Today’s mail brings an urgent plea from Debby, who needs your advice, dear readers:
I graduated from a top university in my subdiscipline; I love research and writing and teach okay to well, depending on the circumstances. It’s tough to get a tenure-track job in my subfield, and I was the only one who did from my grad program the year I graduated: a tenure-line, mostly administrative position as director of a program embedded within a humanities department at Disintegrating State University. I got pregnant second year and got zero support, institutionally or from colleagues, and suffered from postpartum depression. In my fourth year there, my colleagues voted “not to reappoint” (i.e., to fire) me, mostly because of a hatred of my subfield; malicious, scapegoating, and backstabbing colleagues; and bad department management.
For over a year, I’ve been mourning the loss of a career I love. My CV includes a frequently cited article in a top journal; one in a book from a top press in my field; a few articles tossed off in crummy journals; two forthcoming in book collections and one forthcoming in another top journal; a fancy award. I’ve applied for a few jobs, but have had no luck. So here’s my question: I think my dissertation topic is important, interesting, and timely. I’d love to write a book about it. Would publishing such a book help me get back on track–tenure-track, that is? The caveat: I will never work at another place like DSU—only at a college that values good research and conducts itself with reasonable integrity.
Debby, it sounds to me like you were treated very badly by your former department. Why would they hire a new Assistant Professor to run a program? And if as you say, your sub-field didn’t enjoy strong support in the department that hired you, then it sounds like you were set up to fail. In cases like this I think it’s really important not to internalize the judgement of people who clearly were clueless about defining the job and neglectful (or malicious) in not working to help you succeed. I don’t know why departments do this, but they do, and it just perpetuates bad juju.
But, it sounds like you’re clear about your strengths as a scholar, so why not write that book and see what happens? Publishing your book may get you back on the tenure-track in a job that suits you. At the very least, the process of writing and publishing will necessarily draw you back into supportive networks (through conferences and contact with publishers) who will affirm your worth as a scholar, and who might have valuable connections to job and fellowship opportunities. And in the end, a book in your hand will make you feel like you achieved something distinctive.
All of this is contingent on you having the time (and therefore the money) to do this. You mentioned that you were pregnant, so I assume you have at least one toddler or preschooler now–and if baby needs new shoes, that will certainly take priority. Readers, what do you think? How would you look at Debby’s CV if she publishes her book and applies for a job in your department?