I’ve steered away from writing about the job market in my field (what job market is that, you might ask!), so I don’t have much to offer this year, I’m afraid. But, Inside Higher Ed offers us a thorough and eminently sensible explanation for why a dual-career academic heterosexual couple decided to hang it up shortly after the husband started his first academic job. “John” sums up all of the problems of his particular position:
Individually speaking, I left the academy because the job was not worth all the sacrifices, which included: relatively low-pay; a heavy 3/4 workload — with five of the seven classes outside of my field; living apart from our family/friend network in an ethnically homogeneous and Bible-belt conservative city; and working in an unsupportive department in a college that was not interested in dealing with diversity/inclusion at the administrative level. Over the course of the year, I eventually arrived at a place where I thought to myself, for low-pay and an O.K. job, I should live somewhere enjoyable and/or near family.
I know what you’re thinking: with so many strikes against it, it’s kind of amazing that he took the job in the first place! But, as he writes in the next paragraph, “Yes, the myths about the professoriate being a vocation or calling did implicitly influence my decision. The whole discourse about having a passion for teaching and fighting the good fight proved illusory. I was doing the grunt work for the department. And though I was once enamored with the status of being a professor, I concluded that I was paying a high price for that status.” Go read the whole thing–both John and his wife have a lot of thoughtful comments about being some of the only brown faces in an overwhelmingly white small town.
I’m glad this couple were able to redirect their careers without too many years of job searches and too much stewing over what they were giving up. Their decision to leave academia seems eminently sensible to me. But, I’ve heard similar tales from people who remained in academia as well as those who took a different path. When one is offered a tenure-track job, it’s difficult to walk away precisely because they’re so rare. But as John’s experience indicates, the accumulated sacrifices may not be worth it.
A friend of mine used to say that you can never have the perfect job, the perfect apartment, and the perfect girlfriend or boyfriend. You might get two out of three, but expecting three out of three is just too greedy. If we generalize my friend’s comments as a calculus of work or professional satisfaction, satisfaction with location, and family/relationship happiness, I still don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for two out of three.