Hirnea vermium

So I had this lovely idea for a post on pseudotranslators (as opposed to pseudotranslations) that I was going to write, and then decided a) that I wanted to make it a conference paper first, and b) that this was a little more timely, if less pleasant.

We all know that the academic job market is… difficult. This is about one particular aspect of it: scheduling.

Here’s my situation. I’m trying to negotiate between the deadlines for informing the Graduate School about my intent to graduate and the fact that I won’t hear about any postdocs before those deadlines have passed. So if I tell the GS that I’m graduating, and then don’t get any jobs, I’m in a bit of a jam for next year. If I don’t notify them (and hence don’t graduate in May), and then I do get a postdoc, that’s awkward, because many of the postdocs want you to graduate by midsummer (i.e. not in the August graduation).

I went to one of the job counsellors at the MLA Job Center, who was very friendly and knowledgable, and gave me what is simultaneously the most and least practical advice: graduate. Most practical because it is, in fact, time for me to graduate, and least practical because if I do and then don’t get something, I’m stuck in a part of the country with pretty high saturation of college grads, competing with them for short-term jobs that don’t require a Ph.D. and probably would prefer someone who might stay a bit longer, and doesn’t need time off to go to conferences.

The purpose of this post isn’t, however, to whine about this. It is what it is and I’ll make a decision about it after getting as much information as I possibly can about my options.

What the post is about is interrogating what’s happening with schedules. I’ve heard from many people that one of the big changes in recent years in the job market is the fact that more and more jobs are being listed post-MLA, which puts interviews and acceptances much later spring and even summer than I assume used to be the case. Presumably postdocs have always been later, although I do know that postdocs are a sort of recent development in the humanities too, so “always” for us isn’t very long.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst (my school) requires that for May 2013 graduation, paperwork (including the dissertation) must be filed by April 16, 2013. Assuming that you file after your defense (so that you can incorporate any changes the committee recommends), this means that, cutting things impossibly and impracticably close, the latest you can defend is April 15. You must notify the graduate school one month in advance of your defense date (March 15, appropriately enough). If we are more practical about things, then we allow perhaps a month for editing and submission between the defense and the April 16 deadline, which puts the defense at March 15 and notification of the defense in mid-February. I know of some postdocs that will be notifying people by mid-March. I know of very few notifying people by mid-February.

This all means that if we are defending in the spring, it’s not early enough to talk about at MLA as a done deal, but also on a pretty tight timeline. And if we defend in the fall, there’s still that unpleasant chance that we won’t get a job, maybe not even any interviews, and that we’ll be expected to graduate in the spring anyway, because, after all, we’ve defended already.

Again, I’m not posting this to complain about my situation. I’ll make a decision and that will be that. But the situation remains, and is something I think that we should at least discuss. So the questions become: how do other schools handle these scheduling issues? What advice have people gotten from professors and search committees? Are any schools shifting their own requirements to compensate for changes in the academic hiring calendar? (Accompanying question: have I been misinformed about the increase in post-MLA hiring?)

3 thoughts on “Hirnea vermium

  1. Profile photo of Vimala C. PasupathiVimala C. Pasupathi

    I remember having these kinds of conundrums even before the job season started to extend past the MLA conference period. As you already know, nobody can really give you good advice, but I will say that my sense of Post-docs are that they are so competitive (more so than jobs) that they aren’t worth planning around. If you are reluctant to declare your intent to finish because you can still be funded by your graduate program, stay in the program and take the funding (would this mean paying more tuition?).
    I defended my dissertation in April, but took the summer semester to file the paperwork because I didn’t have a job or anything lined up. I did a couple free lance jobs while finishing up and then took a $/hr staff/admin job at the university. I was lucky to get that because it was clear I would be looking for other employment, but I did stay in it for 10 months and it allowed me to go on the market in a pretty peaceful state of mind because I saw if I had nothing else, I could continue to work (and eventually move up to a salary) in the university staff structure.

    1. Profile photo of Anna StroweAnna Strowe Post author

      Thanks for the comment. Who knows at this point what is good advice, but it’s definitely good to hear what solutions other people have found and what opportunities they have made for themselves.

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