Having "come of age" in the Internet era, I consider myself rather fortunate. Till the crash of 2000, it was not hard to convince myself of the indispensability of computer science (and computer scientists) and the research job market reflected that. People who had been around longer used to talk about the early 1990s when CS research jobs were hard to come by and graduating Ph.Ds did postdocs as a matter of course to bide their time.
It seems a lot worse now, but compared to other professions, we are incredibly fortunate. This musing was prompted by an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about the Invisible Adjunct, an anonymous adjunct in the humanities who wrote an eponymous and very popular blog. She just had to stop writing, having given up on her quest of finding a tenure-track position after having 'adjuncted' for five years.
The Invisible Adjunct grew up in a working-class family in Canada. She put herself through college near home. That's where advisers first gave her the counsel she now tries not to hate them for: "You're too smart for law school," they told her. "You're one of us." And with that, she was off to an elite graduate school in the United States.
Five or so years later, she had a new doctorate in history and she waded into the job market. She managed to score a campus interview at an elite research university, but came in second. Given how small the world of academe is, she doesn't want to tell everyone where she almost landed. Let's just say you've all heard of it.
But in the five years since, after coming so close at one of the nation's top institutions, she has never been granted another campus interview at an American college, though she has applied all over. To be so close and then to disappear into the fog of adjunctdom makes the system seem all the more unfair.
There's an interesting related article at Crooked Timber about academic Calvinism (short summary: the worthy are rewarded with tenured jobs, and the unworthy go to Hell (or adjunctland).
Link via Brad DeLong