Building on the recent discussion of adjunctification, fair wages, and jobs in academia, I would like to point out just how difficult it is to get a tenure-track job as a history professor. I have spent four years in visiting positions, and while I have some sympathy for adjuncts, I fully support my friend Phil Magness, who argues that it is often a lack of a terminal degree (i.e. Ph.d.) and a lack of publications which is preventing many adjuncts from competing for tenure track jobs. The market is difficult, no one owes me or anyone else a job. The market is not meritocratic, but publications do make a difference. Unpublished adjuncts with Master’s degrees complain about the lack of tenure-track jobs, and I’d like them to see what their competition is doing, what they are up against. Their competition is people like me. I am one of many visiting assistant professors with an active publication agenda, with experience teaching, with a Ph.D., and yet no tenure-track job. We are VAP’s, we publish, and we are legion.
I received my Ph.D. in history from Florida State University in the spring of 2011. Since I hit the market that year, I have applied to approximately 270 jobs in nearly every state in the country. I have applied to teach in Europe and in Asia. I have not restricted myself geographically, except in a very few circumstances. In 5 years, I have had 9 job interviews, only 3 of which were for tenure-track jobs.
I have been working full-steam ahead in all directions: teaching, publishing, and participating in public history projects. I attend conferences, but not too frequently, because I often cannot justify the cost.
Looking back, I know that if I were to have a better chance at tenure track jobs, I should have created a more orthodox portfolio. Although I have published extensively, I have published on somewhat unorthodox topics. In the past few years, I have been writing on more mainstream topics. I have been able to publish my work in some very top places: The New York Times, Civil War History, American Studies, etc.
To make ends meet, I have moved every year. I have lived in my car. I have lived for a half of a year in a barn (no lie), with mice running under my feet. We all work hard, and some work harder then others.
With approximately 270 applications and 9 interviews, that equates to a 3% interview rate. I’m not mad. It’s just reality.