Job Seeker Solidarity: Shine Theory for Graduate Students

So the academic job market season is coming, and job seekers are busy preparing their applications. This year I and several of my close friends and colleagues are polishing our CVs and girding our loins for the coming storm. I won’t try to offer detailed advice about the application process—it’s not the role of this blog, and it’s done better elsewhere than I could do here. But I thought I’d write about a policy that I and some of my friends have adopted.

Shine TheoryOur policy might be described as an analogue of Shine Theory. Shine Theory is a term coined by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow. Friedman writes that women often perceive themselves as in competition with each other, and treat their interactions as zero-sum situations. Friedman urges her fellow women to resist the inclination to give in to this pattern, and instead to celebrate each other’s accomplishments. “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” Minimally, Shine Theory demands that women not throw each other under the bus when they feel under pressure.

Now, I don’t want to appropriate Shine Theory from women. But I do think Friedman’s call for solidarity between women can be a model for graduate students in philosophy. We are relatively powerless in academia, and we feel some of the specific pressures that Friedman describes. Most importantly, we face rough competition for jobs. So let’s just call the grad student analogue “job seeker solidarity.”

How does job seeker solidarity work? Just as Ann claims happens among women, graduate students often fear that the job market is a zero-sum game. At the end of the season, only one person will get a particular job, and if there are only X jobs then only X applicants will get jobs. In recent years, there have been several times as many applicants as jobs. Unlike many of the cases Friedman describes, the job seeker situation is both zero-sum and demonstrably dire. (Professor Carolyn Dicey Jennings estimates that in a year fewer than 30% of graduate student job seekers get placed at all, and fewer than 20% get permanent jobs.)

But that doesn’t mean that you and your close colleagues can’t all win out. (I beg indulgence if this sounds selfish—it is at least less selfish than a policy of “Every job seeker for herself.”) It’s not the case that there is just one job, and that if Joe gets that job everyone else is unemployed. In the best case scenario (for me), my friends and I will all be among the successful job-seekers. After all, I want my friends to get jobs, too. I want to meet up with them at conferences and cite their papers and grumble for decades about why they’re wrong about something. We each maximize our chances of success if we share advice and encouragement with each other. And we make the emotional mayhem of the job market more bearable if we share in each other’s (rare) triumphs and (inevitable) defeats.

Even though most of us graduate students have feared that a colleague’s success on the job market implies our failure, my colleagues and I help keep each other on track. We alert each other to promising job postings, even though that means we will compete against each other for those jobs. We remind each other of deadlines. We edit each other’s dossiers. We share tips and discuss strategies. We don’t hoard advice. We talk each other up to scholars at other universities. (And we do this most for those of our colleagues who face extra challenges as women, people of color, or trans* philosophers.) In general we do our best to make each other the strongest applicants we can be.

[Thanks to Eimear O’C and Rhona T for recommending Call Your Girlfriend, Friedman and Sow’s podcast, which is where I first learned about Shine Theory (and many other wonderful and frightful things).]