Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why Your Cousin With a Ph.D. Is a Basket Case

Slate
September 24th, 2014

It’s your sister’s wedding, and you and your quiet but nice cousin—he’s doing his Ph.D. in something, maybe history?—are doing your best to get drunk off the watered-down open-bar bourbon. You’re just making polite conversation, so you ask him: “Want to come visit us next Christmas?” Why on earth did his sallow face just cloud over at your kind and generous offer? Because he has no idea where he’ll be living two Christmases from now—he just applied to 30 jobs in 30 far-flung towns, so from a logistical standpoint “next Christmas” might as well be Pluto.
Such is the madness of the academic hiring process. If you have a relative or friend who is an early career academic, chances are you have recently set that poor, damaged soul of hers into an existential death spiral, simply by asking what would ordinarily be a friendly question. For example, with your cousin, pounding booze and scoping bridesmaids, you might follow up: “Well, where do you want to live?” He looks even more miserable, like he just swallowed a scorpion. “Well,” you soldier on, “have you ever thought of moving to [major metropolitan area] and working at [world-renowned institution]? They’re such a big school; they’re sure to have something for someone smart like you.” Now your cousin is beginning to shake. “Why don’t you just send them your résumé?”

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