Byline: Rebecca Schuman
One chilly December morning in 2011, I awoke from unsettling dreams in a strange room in Indiana missing several key pieces of information. Among them were: where I was, what I was doing there, and my own name. I was relieved that unlike Kafka's Gregor Samsa, I was still in human form-Gregor Samsa I remembered!-but everything else was terrifying.
Eventually, I managed to recall my name and that I was in a hotel room paid for by the generous organization that had also paid for my two-year postdoctoral position in the German program at Ohio State University. This was supposed to keep me from dropping out of academe until the literature job market rebounded.
I had been attending a meeting of postdoctoral grantees, during which I was told: "We will be watching you very closely to see if you get a job." That had precipitated intense anxiety, which probably triggered temporary amnesia, the "dissociative fugue" from which I was now recovering. Oddly, this fugue state was an unsurprising development, since I had been in the process of forgetting who I was for seven years.
Back in 2005, I had entered my Ph.D. program insisting that I would complete the doctorate purely for my own edification, and that I was therefore immune to the dismal employment odds. And now here I was in Indiana, during what was shaping up to be my third failed go on a job market that had taken over my whole life.
On the drive home, I started to remember more: We had been asked to share our progress, as it was December, and interview requests were rolling in-but, once again, and despite the support of many of my field's biggest wigs, they weren't rolling in for me. I knew my unlikely chances, and the other...