Thanks to several wonderful list-servs, I receive a lot of emails about graduate school positions, post-doctoral positions, academic jobs, government jobs, and even industry jobs. These emails pour in year-round, but they make up an especially prominent proportion of my inbox in these early fall months. When discussing this trend with a friend (woops unintentional rhyming), we started talking about what we looked for when considering moving to a new university.
Sometimes, I think that having a conversation about ideal academic situations is a bit futile. The general understanding is that if you want to find a good position, you have to be completely flexible in every respect. There’s no crying in baseball and there’s no pickiness in academia. The job market is wildly competitive and as adjunct positions increase in number, tenure track jobs will become even harder to come by. As I was reminded over and over again during the last few weeks, only about 15% of people with PhDs are in tenure-track positions.
Still, working in a positive environment that is well-suited to one’s personality and needs can increase productivity and make the job that much more fulfilling, so contrary to my sometimes-feelings, conversations about and exploration of what would make for the ideal job isn’t a total exercise in futility. And to say that there is absolutely no choice or room for preference in the academic position hunt isn’t entirely accurate – it paints too bleak a picture.
So what came from our conversation? Proximity to family was a big factor, especially for people thinking about having children or people whose parents are suffering from an illness. Maintenance of current relationships was another big one: while general social networks are more fluid, people prefer to stay within driving distance of significant others. Then there’s the need to work somewhere that feels like a safe space with support services for people from various backgrounds and with various needs. Some universities are better than others when dealing with issues of ethnic and racial, QUILTBAG, and socio-economic diversity, and some geographic regions may be better than others for the same reasons, too. And, of course, there’s always the money and funding.
None of the concerns that come up about location and work environment are trivial. OK, some of them are, like proximity to and cost of coffee, but the ones listed above are not. Even the big stuff, though, feels like asking a lot: given this economy, it is a luxury to be able to make such choices about careers, to have so much say in how our work environments will look. People leave academia for many reasons, not the least of which is the incompatibility in forging a life that works and feels good given the potential geographic constraints of an academic career.
When looking for a position or job, what do you look for in a college or university?