DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have, over the past few years, applied to a number of academic appointments in English departments across the country -- and, like an unfortunate number of people in the humanities, I have not been able to secure a position. This means I have become, at least in the eyes of my in-laws, the living cliche of the graduate student who simply will not graduate.
I know there are worse existences. My advisers in my department have done their very best to assure me that eventually, with time, patience, and some luck, I will secure a job, and I have some hope that this will happen.
In the meantime, I now have to look forward to yet another holiday season and the requisite barrage of job-related questions from family and friends who are not so well-acquainted with the humanities and its job market killing-fields. Indeed, what often begins as a series of friendly questions or innocuous observations from relatives soon turns into a not-so-friendly inquisition, which invariably ends with some flavor of the questions: “Have you ever considered other options?” and “What would those be for you, exactly?”
I prevail on your expertise, Miss Manners, in dealing with lines of questioning that are at once sympathetic and invasive. I’m doing my best to maintain my temper for now.
GENTLE READER: The trick is not to let it go beyond the innocuous stage. And you should learn this now, as the problem will not cease when you do get a job. Only then, it will be about suggesting more lucrative fields.
The easiest way is to give a simple answer and immediately start questioning your interlocutors about themselves. Not only is that distracting, but it is considered charming.
For hard cases, Miss Manners suggests a soulful look and the cheerful declaration of, “I know it’s hard, but I’m not going to give up pursuing my dream.”
You will recognize this as a popular cliche of child-rearing. For that very reason, anyone who tries to advise you to give up and settle for less is going to look bitter and bad.