The rise of the shadow residency

April 25, 2009 at 11:40 am 3 comments







 As we all learned in undergraduate theory, tonal phrases “ideally” unfold like this:


Subdominant (indefinitely)


Tonic (or Deceptive)







 There is kind of an unstated assumption that a career in academic musicology follows an analogous path, that we might list as follows:


Subdominant (indefinitely)


Tonic (or Deceptive)

Coursework (+ exams)

ABD (for some indefinite period)

Get your PhD! Become an assistant professor.

Assoc/Full Prof (i.e., tenured positions)







 I don’t have solid evidence that this is how people actually conceptualize professional development in their broad arc, except for Gray and Drew writing simply that “Tenure is the prize.” in their book What They Didn’t Teach you in Graduate School, and Henry Rosovsky pretty much hewing to his trajectory inThe University: An Owner’s Manual. In this post, though I want to challenge this master narrative, and suggest that in practice, many musicology careers actually look like this:


Subdominant (indefinitely)


Dominant Prolongation (for some indefinite period)

Tonic (or Deceptive)

Coursework (+ exams)

ABD (for some indefinite period)

Get your PhD!

Shadow Residency

(for some indefinite period)

TT Positions








What I’m calling the “Shadow Residency” here is the seldom discussed, but frequently experienced, unstructured period of time between getting your PhD and landing in a TT position. It is populated mainly by postdoctoral fellowships and adjunct teaching. It seems pretty real, but no one really wants to think of it as a distinct phase of a career.

Have you ever been listening to an introduction of famous professor X, and are told that he or she has taught at (begin very long list of schools). Up until recently, I’ve always interpreted that as proof of how seasoned said professor is, to have been at so many institutions. As time goes on, though I realize that it could mean many things. Yes, they could be a globe-trotting superstar, but they could just as easily have had a terrible time securing their currently unassailable tenured position.

 Phil Gentry has bravely posted on his experiences adjuncting this year, and I think he deserves credit for showing that there are actually positive things that can be done while serving as “contingent labor,” as he puts it. The prevailing discourse on adjuncting (here, here, and here) suggests a level of satisfaction akin to receiving never-ending dental work.  It should be noted that postdocs are at times grouped in with adjuncts, for example in this New York Times articlewhere a graduate student wonders if they can “even get a postdoc,” as if they are simply something to do while waiting for a “real” job to come along.

 In other fields (I’m thinking in particular of medicine), no pretense is made that the actual graduate degree is only the beginning of a long process of professional grooming – there are then internships, residencies, fellowships, etc.

 In musicology, I know a number of established academics who traveled far and wide before landing their Very Distinguished Chair of Musicology at FancySchamncy U. (I won’t embarrass them by naming names). In fact, it seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, that a freshly minted Ph.D. will land a highly desirable TT job in musicology. Much more common, it seems, are visiting assistant professorships, postdocs, adjuncts, or even TT jobs which seem clearly to be stepping stones while waiting for something else.

 I’m not lamenting anything in particular about this state of affairs, but what I do think needs to be done is that it should be acknowledged as part of “real life” (as opposed to simply “treading water” while one turns 30 (or 35, or 40…) waiting for something else). Life is for living, right? A few actions seem like they can help with this transitional period:

 Manage Expectations. I don’t think I’m the only one who, upon beginning grad school, simply assumed that a TT job lie in wait after finishing a Ph.D., and certainly nothing as amorphous as a “shadow residency” would sit between the end of the degree and the beginning of TT Job. Furthermore, in the hallways of graduate departments, there is at times the tut-tutting and shaking of heads when someone gets a one-year stint, or has moved between several, as if it is somehow not an accomplishment, or even a flavor of failure. Yet this doesn’t make any sense, if it is as widespread as I think it is.

 ABDs should have the opportunity to teach independently. Some schools provide arrangements where graduate students are allowed to run, soup-to-nuts, their own classes. While these are a tremendous time commitment, they seem only slightly more than a heavy teaching load of running discussion sections, and the curricular capital that is amassed more than pays off for it. Allowing ABDs to run their own courses (either electives or introductory level courses in the major) allows them to gain experience that can later make them more agile and effective (i.e., less bogged down in developing courses) during their shadow residency.

 If the resources are available, intensify mentoring between junior faculty and ABDs. Typically, students’ primary advisors have tenure. This makes a lot of sense, since if an untenured faculty member’s appointment were to end, a dissertation crisis is possible (perhaps, even, probable). But I think that junior faculty can be assigned ABDs as research assistants for curricular development, on the conditions that a.) the ABD gets to keep all of the instructional material for their own classes, and b.) when appropriate, the ABD shares in the day-to-day running of the class. This lightens the junior faculty’s workload, so that more publishing/research/etc is possible, and prepares the ABD’s teaching portfolio so that they have a few free standing courses ready to teach during their shadow residency (assuming, of course, they have the luxury of choosing which courses to teach).




Entry filed under: Drew Massey, professional development, Thinking Out Loud.

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  • 1. John  |  April 25, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks for this post about a very important topic. You’ve managed to remain a lot more sanguine about this whole thing than I’ve generally been able to. So, if you’re not “lamenting anything particular about this state of affairs,” then I would be happy to!

    What you’re talking about, generally speaking, is the “casualization” of academic labor, the fact that more and more teaching is being done not by TT faculty with benefits and job security but by grad students, recent Ph.D. graduates, and others, for very little money/benefits/job/security/university support, etc. As a grad student who has taught my own high enrollment classes over the last few years (and who will likely be trying to cobble together adjunct work in the future), I would say that there is, indeed, something lamentable about this. The problem isn’t that as grad students or non-TT faculty that we are better or worse teachers than TT faculty, but that we aren’t really treated like real employees by our university (and compensated and supported accordingly).

    I think you’re absolutely right when you say that we need to manage expectations when we get to grad school and not think that we’re going to get TT jobs at research universities as soon as we graduate. I hope that things like the musicology jobs wiki (which you guys have been great about drawing attention to) lead to a more honest discussion among prospective grad students, current grad students, and current faculty about the state of the job market. I would love to see aggregated statistics about how many people are entering musicology/ethno/theory/comp Ph.D. programs every year, what percentage graduate with degrees, and what percentage land TT jobs within 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years. My sense is that there are just far more people graduating every year than the number of TT jobs available. At a recent SEM, Philip Bohlman talked in his presidential speech about how great it was that there were more student members at the conference than faculty. For him, this was a cause for celebration, evidence that ethnomusicology was growing and assured of a bright future with so many young scholars interested in the field. But looked at another way, it means that (at least for that one weekend in Columbus, but possibly generally as well) there are more people in the field who will want jobs in a few years (when they presumably graduate) than currently have jobs. So unless every faculty member retires or the number of faculty lines in ethno increases dramatically, there’s going to be some serious un(der)employment.

    I generally agree with most of your suggestions for how to manage this “shadow residency” period that will no doubt result from this serious un(der)employment, except for “ABDs should have the opportunity to teach independently.” Teaching experience in grad school will certainly make teaching as an adjunct in the future easier. (It will probably also make one more marketable on the job market generally speaking, as well. At least, I hope so.) But I also think that the increasing number of grad student teachers is part of the very problem we’re addressing, and that we should advocate for fewer courses to be taught by non-TT faculty, so that universities will have to hire more TT faculty to teach classes.

    I also think that if we as grad students need to do a better job managing expectations, our departments need to do a better job managing outcomes. This situation where there are far more students with degrees than TT jobs is a situation that our departments have, in some sense, created (or allowed administrations to create for them, depending on to whom you would like to ascribe agency). Are there fields other than the academy that allow so many people to go through their rigourous professional training programs when the prospects for stable employment are so bleak? Our departments need to advocate for more faculty lines to be created and, frankly, to limit the flow of new students entering the Ph.D. pipeline. And as students, we need to do a better job of advocating for ourselves and not simply accept the fact that many of us will, despite having credentials, be only marginally employed for years at a time. That could include many things, including supporting unionization efforts, advocating within our own institutions and administrative structures for more TT jobs, or encouraging undergraduates to attend only institutions where the teaching is done by trained professionals, who are compensated like trained professionals. Whichever path we want to take, though, I think we need to find some way to get the supply of scholars more in line with the demand, unless we all want to be living in a “shadow residency” for the rest of our professional lives.

  • 2. Drew Massey  |  April 26, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for your fulsome comment. I think you are right that there is a trend towards the casualization of the labor markets in undergraduate education. So no quibbles on that score.

    But I think there is an important countertrend to consider – namely, that many people wind up in TT jobs after casting about in the shadow residency world for a few years. That’s why I’m calling it a residency instead of a purgatory. In fact, I can think of many examples of people who now have very good jobs but held non-permanent positions for several years.

    Now, I won’t succumb to the converse fallacy – i.e., many current TT faculty were once adjuncts, therefore many adjuncts will become TT faculty – but I do think “conversion rate” is an important dynamic to keep in mind for any particular individual who may happen to be in non-permanent employment at the moment. This notion of conversion frequently gets left out of conversations, both in professional development seminars at the departmental and national organizational level, and by current shadow residents. I’ll leave to the side the question of whether the present situation is “good” or “bad,” since I see it as a reality of the early academic environment at the moment, and unlikely to change any time soon.

    That’s also why I advocate for ABDs to try to develop independent curricular portfolios. Yes, I see your point that doing so may be construed as “polluting” the labor market, but again, for the particular individual, once a course is up and running and repeatable, some of the time investment is reduced (or so I hope – I’m teaching the same class this summer that I taught last year, I’ll let you know how that goes), and hence the would-be shadow resident has more time to devote to research/networking/job search/other activities that will ideally lead to long-term employment.

  • 3. Zoe Lang  |  April 26, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Hi Drew,

    Thanks for helping improve the realism of expectations in what happens after we finish. As I recall, the year that I graduated none of us was fortunate enough to get a TT job; however, today several in that class have done very well (and that’s less than 5 years out). As someone who had the 1-year subjunct position, I certainly know the frustration <– subjunct being 1 under the adjunct. However, there were a few good things that I (almost) miss (but not really):

    1) No service component: one of the less fabulous parts of a TT job is the service requirements, including search committees, faculty meetings, area meetings, college committees, university committees, etc…. In my temporary position, I didn’t feel obliged to take part in these. Now from what I understand, experience varies on this (and it can of course depend on the institution), but I feel like far more service is expected of me now.

    2) Test run for teaching: once you start a TT job, the clock is on and suddenly those teaching evaluations actually count. However, in a temporary position, while they may count, they aren’t in your permanent record. I learned a lot in my year of adjuncting — particularly about different types of institutions — and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to experiment before landing the real job. That is not to say that I did a terribly, just that I felt the pressure was less than I do now.

    I certainly see the advantages to running a course earlier in one’s career, potentially at the graduate level. In fact, I would argue that as many teaching opportunities as one can have is ideal, because there is much to learn from any pedagogical experience.


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