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.