Two worlds

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 22 March 2008

My little brother's looking for a job in one of the sciences, which means that a) I might finally have to acknowledge that he's no longer six years old and b) I no longer need to go through the Academic Job Markets Are Scary And Mean Seriously I Am Doing Everything I Can Do You Think I Like Working All These Minion Jobs? talk with my parents every phone call, because Baby Brother is living at home again and can do it for me. And is, presumably, because now they're reminding me to work on my publications. Huh. I would say that I didn't need telling that, but given that I was spending my finally-a-day-for-my-own-research! day off playing Escape Velocity when my brother phoned me, maybe I do. Anyway.

I don't know enough about the academic job market in my brother's branch of the sciences - or in the sciences at all, come to think of it - to say much in detail about the kind of jobs he's looking for. Some kind of research assistantship thing? Or maybe a PhD? Or maybe one of those margins-of-academia jobs in government or industry that are lot more numerous in his field than mine? While he's got a lot more flexibility than I have in terms of what to do with his Masters degree that actually requires the use of his Masters degree, though, he's dealing with a lot of the same job market questions that I am. Namely: where the hell is this post-RAE jobs boom? And why did I have to click through five pages of 'further details' to discover that this apparently open position is not so open after all? And did I really just see a job advert for Iraq?

The first of these is another question for another day (and maybe another post, although last time I tried to write about the mechanics of the UK academic hiring system it only made me cry). The last of these could end up as an interesting point about the arts/sciences divide, because the job advert my brother read out to me phrased the living-in-a-war-zone aspect as a reason why the candidate might not want the job ("while based in a relatively peaceful area, the job still carries some risk of possible kidnapping, injury or death"), whereas the one I read for English a while ago saw it more as a reason why the hiring panel might not want the candidate ("MUST be adventurous, innovative and able to deal with unexpected changes to schedule and workload"). But the middle of these, the complete inability of whoever's in charge of this stuff at many universities to write a decent and useful job advert, is the kind of thing we can fix right now.

All we need to do, academic job-seekers of the world, is convince the universities to adopt a set template for their job adverts. We could even make it multiple-choice. Think how much easier life would be for everyone if job adverts read like this:

[permanent/temporary] [post rank] in [field] at [university]
Salary (please circle): Decent - fair - will just about cover the rent - hourly paid
How specific is this in terms of field?: Entirely open - Slight preference for area stated, but not a large deciding factor - Strong preferance for area stated, but we're willing to consider people outside that if circumstances are right - Stated area, or close to stated area, only - That specific thing, no compromises
Teaching load: Hell - Purgatory - Heaven
Current department atmosphere: Clear as a blue mountain sky - Mostly clear, with occasional grey skies and downpours - Perpetually overcast and stormy - Utterly toxic
Do you have an inside candidate (be honest)?: Yes - No

So much easier.