I’m sorry to have to tell you…

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Gave a nice talk at the town’s library on Sunday, about fifteen people there to talk about higher ed and how individual students and scholars navigate it. One person said that her grandson had just finished college and was about to go to graduate school to become a faculty member, and that she was just scared to death for him after having read my book. And my heart went out to her.

I feel sometimes like the doctor who brings the bad news to the family. It’s not terminal, but it’s pretty dire. And as with your health, there are risk factors that can push your own status toward the more-likely-successful or the less likely. One of the features of the coming book is a quiz at the end, like one of those Cosmo Love Quizzes, to find out whether you’ll ever get a faculty job. It’s too long to put in the blog, but here are its components:

Demographics: male or female, childless or children, age at degree. Each of those offers a strength or weakness to your candidacy, and you can guess which pole is which.

Discipline and degree program: are there lots of schools that offer your discipline as an undergraduate major, or just a few (and thus few openings)? Is your doctoral program internationally recognized as a leader in that discipline?

Dissertation advisor: is your chair internationally recognized as a leader in his research? Is he well liked and well networked? And is he going to be active in talking you up among his colleagues?

Your own productivity as a grad student: have you presented at the major national conference in your discipline? Have you published in peer-reviewed journals? Have you written proposals for grant funding? Have they been successful?

Your parents’ history: what they did for a living, where (or if) they went to college, if they understood the importance of orthodontics.

Your prior educational history: where you went for undergrad, whether you took time between undergrad and grad school.

Your self-presentation: short, average or tall; slim, average or heavy; tattoos and their class characteristics; your accent.

Your regional or institutional selectivity when you’re on the market: Will you apply for jobs from Georgia to Idaho? Red states and blue, metropolitan and rural, religious and secular? From R1 to community college? Or do you have some geographic or intellectual boundaries?

None of these answers will offer a guaranteed outcome, neither good nor ill. Your Aunt Millie might have chased her fried chicken dinner with a cigar and a Jack Daniels every night for seventy years, but you wouldn’t advise it to others. Each of these characteristics represents not certainty but likelihood, a central tendency that suggests buoyancy or descent.