Where Have All the Tenure Track Jobs Gone?

Andrew Pilsch, pictured above on the right circa 2005 at Georgia Tech, recently wrote a very cogent and important post titled “Luck, Hard Work, Blame: How (and Why) Older Generations Hate Us,” which is about the trouble our generation is having finding tenure track jobs and the blame that some entrenched academics mete out on us poor saps for listening to them in the first place.

The problem with finding good jobs in academia now is a revisiting of ghosts from the past. The bad economy keeps folks at work who otherwise might retire, and even when professors retire, administrators convert those positions into non-tenure track, part-time posts–the Wal-Mart-ification of higher education workers.

Andrew’s beef is with people of authority who told him that things would be okay as long as you do well, publish, and give it a good effort. Unfortunately, things are so bad now that even knocking it out of the park might just be a foul ball. I haven’t been to MLA, but I heard from friends who went last year and this year that the available job interviews decreased from about 1,200 to 900. It’s not just that there are fewer jobs available, but it’s also a tremendous number of folks vying for those few jobs. I realize that these metrics of getting a job are affecting everyone right now, but I believe that Andrew does make a valid point that some authority figures in academia that we have each encountered separately have painted rosier pictures about our future job prospects. However, I can honestly say that at Kent State I have encountered more Simon Cowell’s than Kara DioGuardi’s. The early wakeup call that I got from some professors at KSU have put a lot more drive into my motor to build a terrific CV, but my own struggles getting published and meeting young folks who are equally, if not more so, bright with a hunger in their eyes that I recognize from my own have made me question to some extent where I am right now and what I plan on doing in the near future.

I love what I do, I want to do more of it in the future, and I want to excel in my field making lasting contributions. However, the way things are right now and the administrative changes that are taking place with long term implications are making me worry about there being a place for me to do the things that I set out to do several years ago before I earned a B.S. and M.A. and put in almost three additional years thus far on my Ph.D.

I agree with Andrew that we, as graduate students and fellow academics of this generation, have to stick together. I have told my friends here at Kent State the same thing–we are all in this together. These are good sentiments, but I do not know to what extent we can affect a change that will result in more jobs that will provide research and pedagogical fulfillment. Perhaps we are all just weathering a rather lengthy and terrible storm.

What would you say is the best way to survive the current academic job slump? How can we as graduate students pull together to make things better for ourselves?

SFRA 2008 – Friday Awards Ceremony

On the way to the ceremony, I had the opportunity to talk to Jim Gunn and tell him that we share the same birthday (July 12).  Also, I ran into Kathleen Ann Goonan, who had just arrived to the hotel after dealing with a myriad of travel complications.  Luckily, she did arrive on time, and rushed to her room to prepare for the ceremony.  Before leaving, she introduced me to her dad, Tom Goonan.  He’s a seasoned veteran of the Second World War, and he worked with Kathy on her latest novel, In War Times.  I had a great time talking with Tom on the way down the hall about the war and changes to American theaters (I brought this up after having just seen WALL-E in an old single screen theater in Akron, Ohio).

The Friday night awards ceremony was held jointly at the Holiday Inn Holidome in Lawrence, Kansas by the Science Fiction Research Association and the Campbell Conference.  Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Chris McKitterick of the University of Kansas.

The ceremony began with the Campbell Conference awards–the Campbell and Sturgeon Awards.  The first was the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short fiction.  For the first time ever, it was a double tie for first and second.  The second place winners were “Memorare” by Gene Wolfe and “The Master Miller’s Tale” by Ian R. MacLeod.  The first place winners were “Tidelines” by Elizabeth Bear and “Finistera” by David R. Moles who was in attendance at the conference.

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel went to Kathleen Ann Goonan’s In War Times, which justly triumphed over Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (second place) and Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel (third place).

After a short break, SFRA took center stage to honor a number of its members.  The first award given out was the Graduate Student Paper Award for best paper delivered by a graduate student at the previous annual conference.  This year’s recipient was Joseph F. Brown for his paper delivered at last year’s SFRA in Kansas City, Missouri.  He’s looking for a job now, so hook him up!

Ritch Calvin stepped up to the podium to give the next award, the Mary Kay Bray Award for “the best essay, interview, or extended review to appear in the SFRA Review in a given year.”   He called Jason Ellis (me) to the stage to receive the award for two reviews–Starship Troopers (SFRA Review #280) and Brasyl (SFRA Review #281).  As I walked up to the front jets of adrenalin exploded in my bloodstream and a crazy smile was pasted over my face.  I thanked Ritch and then I pulled out my acceptance remarks:

I would like to thank the Mary Kay Bray Award committee, as well as the SFRA executive board and all members.  Since I first joined SFRA three years ago, I’ve learned we have a great organization that I’m proud to be a member of and contribute to in order to play a part in its success.  In my reviews, I hope that I help some of you out with your work just as many of you have helped with mine.  Also, SFRA Review is a terrific resource that is as good as we collectively make it, so I’d like to encourage everyone to contribute more top-rate fiction, non-fiction, and media reviews.

I don’t often get an opportunity to stand in front of so many friends, so I’d like to take this occasion to thank a few of you who helped me reach this point in my career.  I’d like to thank Patrick Sharp for taking a chance, Lisa Yaszek for opening the wider world of SF to me, Andy Sawyer for that Boxing Day excursion and much more, Mack Hassler for pulling for me, and Eugene Thacker for my first copy of SFRA Review.

When I got to that last part, I was choking up and some tears made it past my defenses.  It wasn’t just winning the award that made me so happy, but all of the help that good folks had given me along the way.  There’s many more people that I would have liked to thank while I was at the podium, like Kathy Goonan for that wonderful day at Georgia Tech and my parents for helping me afford to go conferencing this year at IAFA and SFRA.  It was great winning the Mary Kay Bray Award, but it’s even better knowing that I have a lot of friends in such a supportive community of scholars.

The next award was the Pioneer Award, which is given to the “writer or writers of the best critical essay-length work of the year.”  Lisa Yaszek presented this year’s award on behalf of the committee that read over 300 critical essays to determine the winner.  This year’s winner of the Pioneer Award is Sherryl Vint for her March 2007 Mosaic essay, “Speciesism and Species Being in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”  Sherryl does fantastic work, and is deserving of this honor.  And yes, I will get you that Transformers paper very, very soon!

Doug Davis took to the stage next to introduce the Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service, which “is presented for outstanding service activities-promotion of SF teaching and study, editing, reviewing, editorial writing, publishing, organizing meetings, mentoring, and leadership in SF/fantasy organizations.”  Doug had already pumped me for dirt, er, background info on this year’s winner, so it was wonderful hearing the way he wove some of my anecdotes about the recipient, Andy Sawyer of the University of Liverpool, into his speech.  Andy took to the stage and gave an over-the-top acceptance speech that was hilarious and heartfelt.  Afterwards, Andy told me that I’m a dead man.  That’s okay, because I’m glad that Andy and I got to share the stage that night.

The final award of the evening was also the SFRA’s longest running award–the Pilgrim Award.  Originally named for J. O. Bailey’s book, Pilgrims through Space and Time, it honors “lifetime contributions to SF and fantasy scholarship.”  Adam Frisch announced the award winner as the UK writer and critic, Gwyneth Jones.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it to the conference, but she asked Adam to give her acceptance speech that was a little long, but worth its weight in wittiness!

After the award ceremony drew to a close, a number of us mulled around and enjoyed the cash bar.  Doug, Pawel, and I talked for awhile, and I met Anne K.G. Murphy of the Science Fiction Oral History Association.  Kathy, her husband Joe, and Tom closed out the banquet room.  I ended the evening talking with Jason Embry, Patrick Sharp, and Craig Jacobsen about zombies, video games, and recent movies–I hope all you guys have seen WALL-E by now, or will after reading the media review that I just emailed Ritch!

Another SFRA 2008 installment tomorrow…