The JIL is up, as every human alive who ever thought about getting an academic job in the Humanities knows. Yes, the storied MLA Job Information List is a “list” of “jobs” and “information” about them for Humanities PhDs everywhere. The name is rather Orwellian, isn’t it? Job Information List. A bland title for an instrument of such soul-crushing magnitude! Indeed, never has a List of Things on the Internet inspired such simultaneous anxiety and hope among the highly-educated masses.
I will not apply for any of the positions advertised in the JIL. I do not want any of those positions, though I am well-qualified for a number of them. Nevertheless, as soon as someone said to me, “the JIL is up,” I rushed straight to the nearest computer and logged on with sweaty palms and a palpitating heart. I still remembered my password from last year, even though I never remember passwords for anything. I swear, the alacrity with which I approached the task of reading this list of jobs that other people who are not me will get was the very definition of Pavlovian.
It is sick, I tell you.
The post-academic blogosphere is alive with excellent advice for the world-weary academic and the newly-minted PhD alike. Everything these bloggers say is absolutely true. Theirs is a knowledge often born of hard, bitter experience.
For anyone who is thinking of throwing a hat into the ring, I think you are brave and uncompromising. I applaud you.
But I would like to humbly suggest that you consider one question. When you are reading the JIL, and your brain is processing the “information” therein, what is going on in the pit of your stomach?
Pay attention to that feeling. Are those excitement butterflies in there? Are you thinking to yourself that these jobs sound so exciting that you can’t wait to apply and then actually do those things? If that is the feeling in the pit of your stomach, you should go ahead and apply.
But what if that feeling in the pit of your stomach is something like dread? It might not be overwhelming yet, but be honest with yourself. At first, dread can seem almost indistinguishable from the normal sense of wonder and anticipation that precipitates any major life change. But dread is a whole different animal that will emerge into its full-blown dreadfulness soon enough. Here are other ways to put the question: As you read the JIL, do you feel like taking a nap, from the boredom? Do you feel like throwing yourself off a cliff, from the agony? Or perhaps you hear a little voice in your head that says, “is this really what I’m going to do with the rest of my life”?
If you feel any of this, even a little bit, it is a bad sign. It is a sign that you may not really want this, even though your advisor wants you to want it, and even though your mother very badly wants to be able to tell people that her son/daughter is a professor.
My advice to JIL enthusiasts everywhere is to pay attention to that feeling in your gut. One of the first steps to knowing whether you should leave academia is being able to separate what you want from the desires of others. It’s not easy. The JIL is a charming monster. But she’s a monster just the same.