Home > Academic Job Market > The Media Studies Job Market, 1: Intro & A Warning

The Media Studies Job Market, 1: Intro & A Warning

August 26th, 2010 | Jonathan Gray

So, I’ve decided to write a series of posts with advice and comments on the whole process of the media studies job market. Sorry to any non-academic readers, but since I don’t think I have any readers anyways, I’m not too concerned!

Why? Well, there’s a dearth of good advice out there (for a major, lovely exception, see Jonathan Sterne’s site here). The main site seems to be the job search wiki, which while an at-times great source for updates, can also be populated by some bad eggs who post misinformation or speculation on how search committees work, masked as authoritative. Understandably, too, a lot of the posting on the wiki is motivated by fear, anxiety, and anger, and hence doesn’t always see the forest through the trees.

I’m also feeling the job season right now. I finished my Ph.D. in 2003, and almost every year since 2002 until last year, August meant one thing – pouring over Chronicle job listings, white with fear that it’d be another bad year, and playing a stressful game of alternate worlds in which I imagine what my life would be like in a variety of different university towns and cities. But here I am in my second year at Wisconsin, and since I love it here, I ain’t applying for anything. It’s so blissfully wonderful to be off the market … and yet since it’s that time of the year, and the fear and stress is emblazoned upon me by now, I find myself thinking about the market a lot.

(addition/clarification to respond to a comment below: For all those years I was on the market, I was also gainfully employed. First job was a lecturer at UC Berkeley, though, so needed to keep trying to get tenure-track. Second job was t-t at Fordham, but wife and I needed to be on market since she was finishing up)

Pardon the long intro, but before I begin, let me fill in some background, so you know where I’m coming from. I’ve probably applied for 40 jobs in total over the years (20 when I was a PhD student, and I’m guessing 20 since). I’ve had 7 on-campus interviews, with 3 job offers, 3 rejections, and 1 case in which I accepted another job before the decision was made. I’ve also served on 3 search committees officially, and “advised” in 2 other cases. I write from the experience of someone who has had some interviews, some good, some obviously not so much, and I’ve done some interviewing. But I’m not claiming to be an expert. These are simply my opinions, and I sincerely hope that others who’ve applied for jobs and who’ve been on search committees will chime in with their own opinions, even if and especially when they differ from my own. Don’t take anything I say as gospel – it’s just me pontificating.

Three more opening disclaimers and requests, then down to business after the fold:

First, as said, these are my opinions. I will no doubt be on search committees in the future. These posts should not be regarded as the strategic dispersal of information by those committees. Nor should anyone make the mistake of thinking that simply because I feel this way that the committee on which I sit agrees. This ain’t MCS at Wisconsin speaking, in other words.

Second, there is already a site for nasty recriminations and venting and anger – the venting page on the wiki. I don’t want the comments section here to turn into the same, and if they do, I will shamelessly delete or block responses. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that I agree with how things are, either. I’m trying to give advice, which means dealing with the system as it is, not envisioning how it could improve or change.

Third, by all means ask questions. Or answer them. Especially for those attempting the latter, if possible do post with your real name – anonymity may be required in some instances, but your name could also help readers contextualize what’s being said.

A fourth point, added after the fact: note that my blog holds most comments, so bear with me while your comment sits waiting for me to approve it later in the day.

Thus, without further ado, I’ll begin with this:

1) A Warning to Those New to the Market

If you don’t know already, being on the market sucks. There are some fun and exciting parts to it, namely the rush of seeing postings in your precise area, learning that cool schools want people, hopefully meeting other people, finally getting a chance to think beyond your current project and tell people about your next one, the anticipation of getting a real salary or a better one and/or a better living situation, and joining the fraternity of fellow applicants. But it’s also very hard.

It’s really hard on your self-esteem. It’s very common for universities to not even bother to let you know you didn’t get a job. Some will do so even when you’ve been shortlisted and had a campus interview (and some don’t even tell those who they invite for interviews. Dante’s Hell wouldn’t even allow them, they’re such vile creatures). You’ll see postings from universities that you think are bad, but you’ll suck it up and apply, only to never hear from them, leading to the inevitable neurotic thought, “I’m not even good enough for Big Dave’s State University?” You’ll wonder if what you’re working on is stupid, as a result, if you’re just not doing work that matters, and if your cover letter somehow shows you up as an ass.

It’s really hard on your nerves. Very few other jobs are so patently absurd in delaying and drawing out decisions, meaning that you may well be waiting multiple months to hear even a hint of where your application stands at any given place. Most jobs happen at different speeds, too, meaning that if you’re lucky enough to get traction somewhere, you’ll agonize over the likelihood that you’ll need to make a decision before all your options are clear. And worst of all, you’ll spend weeks imagining what life would be like in an assortment of different places, enough to become emotionally attached to some of those possible lives of yours, only for many of them to be killed on the vine. This latter process is all the worse if you’re not single, since some places will be ideal for your partner or kids, some horrible, and you’ll curse your selfishness for applying to some places, and/or your inability to seal the deal with those ones that would’ve been ideal.

It’s really hard on productivity. Don’t think that you’re going to be productive while on the market, since the angst will likely drag you down. You’ll spend your days waiting for news, clicking refresh on the wiki and various job search sites, agonizing, etc. When I was finishing my Ph.D. in the UK and applying to jobs in the US, I did my best work before 2pm, since that was 9am Eastern Time, after which I’d be waiting for phones to ring. Even when you do sit down to work, the self-esteem issues brought on by the market could make you second guess what you’re writing.

So how to cope?

First, don’t go to the dark side. You’ll need to vent to someone, but limit the list of people to whom you vent, so that you don’t become Mr. or Mrs. Poopy Pants. Depts like to hire upbeat, energetic people, not downtrodden, nasty trolls, and ours is a small enough field that word of your attitude may travel far and wide without you knowing it, so you might as well benefit from good word of mouth.

Second, don’t isolate yourself. Keeping your self-esteem up is important. Going to conferences when you’re in your final year is said to be important for networking, and it is, but that networking may occur less at the level of you meeting Dr. I Have a Job For You, and more at the level of meeting Dr. Wow I Love Your Work, or Your Work Sounds Awesome, ABD, both of whom may be instrumental in keeping your spirits up. But be sure to talk to others, too, not just endlessly about how the market sucks this year, but also about what you do, what your diss. is about, etc., so that you retain perspective on why you’re going through all this, and what it is about academia that you love.

Third, think of it like dating. Because at root, the market is a lot like dating. Sometimes you think someone else is awesome, but they don’t even know you exist. Sometimes people dump you and you don’t know why. Sometimes the dumping will make you pine and howl and feel crappy. You may even want to call the person up and ask what you did wrong and how you can change. But it’s likely just a chemistry thing. You might even think the other person just doesn’t see the chemistry that you do. That may be true. But you have to move on. Don’t dwell. Find a way to pick yourself up and get ready for the next one. And keep sight of who you are – some ex’s may hate that you do X, but your eventual lifelong partner may love it, so while of course you should be self-aware (“hmmmm … I wonder if constantly telling my date I think they’re really ugly has something to do with them not wanting to go out again?”), don’t overdo the “what did I do wrong?” latenight thoughts, since many decisions have nothing to do with you.

Indeed, and fourth, this is the key point. Let’s repeat it. Many decisions have nothing to do with you. Some committees have unspoken mandates. Some have inside candidates (though, as we’ll discuss later, not as many as you may think). Some are stupid, don’t know what’s good for them, and are bound to pick a loser, or simply at random. Some committee members are too busy to bother looking at your file. Maybe they didn’t like that font you used. Maybe they had a bad day when they picked your file up, and so all of that day’s batch suffered. Maybe they’re in love with their alma mater and automatically pick someone from there to endorse their petty concerns about whether they chose the right school themselves. Or maybe there are just many other good people in the stack. Or just one. Perhaps that person’s font choice was brilliant. Perhaps s/he opened with a witty line that the committee just loved. Perhaps s/he has secondary skills the department needs. Perhaps they finished their PhD a while back, and are trying to move to a better school, with a lot more experience, publications, etc. under their belt. Don’t self-flagellate and automatically assume that you did something “wrong,” since it may just be that the committee did something wrong, or that someone else did more right, or right for the committee.

What a cheerful start, eh? I promise to be more upbeat with some more specific tips. Next time, I’ll discuss the hiring timeline. For now, I invite anyone who has been on the market to share their own tips for keeping sane.

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  1. August 27th, 2010 at 05:06 | #1

    Thanks for this again, Jonathan. A lot of this I already knew, or suspected, but its good to hear it from another perspective, especially from someone I respect so much. The hardest part has been getting my spirits up and not letting my venting get the best of me. I’m determined to stay positive this year, regardless of the outcome. I think I’ve worked through the inevitable stage of disillusionment.

    Look forward to part II.


  2. August 27th, 2010 at 06:42 | #2

    Jason, a good friend of mine has a really smart policy of heavily restricting who he complains to. It’s a good way both to stay positive and upbeat to most of the world, and to police the depths of darkness to which one might otherwise visit on a regular basis.

  3. Jeffrey Jones
    August 27th, 2010 at 06:51 | #3

    If a phone interview goes really poorly, chalk it up to experience, then go drink heavily and let it all wash away with the hangover. Thus was my experience after bombing an 11:30 a.m. interview.

  4. August 27th, 2010 at 07:08 | #4

    Thanks for the post. As a soon-to-be PhD grad, I’m surprised to read you spend six years in the hunt. How did you decide on how long to stay on the academic track? Did you have a drop-dead date? Or was an academic job a goal you were going to achieve regardless of the time it took?

  5. Colin Tait
    August 27th, 2010 at 07:08 | #5

    Jonathan, thanks so much for the excellent advice. As someone who is nervously anticipating going on the market (well, next year anyways) no amount of information is too much for me. I really like your dating metaphor and the idea that a lot of the time, decisions are completely random.
    Thanks again for demystifying the process and I look forward to reading the next installment.


  6. August 27th, 2010 at 08:22 | #6

    I’ve added the clarification above in the body of the post too, but to clarify, I got a job. I just needed to keep moving. Indeed, it’s important for anyone on the market to disabuse themselves of the notion that their first job will be their last. Only a very rare few people get the dream job straight out. The rest of us need to work our way up bit by bit. It’s really important for ABDs to know this not only so that they can avoid entitlement, but also so that they remember that they’ll always be competing for jobs with people who’ve been out for a few years and are looking to upgrade.

  7. August 27th, 2010 at 08:56 | #7

    Great post & looking forward to follow-ups. As for coping with the stress, I think it’s important to have something in your life outside of academia to provide a little perspective. When I was on the market for my first job (41 apps!), I was fortunate that my wife was not in academia, and thus hanging out & playing softball with her friends & co-workers helped remind me that the world didn’t revolve around my CV. Everyone needs to find something like that to distract you from the potential of becoming all-consumed with anxiety and/or focus on yourself. There’s little else in the world that’s simultaneously as narcissistic and humiliating as the academic job search…

  8. August 27th, 2010 at 09:13 | #8

    @JasonM and @Jeff, thanks guys for coming by to add your thoughts. I appreciate it, and am sure others do/will too.

    So very right for both of you — alcohol and softball, yes :-)

  9. August 27th, 2010 at 09:35 | #9

    I think its important to find things outside of academia for support, but if I might offer a counter-perspective–I’ve seen a lot of fellow colleagues coming out of grad school who definitely embrace family and other non-academic social networks as a means to cope with the market. But I’ve seen that also become a trap, where they consciously immerse themselves in non-academia only to find themselves unknowingly removed from everything. Thus it becomes a sort of counterproductive cycle which starts to add up job cycle after job cycle. I think its just as important to have a network of supportive folks within academia, at all levels, so as to avoid what can be the self-defeating temptation to take refuge outside it.

  10. August 27th, 2010 at 09:48 | #10

    I’ve been on the market with deadlines, aka, will not have a job after this date four times now. There is no way that you can prepare someone for the stress of the whole ordeal, however you can prepare people to think strategically. I want to focus on three things I have learned, especially for new candidates:

    1) The power of having a job far outweighs the power of not having a job: that is apply to everything including tenure-tracks and one-year gigs. You have chosen a career that is nomadic so you need to be open. I remember being on the job market and thinking, “I really don’t want to work in the middle of nowhere”, which was something of a mistake. I am a city guy at heart, but I have found that some, not all, of those middle of nowhere jobs are pretty sweet. Others stink, but that’s another thing altogether. Also, applying for all kinds of jobs tells you what the market thinks of you. For example, even though I have published quite a bit on film, I never get film job interviews. That means people don’t see me as that guy in my letters and work and, as a result, if I want those jobs I am going to have to stress my abilities in those areas.

    2) Happiness in academia is about fit- When I tell people my story regarding the last three jobs, I get a lot of queer looks. Truth is I have been at three institutions in the last four years and the one that is most discussed as the best academic option was the one I was most miserable at. I knew this because the year after I left i began to, well, have new ideas and be happy even without the security of a tenure track job. The short story is open yourself up and think about what makes you happy. No amount of money or course releases can make you happy. Trust me, you will thank yourself in the future.

    3) Cut yourself a break and learn from failed interviews – I can honestly point to three moments in interviews in the last 10 years when I blew it. Guess what, we all blow it. Why? Because you can only get good at interviewing by practicing it and these moments are rare. You can do mock interviews, which I suggest doing. Indeed, please feel free to follow the link below to look at the regimen I employ for all interviewing situations


    Ok, that’s it for now.

  11. Jonathan Gray
    August 27th, 2010 at 11:16 | #11

    thanks so much, Tim — you’re reminded me to address geographic discrimination in another post, too. Excellent advice. Glad to see you joining in :-)

  12. August 27th, 2010 at 14:52 | #12

    Thanks for this post, it’s a great pep-talk! I’m really looking forward to the series.

    One thing I’d be interested in seeing you address is how to prioritize which jobs to apply for. I sent over 60 apps in my first year on the market, which was basically everything in media studies plus some miscellany (so, many that I was obviously not a good fit for as written). This year, when my situation is better, I’d like to be more selective and do more like 20. I have a lot of guilt/anxiety about NOT applying for positions, though, since all the messages coming in are “you must get a T-T job you must not be picky an offer is always good.” Is it OK to cut jobs by location? By field preference? By app requirements?

  13. Jonathan Gray
    August 27th, 2010 at 18:47 | #13

    yeah, I hadn’t planned to do one on selectivity, but since both you and Tim bring it up, I’ll try to fit one in if I can get enough thoughts on it.

    You’re dark, though: I post about how sucky the market can be and you see it as a “pep-talk” ;-)

  14. Jason Buel
    August 27th, 2010 at 19:09 | #14

    As a first-year grad student in film, this is a great time for me to see such a perspective on the academic job market. I really appreciate your insight.

  15. August 28th, 2010 at 09:04 | #15

    So I sat down to write more on this, and just kept coming back to four simple points (which I address generically, not to you specifically):
    (1) especially in this market, where everyone can be choosy, don’t waste time applying for things where you really have to bend yourself to fit: you’ll waste all that time on the app, only to have it binned in about ten seconds. If you did magically get the job (since, let’s be honest, some search committees are clueless and may not realize there’s a problem), you’ll have to teach courses outside your area, which will take time away from the work you could be producing to get yourself a better job or even tenure at that place, and your work won’t fit the dept norms, making it hard for you to get tenure. So make sure it’s relevant and that you fit the call.
    (2) is having this job worse than not having it? If the answer is yes, then don’t apply. If you have the luxury of being able to stay on at your PhD for another year, if you have a postdoc lined up, or (as I’ll discuss in a later post) if you already have a job and are simply looking to “upgrade,” not applying to places you’d never want to go might allow you headspace to write other things that will help you get good jobs (i.e., articles). If you don’t have that luxury, well, you kind of don’t have the ability to prioritize — they’re all important.
    (3) don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re gonna be in this job for your whole career. I think it’s cute but painful when I see my undergrad seniors think their first job out of college will be a superb, dream job paying $100,000, but it’s no less cute or painful when I see ABDs who think that their kickass degree entitles them to the best job out there. A few rare exceptions exist, but most of us need to work our way up, and one’s job search will be a lot easier once one comes to terms with this. It may feel as though the world will judge you for getting a “lesser” job, but they won’t, since they all know the deal. The question then becomes, “can I live here for a while?” not “is this where I want to grow old and die?”
    (4) As Tim’s comments above suggest, it’s really important to allow yourself the chance of being surprised. I say this not just as someone who has had three positions in my career, but as someone who grew up moving around the world. I didn’t have a choice regarding where my family moved, but I found great things and people everywhere. Making lists of where one won’t go may be important (and there are great reasons not to go to some places), but being open to being surprised is important and healthy. We’re all conditioned to want the R1 position, but some smaller places have a better quality of life, lower (and hence more sanity-inducing) tenure expectations, more dept camaradery (big cities make this hard, since everyone’s dashing out the door for their long commute home), and/or their own distinct charm.
    I hope that helps a bit?

  16. Jonathan Gray
    August 28th, 2010 at 09:09 | #16

    @Jonathan Gray
    Addendum: be willing to pull out all stops for some jobs that you really, really want, though. If your committee members or other friends in the field know dept members at the dream job university, ask them to email a brief shout-out reference. You’ll likely tire your committee members and friends if you ask for such favors all the time, but for a rare few, go for it.

  17. Mel
    August 28th, 2010 at 11:17 | #17

    Thank you for your posts Jonathan. This is really interesting to compare the process in the US and here in France. I went through this during last hiring session in France (from march till june). Unfortunately I didn’t get a position but I try to stay positive. As Jason Mitell says, it is important to have someone around you who is outside of the madness of academia hirings. And practicing a sport is also important. I play tennis and believe me during these moments of long wait, hitting the ball is really good.

  18. Jonathan Gray
    August 28th, 2010 at 11:45 | #18

    I’m sure your smash is fantastic right now, Melanie ;-) Best of luck with the continued fight.
    And yes, it’s quite different elsewhere. In England, for instance, I know that all candidates come in on the same day, and it’s usual for the “winner” to get notified on the train home later that day. Quick and efficient, but rather predatory, when everyone’s on campus on the same day, eye-ing each other up. How’s it work in France?

  19. August 28th, 2010 at 16:04 | #19

    @Jonathan Gray Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses! I don’t know that these points really *answer* my question, but I appreciate having an authoritative perspective that’s an alternative to “apply for everything!” I’ve been going back and forth on #2 in particular — whether I should apply to jobs that I’d have difficulty accepting if offered them. I’ve been told “any offer gives you leverage,” but it seems like bad faith. Then again, I have to balance all that with #4, which I struggle with. Not on the basis of R1, though, since I have very positive associations with liberal arts colleges too. Anyway, what I took from this was “it’s not an exact science,” and it’s OK to weigh various factors in a personal sense, including gut feelings.

    I guess I saw your warning as a “pep talk” because it tells job seekers it’s normal to struggle with this process! That’s something I think a lot of us are relieved to hear.

  20. August 28th, 2010 at 16:15 | #20

    Two responses, one for you specifically, one for others:
    (1) for others, yes, in that case it is a pep talk. You may be thinking you alone are going through this. But we all did. If Jason, Tim, Jeff, and others are all contributing, that’s not just a sign of them being good blokes — it’s a sign that we all went down this path, and we all survived, so it’s possible for others to survive too.
    (2) for you specifically, feel free to email me and we can talk specifics if you want. It’s always hard to answer in the abstract, since some people are more gifted and published than others, some have diff. life situations, etc. One person might be right to hold out while another is foolish.

  21. August 28th, 2010 at 18:12 | #21

    Here’s a better link to the interviewing questions I noted above


  22. Mel
    August 30th, 2010 at 00:18 | #22

    @Jonathan Gray
    In France, in order to apply for positions, you have to pass what is called “Qualification” (after you have your PhD of course). The “Qualification has a duration of 4 years, and if you don’t get any positions within those 4 years, you have to pass it again.
    All the positions are posted on a website and you have to apply first there and then send the files to the Universities.
    All the candidates are interviewed on the same day, as in England. The results are then posted on the website where you first apply.
    The whole process takes 4 months, between march and june of each year.

  23. August 30th, 2010 at 17:42 | #23

    @Jonathan Gray

    Just one counterpoint re #3 that I’ve seen quite a bit in the past decade or two as most of my friends ended up in positions they thought they’d move up from–be prepared that you might not! That’s kinda the opposite of your point, but in a way might also answer Julie’s. I’ve had a lot of friends who compromised and then never got that better job.

    I also think it might be useful at some point to acknowledge different goals for different people. E.g.: At what point is a nomadic lifestyle *not* conducive any more to other aspects of your life. What do you do when you’re in a 4/4 (or 5/5) and can’t publish your way out of it. What if you’re just not the R1 type–how do some of your suggestions change at that point. And, in general, what role does academia play in your life. (I found the comment in a later post in turn fascinating and slightly horrifying, where the outside world became this threat to the obsessive navel gazing of the ivory tower <- OK, my reading : )

    I know I come from the bizarro other world, and none of these are necessarily questions that you need to address. But the sad truth is that as usual, the only people participating in this conversation are the best/lucky/persevering ones…which makes this pep-talk after all??? Because the rest are MIA…

  24. August 30th, 2010 at 18:04 | #24

    Thanks Kristina … and for helping further to break the J-name hegemony going on in this comment thread ;-)

    And yes, let me add something — if you intend to move on, you gotta be prepared to work like a yoked animal to do so. Publishing expectations, for instance, only go up the more senior you are. So the other answer to Julie’s question is that there’s a real distinction to be made between “lesser” jobs that allow you time and energy to have a life and/or to work like a yoked animal, and those that don’t. Often you won’t know this when you apply, but a campus visit/interview should make it a little more clear. If you’re seeing the job as a stepping stone, the latter type are the kiss of death. Do you have lots of committee expectations? (good places, for instance, will give very little service work to junior faculty). What’s the teaching load? Do you have other people in the dept who it’ll excite you to talk to? All these things can matter.

    Even with crazy work levels, though, you may be where you are for a while or forever, and you’re dead right to point that out. There’s no easy antidote to that, nor any counter-point I could offer.

  25. Adrift
    September 20th, 2010 at 13:04 | #25


    I hope the fact that I haven’t used my name will not be held against me. If my questions were less embarrassing I would have included it. I am not looking for a job in academia, but I am interested in media studies and the market for jobs in that field. I have been out of the job market for several years due to illness and need to determine how best to re-enter the market now. My original degree was in art history and I did work for a museum and a graphic design firm that prepared manuscripts for publishers. My recent volunteer experience has been related to social justice/policy, but my greatest strengths are my ability to interview people about sensitive topics, think creatively and visually, conduct extensive research and analyze print and visual media. Although you cannot judge from this message, I write very well. Having been ill for so long I have watched more television than can be considered healthy and read extensively. Over time this exposure to various media lent itself to a critical analysis of the ways in which information is prepared and presented in print and on television. It is disheartening to have spent an obscene amount of money for an Ivy League education that is obsolete now that I’ve been out of the job market this long. I’m considering returning to school in media studies/communication, but I have no idea where to begin. I don’t know what schools to consider or how to make myself a viable candidate for admission – and most importantly, how likely I am to find a job if I pursue this course of study. I can’t afford to spend money on another degree if it won’t help me to secure a job when I graduate. I apologize to both you and the other people who have left comments, for the length of my post and the roundabout relevance to your topic. I have approached you because, as an academic, you possess the information I need in near totality and I have been unable to find anyone willing to speak to me in any informational capacity to this point. I hope you will be able to offer both information and advice or, at the very least, direct me to someone who could provide the information I have requested. Thank you for your time and consideration.

  26. Jonathan Gray
    September 21st, 2010 at 22:10 | #26

    hey Adrift, email me at jagray3 at wisc dot edu and we can talk directly. The advice changes depending on a lot of specifics, so I’m wary of giving shotgun advice for a specific situation

  27. Lakshmy Venkiteswaran
    August 5th, 2013 at 08:12 | #27

    Hi Jonathan…Loved reading your post….though I am a few years late :-) I am a journalist from India with almost 10 years experience. I am very much interested in applying for PhD, for which I’m willing to quit my job and pursue research in the US. Your post was helpful….though, I’m curious. What’s life like while doing PhD? Are TA/RA easily available? I’ve heard some horror stories about PhD scholars getting depressed and having a tough time financially, as scholarship funds were barely enough to make ends meet. Much as I am passionate about my research topic – Media & Child Sexual Abuse (it’s a bit vague, am still in the process of narrowing it down), I also have to be aware of ground realities. Hoping to hear from you soon.

  28. Jonathan Gray
    August 15th, 2013 at 20:55 | #28

    Lakshmy, it’s really hard to answer this question in the abstract. Some PhD programs are friendly and supportive, some are hostile and competitive; some pay you well, some don’t; and the availability of TA or RA work depends entirely upon the institution and the individual. What I’d suggest, therefore, is that you ask the programs these questions in the application process, and if they want you and are recruiting you, make sure you get the chance to ask existing grad students before you go. Sorry not to offer an answer beyond that, but some people indeed have horror stories, some are somewhat to blame themselves, some are faultless, and others have great tales.

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