The last post was yet another reiteration of that old song, "How bad things are on the academic job market." It's a catchy tune, and I sing along, but: Am I the only one who's getting a little tired of it?
One of the oft-repeated verses is: "Have a Plan B." At the beginning of my last year in grad school, I rather belatedly started thinking about this. But unlike friends who studied, say, modern China, my skill set as a medievalist was a bit more limited. How many jobs ask for a working knowledge of Latin? The only things I could come up with that wouldn't require yet another degree were other options in the field of teaching. As I put together application packets for tenure-track jobs, I also researched a few high-end private high schools and kept an eye on the hiring cycle at community colleges. I also began to think about ways I could use my research or writing skills in some area outside of higher education -- technical writing, perhaps? In a pinch, I reminded myself that anyone who had experience operating an industrial dishwasher (I do) would never starve.** But as a plan B, it wasn't such of a much, and my main method for keeping the panic down was to block out what I knew about my debt and say to myself, "For eight years, you have had the privilege of doing what you love. Most people never get that. So whatever you do from here, you're okay."
Fortunately I landed a tenure-track job, so I never had to find out. But luck played a huge role in that, and I know that I didn't think seriously enough about Plan B. And who would I have talked to about it? The sometimes cultish culture of academia discourages grad students from talking with their professors about possibilities beyond the tenure track, for fear that those professors will stop taking them seriously. Market-bound students may hesitate to bring up with each other the possibility of not getting a tenure-track job for fear that speaking it aloud might jinx them, or at least bring down the already shaky morale among their cohort. But it's hard to seriously think about it if we don't talk about it. So why not let's us talk about it right now? Especially if you're in the Humanities, where it's not always easy to imagine our skills as transferable, except in the abstract. What were/are your plans B?
**Maybe not as true today as it was in 2002.