The Happy Academic studies the MLA's report on the JIL… sorta

In my capacity as the happy academic, I occasionally field questions from loyal fans who are considering embarking on a happy academic career of their own. Just a couple of weeks ago, I responded to an email from someone asking if they too should consider an academic career. I told this young person that she ought to finish high school and then college first.

In any event, I recently browsed through the Modern Language Association’s “Report on the 2003-04 Job Information List,” available via the Association of Departments of English homepage. This was actually published in the Fall 2004 MLA Newsletter, a document I didn’t receive despite my recent rejoining of that organization. It’s a PDF linked to the ADE’s main page, and it is a document that any future academic in English studies ought to consider.

A report like this only tells a part of the job market story and we are currently in the 2004-05 year, but there are some interesting things present and absent in this report.

  • The total number of listings in the English edition of the JIL (in other words, these are jobs in English departments, more or less, as opposed to Spanish or German departments) is down from 1,622 in 2000-2001 to 1,362 in 2003-04.
  • The total number of listings in “Composition and Rhetoric” is down as well, from 499 in 2000-01 to 400 in 2003-04. However, “Composition and Rhetoric” still leads the pack in terms of total number of jobs listed. In “second place” on the list of “index terms” is “British Literature;” third is “American Literature;” and fourth is “other.”
  • But these numbers are problematic because, as is pointed out in the explanatory part of the report, lots of jobs use multiple index terms– in other words, you’ll see plenty of ads that say something like “assistant professor in American literature and composition and rhetoric.”
  • These numbers are also problematic because of the subdivisions within these index terms. Most departments don’t hire people in “American Literature;” rather, most departments hire folks in 19th century American Lit, or 20th century American Lit, or American poetry, or some other specialization. The same is true in composition and rhetoric and British Literature, too.
  • Interestingly enough, the report also lists the index terms “business and technical writing,” “English education,” and “technology and digital media.” Most of the time, these terms show up in conjunction with the index term “composition and rhetoric.”

While this report gives a pretty good picture of how many jobs are out there, the “demand” in different fields in English studies, it doesn’t say anything about the “supply” of candidates to take these jobs. And the lack or abundance of “supply” can make a big difference in terms of the “demand.”

I’ve written about this frequently with composition and rhetoric, where the “supply/demand” ratio is relatively balanced. But just to consider a different example, consider the index term “English Education.” According to the report, there were 101 positions in English Education last year, which is not even close to the amount of positions in the “top three” areas. However, what this report doesn’t reflect is that there are very few qualified candidates for these jobs. While candidate pools in American or British can routinely number in the hundreds, candidate pools for English Education searches are frequently in the single digits.

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