How to Secure a Job in Academia

Ending graduate school and going on the job market is a terrifying prospect, especially for those nursing at the teat of a graduate student stipend. Sure, it's not an especially large amount of money, but it gets you by, pays for rent, pays for the food, and possibly pays for Netflix. The only reason you would leave it is for the more attractive teat of a professor's salary, which, if you hit the jackpot and receive tenure, you will get for the rest of your life. That is, unless you screw up bigtime by neglecting your teaching and research duties, have destructive affairs with your students, and in general completely abuse the purpose of tenure.

I am, of course, joking. There's no way you would ever lose tenure. That's why it's so popular: You can act however you want and nobody can do anything to stop you. Seriously. The U.S. military is currently experimenting with granting soldiers tenure, complete with sabbaticals every three years, and finding that they become invincible on the battlefield.

Obviously, then, securing a tenure-track job is important. If nothing else, you will need something to do for the next few decades of your life before you begin to decay and die. The rest of your friends have jobs, some of them on Wall Street. You're never quite sure what it is that they do, since most of the pictures you see of them, from what you can make out, involve cocaine-fueled orgies with celebrities. Still, they have jobs. They have purpose. The purpose of life, actually - and this is what everyone, deep down, believes in their core - is to have a secure job that pays well and that everyone else admires, even envies. The best jobs (and this is especially true in modern democracies) will dole out prizes regularly, and, ideally, you will get those prizes. 

This is the meaning of life. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. I am right. The notion that there could be anything more to life is pernicious, even hateful, and you will remove it from your mind. I permit you to find the leisure time to read books, go to the opera, appreciate art, take up yoga, become politically involved, choose to become religious or to become an atheist, determine what your values are, form meaningful relationships. These activities will make you feel like a swell person, like an authentic human being, and you will derive much pleasure from comparing how well-rounded and how thoughtful you are to others. But one must never lose sight of what matters.

That is why I recommend using the website to build your job application. The website is managed by Dr. Karen Kelsky, who has had literally oodles of experience reviewing job applications and has a nose for what works and what does not work. Everybody uses her site. Everybody. If you do not use her site, you will fail. Failure means not getting the job, which means you will not have purpose in your life.

You should be terrified at this prospect. You may think there are alternatives. There are no alternatives. The most successful tyranny does not suppress alternatives, it removes awareness of alternatives. This is me establishing a tyranny over you. You will obey. This is easy, since you have already been conditioned to feel this way by graduate school. You love jobs, prizes, and the acclaim of your peers; you are horrified by poverty, debt, shame. It is natural. Everyone feels it, no matter what they do. I have known scores of individuals desperately trying to lead bohemian existences, but in the end they all came back to the importance of a good job. Even those who most fervently preach the ideal of nonconformity, sincerity, and independence of mind, are those who, underneath their outrageous behavior and wild external adornments, lead the most traditional and safest of lives. For all of the exotic places they travel to, for all the louche connections they boast about, their internal lives are flat, their sexual lives withered. It is not the divine madness Socrates praised, nor is it the direct, immediate, nonintellectual perception of reality so highly prized by Lawrence. It is a stopgap, a rearguard action; merely something to fill up the vile lacuna in the middle of their existence.

But I digress. What I mean to say is that you should follow my orders for getting a job. Following my orders is not weakness. It is rational. You will want to get the job, so you will go to the website I just gave you. You will follow its instructions. You will both smile and cringe at the anecdotes which hit close to home for you. You will compare its examples with what you have written, and find out where you are wrong and she is right.

The reason for all of this is to be secure. There was a time where desiring this above all else was considered cowardly, pusillanimous, and shameful, but that was then. This is now. You may sneer at all of this, but you know that I am right. You may have faint stirrings of indignation that rebel against everything I have said, but you will still do what I say. Do this, and you will be happy. The notion that happiness consists in anything else is laughable. Happiness is promised by health, security, and a sound mind; not by Plato, Dickens, and Hemingway. Give men bread, and then ask of them virtue.