I am one of the lucky ones. Thesis defended and submitted. Tenure-track position. A baby coming up.
Students have asked me how I made it this far. Many have requested advice. I could tell you a lot: I could tell you to how to prepare for the intricacies of the research, navigating a bureaucratic world while not stepping on too many toes. I could share with you my pains and joys of rejections, failures, and data collection. I could also give best practice advice for approaching opportunities, caring for yourself, and making the most of your interactions with professors. But honestly, much of that has been done before. You could find excellent and relevant advice here, here, and very much through the links shared here.
But here’s what I can offer that is unique: It was purely God’s will that I got into the PhD program in the first place – by the way of the wait list no less. It was sheer lunacy that the financial package was beyond my wildness dreams, complete with a willing wife breadwinner at home. It was pure luck that I somehow derived a dissertation with three complete papers despite consistent failures. In other words, having only blood running, sweat dripping, and tears shedding could not bring me success in a PhD program. While those are certainly prerequisites, I needed more than that. I needed God’s miraculous Hand in all of it.
Of all the things resulting from a PhD program, there is no area where these things ring truer than in the academic job market. Having seen the inherent complexities and variation in the job market, mostly from the experiences of others, I will say that the dream of a tenure-track job is tenuous for most, and downright out of reach for many, due to the inherent subjectivity in determining between a number of very qualified applicants. There are certainly things that will put you in better position to obtain your dream academic job (or any academic job), but there will always be things that make you an imperfect candidate and therefore everything is a bit in the eyes of the beholder. We can’t control the biases and perceptions of others, just as we can’t control someone falling in love with us.
So to all who seek advice, I will say this: Do not allow your happiness to be derived from, and do not allow your success to be determined by, the academic job market. Failure to achieve it will not mean you cannot conduct high-level research. Success will not necessarily mean success. It could just mean another four to nine years of a stressful path towards tenure, a journey with many perils and subjectivity in itself. Either way, at the end of the day, your attitude, your perseverance, and your grit will go a longer way to determine your success than what the job market tells you.