I’m A Polish Research Professor Now

vidskylten

I have just taken up a steady research job at the University of Łódź, Poland’s third-largest city. I can barely believe it as I write those words. (A description of my tediously woeful previous experience on the academic job market is appended below.) For you Americans: there is no tenure system in Europe, but this basically means that I got tenure. It’s been my increasingly frustrated career goal since I was an undergrad almost 30 years ago.

Everyday teaching in Łódź is done in Polish, a language I began learning a few weeks ago. I’m going to continue my Scandinavian research and periodically do fieldwork with Łódź students, mostly working from Stockholm. But there’s a difference from before: I’m going to be even more productive since I no longer spend one day a week editing Fornvännen. And with time I hope to participate in the department’s projects as well.

As the crow flies, the distance from central Stockholm to central Łódź is 845 km (525 miles). This is a long commute for a European academic and would have crossed more than one language border if the Baltic Sea hadn’t been a big part of the distance. But to US scholars, it’s completely in the realm of the expected: roughly the distance between the capitals of the adjacent states Colorado and Oklahoma.

I feel like an extremely impatient sprinter who finally hears the starting gun. Oh, and the English way of spelling Łódź would be “Woodsh”!

—–

Woes on and off the academic job market 2003-19

After finishing my PhD in 2003 it took me nine years of almost constant productive research (on a shoestring budget) before I got my first adjunct teaching job. For one month. In the following five years I had a series of temp jobs on four Swedish campuses and became all too familiar with the almost completely non-meritocratic hiring practices of Scandinavian humanities departments. In late 2017 I was passed over for yet another job in favour of someone who shouldn’t have been a contender, and I decided I’d had enough. Fourteen years on the Scandinavian job market for archaeology PhDs, over 170 publications, and the securest contract I’d had was for one semester at 55% of full time. Ridiculous. I finished the manuscript of my Medieval castles book, quit doing research, quit applying for funding, and went looking for any kind of job.

2018 proved highly varied. I didn’t get a single one of the jobs I applied for, but instead four employers contacted me and I worked more than full time for the entire year. While editing my four last issues of the journal Fornvännen for the Royal Academy of Letters, I first made maps for the Medieval Sweden project at the National Archives, then taught high-school Swedish and English, then worked as a canvasser for the Social Democrats in the election season, and was finally a heritage expert on an EU project at the County Archaeologist’s office in Linköping.

2019 has been less varied and less financially rewarding, partly because I’ve been unemployed for the equivalent of almost two full-time months. I’ve taught high-school Swedish, coordinated canvassing for the EU parliamentary election in May and done admin for the local chapter of my party. And again I haven’t gotten a single job that I’ve applied for except for the teaching gig.

From a scholarly viewpoint though, 2019 has been a good year. My Medieval castles book appeared in March, I’ve translated it into Swedish and that version will appear in February. I’ve also translated Nils Mattsson Kiöping into English and annotated his writings, a project that is almost completed and which I hope to see published this year.

Contract archaeology has had no work for me in these two years, partly because there hasn’t been a major infrastructure project near Stockholm. But also because my profile is off. I’m 47, I’ve headed years of fieldwork for research purposes, but I’ve only worked for three seasons total in contract archaeology. Two employers have told me that you can’t get into that business on the fifth floor. You have to enter at street level and walk up the stairs one season at a time. They can’t hire someone with my CV as a rank-and-file digger. And they recruit their site & project managers in-house. One fellow told me there would be mutiny among his tried-and-true hopefuls if he gave those jobs to unfamiliar research eggheads.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

52 thoughts on “I’m A Polish Research Professor Now”

  1. ” there is no tenure system in Europe”

    Maybe not exactly, but there are permanent academic jobs, in some places people who have them are civil servants for life. True, the idea of the tenure-track job is not the norm; people tend to move around doing a few postdocs then get hired into a permanent job or (in most cases) leave the field (very few continue past the age of, say, 45 on temporary jobs). In some places, people have woken up and smelled the coffee and have set up something like the tenure-track system. Borta bra men hemma bäst. It is good in an academic context to work elsewhere, but in most cases this is better done when one is young, then settle down to a tenure-track job and get promoted to a permanent job at the same place if one performs well.

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      1. Not sure what you mean. I would prefer the tenure-track process rather than hopping around from place to place before landing a permanent job at 45 or whatever. I think that the tenure-track process is the rule, but of course high flyers sometimes go straight to a permanent job and/or get an offer from a more prestigious place after they have a permanent job elsewhere.

        The big difference between the USA and Europe is that in Europe it is basically up or out. In the USA, there are many more colleges etc. since many jobs learned in Europe via apprenticeship, technical schools, etc. are learned in colleges there. So people from the good universities (roughly corresponding to all universities in Europe), if they don’t get a job at a prestigious university, can get a teaching job, with a little time for research, at Cornfield College or wherever. (Those with degrees from Cornfield College, though, probably have no future in academia.)

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      2. Yes, it happens. However, they are usually looking for someone who already has a prestigious job elsewhere, or to attract some hot young dude by offering him a permanent job straight away. (In practice, promotion to tenure would be just a formality for such people in most cases, so they could settle down if they wanted to, but of course having a permanent job straight off has its advantages.)

        In practice, those interested in staying in academia will usually apply for tenure-track jobs as soon as they can, as opposed to moving house every couple of years with less job security.

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      3. I’m not so sure. For one, it probably depends on the field. Also, more Portuguese might apply for Finnish jobs than vice versa.

        Certainly, in some fields, it is common to apply in a large number of countries, both to increse one’s chances but also because working elsewhere is good (either one values it oneself or those calling the shots value it). In some countries and some fields, there is a (usually unwritten) rule that, say, the first postdoc has to be in another country.

        At least in some fields, I think that it depends more on tradition than on the number of people in the country. For example, the Netherlands is smaller than Germany, but has had a tenure-track system for a long time, whereas this is just getting underway in Germany. (In Germany, it was frowned on as a way of combating nepotism, a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, favouring the local candidate because he is local is bad, but so is disfavouring the local candidate because he is local. Some people don’t move because they have connections, but some don’t because they keep getting good offers. Similarly, some move about to broaden their horizons, while others do so because people are glad to get rid of them. This led to some absurd situations, such as when a local candidate, who has been local for several years, was clearly the first choice, and in many cases also objectively the best candidate, so what happens? He accepts a permanent job elsewhere, only to return a couple of years later as an “external” candidate. I think that things have changed since people started to realize such absurdities, but also because good people were applying for tenure-track jobs elsewhere, and also because it is not as easy as it once was to continue to employ someone who is not the best person for the job.)

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      4. In certain fields it can be done: there are research laboratories affiliated with some universities. One of the most prominent (at least in my field) is the Applied Physics Laboratory, which is operated by Johns Hopkins University (however, the lab is in suburban Howard County while the main university campus is in the City of Baltimore). But the fields where it is possible to do this are mostly STEM, with some economics (because there are rich people willing to fund economics research that supports their political agenda). For an archaeologist it would not be possible.

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      5. It depends on the field, there seem to be a few jobs like that in fields close to applied natural science, jobs that are not one semester at a time (or sometimes they are attached to the library or the IT service) but not ‘until retirement or a crisis in funding’. I think that Peter “Not Even Wrong” Woit has a job like that in a mathematics department. Back in 2016 there was a plan to change federal funding rules so labs that hire long-term positions don’t spend more dollars-per-publication than labs that rely on PhD students and postdocs (and since one of the criteria for getting a new grant is showing that you got as many publications-per-dollar out of the old one as possible …), but then a new administration came in.

        Congratulations on the new job!

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      6. “It depends on the field, there seem to be a few jobs like that in fields close to applied natural science, jobs that are not one semester at a time (or sometimes they are attached to the library or the IT service) but not ‘until retirement or a crisis in funding’.”

        I guess that there must be professorships and other permanent academic positions in archeology. I don’t know what the ratio of the number of such positions to the number of people who want one is.

        Or maybe I just watched too much Batman as a child. 🙂

        Someone once said that if you have trouble explaining the word “camp” to someone, just point them to the Batman television series.

        Merely the fact that Adam West chose to play the role completely straight is a mark of pure genius. He got the role in part because he was the only one who could deliver his lines without laughing. The series is full of allusions lost on more than 99% of the audience but appreciated by those who get them. Those who don’t remember the 60s will probably miss a lot of references, and there is also a huge amount of satire, again over the heads of most people.

        West was offered the role of James Bond, but declined, saying that a Brit should play it.

        I also like the fact that, like the original Star Trek series, it is set in a fictional time and place, but just drips of the 1960s.

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      7. My dad got a job at an advertising agency on Madison Avenue — Mad Men ten years later. We lived in the US for two years and returned home right around my 6th birthday.

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  2. “As the crow flies, the distance from central Stockholm to central Łódź is 845 km (525 miles).”

    How often will you commute? And have you asked Greta if it is OK to fly? 🙂

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    1. Not sure, but seems like 2-3 short visits every semester. I had to fly here this time because the ferries stood still over the New Year, but I am riding one of them home. Probably can’t afford to use the ferry again.

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      1. So you’ll actually live in Sweden and take 2–3 short visits each semester to Poland? That’s not so bad.

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      2. Have you turned on comment moderation? Usually, I don’t see the “Your comment is awaiting moderation” message.

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  3. Polish pronunciation sounds more like Woodj to my ear, but whatever – it isn’t lodz.

    “A range of BA, MA, and postgraduate courses held in English as a language of instruction are offered to Polish and overseas students.” So that should be OK.

    Seems like they have widespread cooperation with universities all over the world, so “students of the University of Łódź can graduate with dual diplomas.” That is a very good thing, not least for portability of their qualifications.

    It sounds all good to me.

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  4. When you physically visit Poland, you absolutely must visit Krakow, the site of one of the oldest universities in Europe.
    BTW, during Stanilaw Lem’s later years he lived in Krakow. The bus manufacturing company that delivered to the municipal bus company in Umeå is based in Krakow.
    The company (or the bus version) was, of course, named “Solaris”. I am probably the only one in a 1000-km radius who “got” the connection.

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  5. Congratulations on the new job.

    In the US the distance between Stockholm and Lodz could be covered in a long day’s drive, but that assumes a reasonably direct route. We don’t have anything quite like the Baltic Sea–the closest thing would be Lake Michigan, and that really only affects travel between Wisconsin and the lower peninsula of Michigan. Or you could fly that distance; it’s a bit longer than Boston to Washington DC, and most people who travel that route fly (I have done so several times myself over the years).

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  6. Thank you Eric! I get to choose between various combinations of air travel, train, bus and ferry. All are expensive, time-consuming and uncomfortable except air + train, which is on the other hand heavy in CO2.

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  7. Det här är ju en av anledningarna till att jag valde bort arkeologi som yrke där för 12 år sen. Läste i Visby och har det fortfarande som favvohobby, men kulturen inom karriärsarkeologin är inte värt det för mig. Hoppas du trivs med arbetet vid universitetet!

    Liked by 1 person

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