As you read this (although not as I write it – I had to pre-blog this date) I am getting inspected. I am being placed under a microscope, drilled for core samples, and made to turn my head and cough. In short, I am at APSA* and this year I am officially On the Job Markettm for assistant professorships. As you read this on Friday I am in the midst of 10 interviews in 8 hours, followed by a panel presentation and four more interviews on Saturday. I am repeating the same things and answering the same questions to an audience of people who are asking the same questions and hearing (largely) identical answers from everyone. Although I really, really wanted to wear a seersucker suit (I asked, "How would Mark Twain approach this interview?") I allowed myself to be talked into Business Bland.
The academic job market is odd. It happens once annually, beginning today and ending around Halloween. Everyone who has an opening advertises it while everyone who needs a job contributes to the 4-to-6 week deluge of applications. The annual APSA conference kicks things off in Political Science, and the conference interviewing process is insane. We are herded into a giant waiting room (roughly analogous to the "waiting room" outside slaughterhouses) to be summoned one-by-one to meet with our betters. We have about 30 minutes to make an impression, which is advantageous for me because unlike 98% of the people in this field I have a personality. It is a shitty one, but I have it.
As far as where we end up…well, it's a bit like being drafted into the military minus all the beatings and sodomy. We have literally no control over the process and we know only that the odds at any single job are low. So we apply in bulk. I will be applying for nearly 75 jobs. History has shown that the likely ratios will be something like 75 apps = getting shortlisted at 10 schools = getting an official on-campus interview and presentation at 4 schools = getting one job offer. It is sort of like one of those Jack LaLanne infomercials in which 20 pieces of fruit are dumped into the machine to produce a Dixie cup full of juice. It is a very bad idea to get one's heart set on a particular job, since he or she has no earthly way of knowing which of the 75 jobs will respond favorably.
In short, I am sitting in a room full of socially inept 5th-year graduate students either waiting to hear my name called or in the midst of answering "So what is your dissertation about?" and "Can you teach quantitative methods?" for the tenth time. I am also the only one in this writhing mass of desperate, underpaid humanity who is listening to Locust Abortion Technician at molar-rattling volume as I wait patiently for the academic captive bolt stunner. It is a meat market. A highbrow meat market, but a meat market nonetheless.
*(As an aside, I am also in the most ludicrously opulent hotel room – nay, any room – I have ever seen in my life. God bless you, Hotwire.)