The Heroic Age
As we all know, the paucity of jobs in the academic humanities as been a reality now for well over fifteen years. Despite the movement of universities and colleges towards the use of adjunct faculty, and the continuing policy of using unfilled or retired humanities positions as opportunities for reorganization and reallocation of funds and resources to business and science, advanced degree humanities scholars continue to graduate and flood the academic marketplace. Recent graduates in medievalism are no exception to this trend. The question is: do you personally continue to follow the traditional road (whatever that may be or entail) to an academic faculty position, despite the enormous odds against you; or do you reassess, reevaluate, and reinvent yourself in order to use your education and experience to your advantage, and still make a comfortable and (more importantly) meaningful lifetime vocation for yourself?
I asked this question to myself well over ten years ago, when I graduated with a Ph.D. in musicology, knowing full well years before that the job market was saturated, and that I probably didn't have the proverbial "chance in hell" to truly obtain an academic professorship. I had seen the adjunct music professors doing their one-year stints for sabbatical professors, making only $18,000 a year, with no job security and really no chance to ever obtain a full-time job in academia. Being both married and a father, I had been working part-time while attending classes in the university library as a graduate assistant in music cataloging, and once my coursework was completed and my dissertation work was initiated, I worked full-time there as well. When I finally finished my dissertation and graduated, I was lucky enough to have a wife who was smart enough to obtain a degree in something employable. My first job after obtaining my Ph.D. was as a library support staff cataloger at the NASA/Johnson Space Center. So, within four months of completing my Ph.D. in medieval musicology, I was cataloging high-technology government documents for the space program. From the Dark Ages to the space age! But I had to have money to pay the bills.
Luckily, part of the benefits from my employer included assistance with education related to my job. It became increasingly apparent to me that I would not be able to make a living as a musicologist in academia (given that I had yet to have a job interview), and although I was tired of graduate education and study, it was obvious to me that librarianship would provide me with the needed financial and job security, given my background and prior job experiences. So, for two-and-a-half years, while I worked full-time at NASA/JSC, I went to library school every Saturday from 8-5 obtaining an accredited Masters in Library Science degree, the "professional" degree for librarians. Once I was able to survive this purgatory, I have been able to slowly move up the academic career ladder, such that I have positioned myself in a academic faculty environment, working towards tenure in librarianship, yet still publishing and researching and presenting in medieval studies and other areas of interest. What I have found out is that I am enjoying academia much more now that I do not have to publish in musicology, but am able to contribute to the profession as an independent scholar without the pressure of the "publish or perish" syndrome. Yes, I do research and publication in librarianship, as that is now my principal vocation, and I currently work in an academic environment where library faculty are granted tenure. But that is how I have positioned myself. And the great thing about it is: I am making more than the average assistant or associate professor ever will, doing what I have always enjoyed doing, without the pressure indicated above.
So, if you are soon to graduate or are currently trying to obtain a job in this cesspool called "the academic job market," strongly consider the advantages and opportunities which librarianship offers. There are many managerial positions within librarianship at the academic level that pay similar to and sometimes better than assistant professorships, while still providing you with the freedom to continue to do the research and scholarship which is your first love.
And the best thing about
all of this is: librarianship is only ONE of many vocations available
to higher education humanities scholars. There are many other
rewarding and exciting career opportunities in today's marketplace
for those who are savvy enough and smart enough to take advantage
of them. The Chronicle of Higher Education is probably
the best source of information in this area. They have a section
under Career Network called "Moving
into a Non-Academic Career," with all kinds of articles,
case studies, opinions, and advice on careers outside of academia.
One of the better articles is written by Gabriela Montell titled
to Find Information on Nonacademic Careers." It is a
rich resource of information on careers in teaching, museums,
writing and editing, nonprofit jobs, internet careers, etc.
If you take anything
from this column, it should be that you are the one in charge
of your destiny, and that you can design and build a career outside
or within academia that brings in both needed income and job security,
yet allows you to enjoy research and scholarship in whatever field
or study you love. The earlier in your graduate studies and/or
career that you are, and the more research and openness you have
regarding what you can or will do with your career, the more you
can direct and control how much you integrate your love of medieval
studies into a job that provides enjoyment and fulfillment. As
for me, I attend the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo,
Michigan every year, present at least one paper and preside over
at least one session, yet I don't have to agonize over tenure
or publication in this area, but can enjoy what I have always
loved: medieval things, concepts, ideas, and history in all of
its varied and manifest forms. I hope that you can enjoy your
life and your career as much as I do.