February
24th 2010
The academic life: movin’ on, part II

Posted under: happy endings, jobs, unhappy endings

You know how there are no jobs in history this year?  Well, unfortunately for me, my friends who are Associate Professors are finding jobs and leaving Colorado!  I’m happy for them and all of the new challenges and opportunities that they’ll face in their new jobs and new lives, but really:  where is their consideration?  Clearly, they haven’t been thinking about me at all!  Seriously:  I’m looking at three friends moving out of state this summer, and a fourth friend who teaches here is shopping for apartments three states away!  (This is why I’m posting a photo of the sad monkey today.  The sad monkey is me!)

I’ve written here before about how the academic life’s peripatetic nature means always leaving friends behind.  Well, I’m now officially the friend who is being left behind!  I guess that’s a lesson to remember:  things change even when you stay in place.  I love having so many readers and commenters here–but it’s not like I can have a cup of coffee with you whenever I want to and get your advice about my research, or you could ask for my help with yours, or like I could walk your dogs for you, or stay up late with you over a bottle of wine.

There is a point to this post, aside from indulging my self-pity:  I’ve noticed a lot more movement at the Associate level in history hires in the past five or ten years than I was led to believe existed 15 or 20 years ago.  I’ve been invited to apply for some jobs at the Associate level, too.  When I was in graduate school and making my first forays onto the job market, the conventional wisdom was that all of the movement was at the Assistant Professor level, and that if you were tenured somewhere you were pretty much stuck there unless and until you turned into a “star” who was recruited somewhere else at the full Professor rank.  Are any of you seeing the same thing?  What about other disciplines?  What’s up with this?

32 Comments »

32 Responses to “The academic life: movin’ on, part II”

  1. Fratguy on 24 Feb 2010 at 10:08 am #

    “3 states away”, and those are big Western states, not weenie New England states where you can knock off five in a long afternoon of driving (but I guess that is the point). Drag, sorry to hear it Historiann.

  2. Perpetua on 24 Feb 2010 at 10:13 am #

    I was told recently that the best times to move are in your first couple years as assistant or right after your books comes out (which is usually right when you hit the associate level). Moving at full professor, I was told, is harder, unless you’re a Star. That makes sense to me – the cache of a (successful) book is great. Perhaps what’s changed in the last 10 years or more is the rhythm of the academic cycle (when people were promoted and what they needed to be promoted, or when their books came out relative to promotion). I think academics generally are much more mobile now than 15 or 20 years ago, and I would speculate that the rapid increase of dual-academic couples and the corporatization of academia are the instigators of said mobility. (By “corporatization” as a factor, I mean people became aware that they could hold their institution hostage for much higher wages by trying to get a job somewhere else, and unis began to see the opportunities in poaching themselves. With the market contracting, some less well-funded departments were able to hire people “too good” for them in a way, and those ambitious folks decided to move on.)

    On the other hand, that also means that there are an unusually high number of “open rank” searches lately, which is bizarre considering the economic climate. Dear Universities, ABDs are *much* cheaper than Associate Faculty, especially ones you are trying to woo away from Home Institution. ABDs are hungry and desperate: Will Work For Food (which is what we’re all coming to anyway. My partner’s uni has now cut active salary cuts across the board on the negotiating table for next year).

  3. squadratomagico on 24 Feb 2010 at 10:18 am #

    Sprry you’re a sad monkey, Historiann. (Except I think that’s a chimp.)

    Still, condolences.

  4. Kate on 24 Feb 2010 at 10:19 am #

    Sad ape!

  5. Roxie on 24 Feb 2010 at 10:25 am #

    Cheer up, cowgirl — We’re here for you, and some of us are dead! See, that’s why virtual life is so much better than real life.

    Curious minds want to know, though: Who’s going where? Hints, please!

  6. JJO on 24 Feb 2010 at 11:21 am #

    Our last three hires have been one assistant, one associate (two if you count a new department member hired to run a university center — the search wasn’t ours, but the person’s home is in our department and we had to sign off), and one full. We lost some senior leadership in the department due to untimely deaths and retirements, and we’ve been lucky enough to convince the administration that it’s important to replace that leadership with new senior hires.

    I’m not sure what this anecdotal experience suggests. Perhaps the overall pattern has to do with the increasing aspirations of middling but Ph.D.-granting schools like ours … if we want to build on and maintain the gains in reputation we’ve made in the last decade or so, we need scholars who already have reputations of their own and who can jump in and advise doctoral students right away. I imagine there are other schools like this, trying to work from the second tier into the (broadly construed) first tier or near the bottom of that broad first tier looking to move up. Are there more schools in this position than there have been in the past? The down economy would seem to represent an opportunity for schools who can actually muster the resources to make a hire.

  7. Notorious Ph.D. on 24 Feb 2010 at 11:24 am #

    Hm. This is something to think about.

  8. Perpetua on 24 Feb 2010 at 11:39 am #

    Oh, I also wanted to add on the woes of moving on – it’s no easier to leave than to be left, H! I was so sad to leave my former uni and my wonderful friends and colleagues to go to a place far, far away. It’s not easy to start over, and lose what you’ve built somewhere – even on a professional level, learning a new institutional culture and system is exhausting. And as we discussed recently, not all colleagues are as friendly as they could be.

  9. Tom on 24 Feb 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Historiann-
    I’ll second Perpetua’s comment: moving is exciting and scary all at once. I know I thought I was an old hand and would have a not-too-difficult transition: but you forget how stressful it is not to know how to run the copy machines, and to not have even one student you already know in your classes. It took me most of two years (i.e. until right now?) to right the ship again.

    I wish I could send great news about spousal hiring or being hired at the associate or full level: I applied for three assistant (or assistant/associate) positions in my field this year and didn’t make it to the MLA interview in any of them (and not past even the first cut in two). So I guess my advice to Historiann readers on that front would thus be: don’t try to move when you’ve published three books and have a dozen years of teaching experience. Though it’s still hard for me to see how I wasn’t well qualified for these three positions.

    But all congratulations to your friends and acquaintances, Historiann, for being wanted, and for positioning themselves with the right records to be wanted.

    And choice is always great, even when one chooses to stay put.

  10. Historiann on 24 Feb 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    I think JJO has nailed it–and the fact that programs like his are hiring *our* Associates means that there’s a new game of Associate Professor Musical Chairs.

    Oh, and sorry about the sad chimp being labeled “sad monkey.” (But, “sad monkey” is funnier than “sad chimp,” somehow.)

    I’m still sad, but thanks for your good comments.

  11. Tony Grafton on 24 Feb 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Great post. It’s true that we do a lot of movin’ on (or being left when others do it). After staying in one place for more than 30 years, I find that most of my closest friends have moved on and I see them at conferences, in archives or when one of us visits another’s campus.

    On outside hires at associate level: here the dean’s doctrine has always been that you have to commit as much capital over the long run when you hire a newly tenured associate as when you hire a full professor–so you should go for the latter, who will be a bigger draw. That can, of course, do for a department what some managers do for their teams: stock it up with high-paid folk whose knees are not what they were. (Fortunately, it has mostly brought us wonderful colleagues and teachers).

    Personally, I’m delighted to hear about opportunities anywhere in the profession.

  12. Historiann on 24 Feb 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    Tony–I’m sorry to hear this: “After staying in one place for more than 30 years, I find that most of my closest friends have moved on and I see them at conferences, in archives or when one of us visits another’s campus.”

    On the other hand, your words may spur some who would otherwise be inclined to let their research atrophy to pull together some conference panels and grant proposals! Your words just go to show that maintaining an active research agenda has no downside, only advantages in giving us a professional life outside of our institutions, in making us ready to take advantage of new possibilities, and in being able to refresh old ties as well.

  13. GayProf on 24 Feb 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    Poor, HistoriAnn! I know BMU went through a cycle of associate losses shortly before I arrived. JJO’s theory seems likely.

  14. Indyanna on 24 Feb 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    No time to scrutinize the whole thread that closely, but this is where interdisciplinarity comes in, as well as inter-chronicity. Put a “save” one of those posts for me if ya’ can, Historiann, and I’ll get reading up on it, whatever the field. I’ll book a (small) van for July, and won’t even charge the dean!

  15. Historiann on 24 Feb 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    GayProf: I can haz job at BMU? (If my husband could deal with the Seasonal Affective Disorder that would surely result from our leaving sunny Colorado, that is?)

  16. GayProf on 24 Feb 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    I’d love for you to join BMU! We can spend the weekends in a slumber party.

  17. feMOMhist on 24 Feb 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    I think that if you look at the CVs of people at really good schools you will see that moving as associate is not that unusual. I attended a top 5 MFRU in my sub field of history and saw the following career track all the time

    1. good job shit location
    2. not as good job better location
    3. good job good location where most stayed put
    4. rock stars ricocheting around academia until they got *their* plum position (which varied by personal preference for location, size of school, teaching load and distribution etc)

    for people with spouses who had opinions, careers of their own, children old enough to complain etc this led to LOTS of unhappiness.

  18. ej on 24 Feb 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    How did I manage to miss the dog-walking clause in the Best Friends Handbook? Just think of all the opportunities I’ve missed over the years…

  19. Homostorian Americanist on 24 Feb 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    I join you, Historiann, in mourning the loss of one of those friends. And it does feel like a loss, even though it’s not the kind one genuinely mourns. I think that not nearly enough attention is paid to workplace friendships and how meaningful they can be, how much they enliven those workplaces. What’s hard in academia is that switching workplaces doesn’t just mean a different commute but continued drinks on the weekend, it usually means moving states away. Thus a whole other order of loss. Sigh…

  20. John S. on 24 Feb 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    We’ve tended to focus on hiring at the advanced Assistant (i.e., book coming out soon, pretty close to being able to tenure)/Associate level since I’ve been here, for a couple of reasons. The justification for looking advanced assistant: we’re hoping to have as little funny business as possible when it comes time to tenure. Really green assistant professors (as I was, unfortunately) can have a lot of promise but may need more help being shepherded through the process. Better to get someone who is more of a “sure thing” when it comes time to make that jump.

    As for looking Associate rather than full: most of our department is convinced, based on past experience, that we won’t be able to woo full Professors to our department. So the idea is to look for up-and-coming Associates who we think will make great Professors in six years time. This, too, requires a judgment call about who can make the leap, so to speak. Sometimes someone has a great first book but doesn’t have that great second book in them (which is mandatory to rise in our system–no career Associates here!).

    We have found, though, that it is often too hard to pry Professors away from their home institutions to come join us. Some of this is a matter of being settled personally and reluctant, say, to pull their kids out of school, ask their spouse to reset hir career, and uproot their lives generally. Some of it is economics–real estate (even after the crash) is more expensive here than elsewhere, so we’re often in the situation of asking a senior faculty member to downsize in order to buy a house if they want to live here. And our deans have been traditionally less willing to fund full Prof searches, thinking that we’re just as likely to be used by job candidates to get a raise as anything else and that the process can be a waste of time.

    IMO, there is a lot to be said for looking Associate rather than full. (And I am not just defending the strategy because that’s what we tend to do!)

  21. Historiann on 24 Feb 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    ej: I walked your dog, didn’t I? (Once?)

    FeMOMhist’s list looks right to me, with maybe a more random arrangements of where the $h!t jobs go.

    At least I’ll always have you, Fratguy, to keep me company! (And maybe Homostorian Americanist.) Fratguy is right–we’re talking 3 big, boxy, Western states, not Delaware or Rhode Island-sized states.

  22. Janice on 24 Feb 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    We only hired once at the associate level but I suppose that could count as poaching. Sorry, disciplinary colleagues elsewhere!

    I’m with you, Historiann, in that I was always told that in history, the conventional wisdom was that you weren’t terribly mobile at the Associate level (that doesn’t hold true in my dad’s own engineering specialty where such shifting was more common). The greatest exception to that rule seemed to be hiring people to come in for particular specialties that are key to a program or to come in and serve as chair.

    I won’t be moving anywhere anytime soon even if mobility abounds for us Associate Professor types. With my younger daughter’s autism, securing a good educational placement and support system for her comes before any chance for advancement. But, as Tony said, we always have conferences and meetings at which to catch up with those who’ve moved on.

  23. shaz on 24 Feb 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    There may be institutional inhibitions to hiring Associates still: at my state research U, retired faculty lines come back to us at the Assistant level; the Dean would need to find funds to bump it up to Associate or higher, which doesn’t happen much in these economic times.

    So we’ve done contortions (which I don’t recommend) to hire people who should be Associates as Assistants. They then get tenure in a year. So those are sort of associate hires, but points to the lack of hiring flexibility still at the Associate level.

    PS. Can I come to the slumber party?

  24. Tony Grafton on 24 Feb 2010 at 6:25 pm #

    Just a clarification: it’s a particular set, the little group of people of my generation–late 60s undergraduates, 70s grad students, who all read the same P & P and History Workshop articles and the same books by Natalie Davis and Michael Baxandall and Carlo Ginsburg, with whom I started out–they’re the ones who have scattered to schools from California to Oxford. One way some of us keep in touch is by collaborative writing: that keeps the emails moving and the Skype on, as each of us corrects the other . . .

  25. Paul S. on 24 Feb 2010 at 6:25 pm #

    As common as it is, there is a real sense of loss when a coworker that you have become friends with leaves. At least that’s been my experience, so I understand the sadness involved.

    On a different note, the other New England states aren’t (quite) as small as Rhode Island. The reason Rhode Island exists is so that even people in Massachusetts and Connecticut have a neighbor that they can look down on for being tiny.*

    *(Just kidding, Rhode Islanders!)

  26. Lance on 24 Feb 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    This hits me hard. In the past four years, I’ve lost 5 close friends – all Assistants, none in History. I miss them. And I’m really not eager to “replace” them with new friends.

    I’ve also been on 10 search committees in the past 5 years. 10! We hired 8 Assistants. All but two were advanced enough that their books were either out at the time, or have since come out. Here, at least, we are approaching the point at which getting *a job* requires a book, or a book in production.

    But, to get to Historiann’s point, my own experience has been that if you have any administrative talent whatsoever – even mediocre – and you couple it with an adequate publication record, the market will find you at any rank. Of course, the market will expect you to continue as an administrator/servant of some department’s will. And that isn’t always in your best interest.

  27. Comrade PhysioProf on 24 Feb 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    In the biomedical disciplines, no one moves as assistant professor. Once you are promoted to associate, if you are well-funded and have published well, you can be very mobile.

  28. Hotshot Harry on 24 Feb 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Sorry to hear this news, Historiann. Not so long ago I was the one shaking the dust of Potterville off my boots. (BTW, I’m certain you walked e.j.’s dog at least once. It was a rite of passage that included a potty visit to the office sign of a certain former congresswoman from the Potterville area.) I’ll second much of what Tom said; I’m in my first year of a new job, and I’m finding that ten years of teaching experience is of very little help in the end. The photocopier was the easy part. I’m really struggling to find out where my students are at. Funny the things we take for granted.

  29. Rad Readr on 24 Feb 2010 at 11:58 pm #

    Oh my, your post has reminded of how sad I was…when you left town, Historiann!! But you were onto something heading west.

    Re: associate hiring. I talked to a friend at a major research univ. recently and heard they had decided to hire mostly at the associate level. And back when my dept was still hiring we were mostly doing adv. asst/assoc/full hires.

  30. Historiann on 25 Feb 2010 at 8:38 am #

    Shaz: absolutely! I think you and GayProf would have a great time together.

    Lance makes a great point–the urge to hire Associates may have more to do with hiring people who’ve already published a book so that they can do more of the heavy lifting in a department than an Assistant. They may already have had a sabbatical paid for by their previous uni too–always a bonus. So, you can extract more work out of them for a relatively modest investment! Yippee.

    Comrade PP–my sense is that by the time sciency people are promoted to Associate, they’re basically living off of grant money they bring in, so there’s even more incentive to hire at the Associate rank. (No need to invest startup money in those folks.)

    Thanks for all of your nice comments. I’m sorry that (once again?) so many of you identify with the feeling. Rad, I do like the west–especially this winter. You folks in the East are having an epic winter–and the snow is all heavy and wet there! Even when we get clobbered here, it’s all powder snow. I can shovel the driveway off with a broom, even when there’s more than 6 or 8 inches. (Only a slight exaggeration–but I have to say that I really don’t get why people have snow blowers here. The snow blows itself off, practically–or evaporates, compared to that wet concrete in the East.

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