary issues so as you pointed out, they aren’t always replacing retiring professors. I don’t think he has any hope of obtaining a full-time position any time soon, yet he would rather hold out for the unlikely than to do what's needed to support his family.

    Meanwhile, if he was wiling to give up on teaching, he could have had a job with NASA, but again he didn’t want to move.

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  6. The exploitation of adjunct and grad student labor contributes to this problem. In the large, metropolitan area where I live, there are many universities, colleges, and community colleges. All of them rely on significant contingent faculties. I'm currently an adjucnt at the university where I earned my degree last year and working hard to get the hell off the adjunct track, whether through a tenure-track job (not likely!) or through a position outside of academe. We've all heard the argument that there's "no money" to convert all the adjunct positions to full-time, much less tenure-track, but, really, it isn't as if there's a shortage of jobs in desirable areas -- they're just underpaid, undesirable jobs. What a sad loss that colleges and universities aren't willing to spend the money to retain faculty that, in many cases, they have trained! When I think about the possibility of moving to Nowheresville, USA, for a marginal pay raise, the distinction of being called "professor," increased pressure to publish and contribute service to an institution, and a lack of job opportunities for my partner (who is currently gainfully employed outside academe), I have to ask myself why I would even consider relocating for such a position. Am I crazy? When I look at the list of the ten or so 2011-2012 tenure-track jobs in my field that I'm currently in the process of applying for, I have to ask myself whether I'd really be willing to move for more than two or three of them. Probably not. More likely, I will end up leaving academe altogether, and I'm sure I'm far from the only one.

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  7. It should be pointed out that if your first job after graduation is not directly related to tenure track careers (post-doc, sabbatical replacement, 1 year teaching appointment, etc.) then you can forget a tenure track job in the future. The guy mentioned above that does remedial math instruction has zero chance of getting his local uni job even if 10 positions opened up.

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  8. I went to Indiana University Southeast, and the professor I had as an undergraduate adviser was from California. He sent 8 years here, and even got tenure, but when a job in his native California opened up he wasted no time going back home. Homesickness can strike anyone.

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  9. This is one of the main factors that has prevented me from starting a doctoral program. I currently work at a very large state school and live in the same city as my family. Last year I got into a serious relationship and I don't want to do the long distance thing. Plus, I have this house which feels like an albatross around my neck. The last institution where I worked was in a small, depressing town and three years of that was enough for me.

    I know that moving up and/or furthering my education is limited by my geographical needs. And I have made peace with that. As bad as the last town was, I interviewed in places that were worse.

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  10. This is the way academia has always been. In any given region there is only going to be so much demand for "professor of X." A small community with only a CC or SLAC will only need a handful of professors of "X." A large city multiple colleges and universities may need several dozen professors of X. Still, this is something that everyone should know. It's not like nursing or something that's needed in every community at a consistent level.

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  11. This should be in the top 10.

    I'm 10 years out of graduate school and I've never regretted a second choosing a nonacademic-big-city job over the college-town-middle-of-nowhere academic offers I had. (And I thank the gods everyday that I had the luck to fall in love with a discipline with lots of nonacademic options.)

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  12. Geography desirability upon graduation became a real concern after my first year as a PhD student. I wondered if I could actually live in a place for the rest of my professional life. Although I arrived to the university naive, I began to realize as a person who has lived in many different places, living in one for the majority of my life would eventually become a problem. Thus, this became one my the deciding factors when I left this summer after my second year.

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    1. Odds are you wouldn't have lived in one place the rest of your professional life. In fact, I'd hazard a guess and say the average for successful academics is more like 3-4 places, maybe more if you are in a field where post-docs are routine.

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  13. Plus, institutional culture matters. Are you socially conservative? Don't wind up at a liberal public or private institution. Not prone to beating a Bible? Beware seemingly normal Christian institutions that may require signing a statement of beliefs/values. I innocently took a job with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and wound up confronted with constant scrutiny for being a single, young, female, non-Lutheran. Other institutions may have a very healthy faith community or could be the perfect fit, but you have to know yourself and how far you are willing to bend. You will have to confront the institution's values at some point (whether during the interview, when under review, after making a controversial decision, etc.).

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  14. This is a valid reason - but frankly it applies to many, many people outside academia as well. Do you really think that men were flocking to North Dakota because the weather is wonderful? No, it's where there were job opportunities.

    I would even venture to suggest that with very few exceptions, this reason applies to most professions.

    Most people do not have the luxury of 'choosing' where they live.

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