Post Academic


Great Employment Opportunity! #3: You know it’s time to quit when…

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I’m still frozen out of the MLA JIL, so it’s probably time to pay up rather than just rely on Una74 and the Academic Job Wiki.  But I did find this “Great Employment Opportunity” on the wiki, which really is a great employment opportunity.  I should know, because I interview for this position, more or less, at the Chicago MLA in December 2007.

Syracuse University’s English Department seeks a tenure-track assistant professor in Asian American Literature. This position enhances our strengths in American literature and supports the development of an Asian American Studies program in the College of Arts and Sciences. Ph.D. must be in hand at time of appointment.

The difference between the job posting this time and last time was that the earlier ad wasn’t focused only on Asian American lit, but was looking for a multiethnic lit specialist that could check off as many of Asian Am lit and/or Af Am lit and/or Chicano lit as possible.  The gist of it is that Syracuse seems to want an Asian Americanist, which it must not have gotten the last time around–despite interviewing myself and two friends of mine working in the field.

Personally speaking, the job represents something I’ve been suspecting for a while now, but had been unwilling to recognize: that you know it’s time to quit when the same jobs you applied to before come around again.  This has happened to me before, with mildly encouraging results, when I scored an interview with an Ivy League school the second time I applied to an Asian Americanist position.  The first time was a way-too-early trial run that I mostly did because all my friends were testing the market, myself only halfway through the diss.  The second time I applied for the same position, I did feel I was pretty legit, even though I coulda/shoulda done better with a pretty pleasant interview experience.

So when I saw this Syracuse position open up again, my initial thought was to try for it again, since I’ve had decent luck basically trying again.  Plus, the pool would be smaller, with only Asian Americanists competing this time.  Plus, I would have a strong publication to tout on my CV.  Plus, I have more teaching experience in Asian American and multiethnic lit than before.  Except that my Ph.D. is now three years older.  And if they liked me enough in the first place, I probably would’ve gotten the consolation prize of a campus visit or something, at least.

In any case, I’m passing on this position, because I actually don’t believe in getting a second bite at what’s essentially the same apple.  But this sloppy seconds situation goes to show how the academic job market is an enabler that can fool you into rationalizing what is really insane and compulsive behavior, applying over and over again hoping that the results will change even when you know they probably won’t.  It’s just that it’s even harder to break the cycle when the options are so few and far between and you’re getting more and more desperate for a job.

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6 Responses to 'Great Employment Opportunity! #3: You know it’s time to quit when…'

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  1. Eliza said,

    I can so relate to this post! Your experience is similar to mine and many of my friends who have interviewed for positions at the MLA and AHA, and even been invited to campus, only to learn that the search “failed” for whatever reason months after you invested your time, money, and energy. No way am I going to reapply for these sloppy seconds job openings. Worse still, I know several PhDs who are currently VAPs and who were invited to interview for the tenure track version of their position last year. Not only did the VAPs not get the TT job, most of these searches failed anyway. Talk about a lot of wasted emotional energy all around and an awkward final semester. . .


  2. I love how you called it “sloppy seconds.” From the Hamster perspective, when the same job goes unfilled and keeps popping up on the want ads over and over again, it is a sign of high turnover or major office drama. Steer clear!

    I have a question about academic funding–does the money that would have funded the new hire’s salary go elsewhere? Is it “use it or lose it”? I got the impression that, for Hamsters, if the money came up for a new hire, they would jump on it and hire immediately. I always wondered how the budget worked in the academy …

  3. Orangeman said,

    Arnold, I really feel your frustration with this, and I think your frustrations is justified. But I take some issue with the comment above–I hear what you’re saying about the Hamster world (“when the same job goes unfilled and keeps popping up on the want ads over and over again, it is a sign of high turnover or major office drama”) but that isn’t always the case here. The scarcity of jobs creates some strange dynamics.

    I actually have a t-t job at Syracuse (not in the English Department), and though I know absolutely nothing about this search, I think you need to appreciate the bind that ambitious schools like SU are in. For one, it’s possible that this is an entirely new line: our chancellor is aggressively trying to take advantage of a bad job market and make unprecedented numbers of new hires. My school has a crop of several new t-t hires this year and has active searches for even more this year.

    But, though I like it here, not all new hires are as excited to be in a small city in Upstate New York, and after a couple years, they look to move on to jobs in more happening places. Search committees cannot ask “Are you partnered?” “Do you have kids?” (factors that make people appreciate the low home prices and good schools here) and candidates will not honestly disclose that they see the job as a springboard to another job that’s a better personal match. So instead the goal of the search is to pick the best scholar, regardless of whether that person is a flight risk, while the goal of the candidate is to take this best job offered, regardless of whether they hope to keep it.

    This creates a kind of cycle in which a search aimed at the best possible hire becomes a revolving door. As a hypothetical, imagine that hotshot top-10 program hire from two years ago gets a book contract from a top publisher and some high-profile grants and then snags a job in Boston closer to her partner (not a real scenario, but not unlike some very real ones I know about) and then boom the job is open again.

    I have no idea if this was the scenario in English; I honestly do not know many people in that department and haven’t asked about this search. But I’ve seen it happen here and elsewhere. I can even think of a post in my specific field that is now notorious as springboard to better jobs, as a highly-ambitious department in a less-than-prime location keeps snagging top hires who then move on within a year or two. It’s not as bad here at SU–much more stay than leave. Syracuse is a nice place, with some neat little neighborhoods and lots of amazing countryside nearby. The administration is energetic and supportive, and the students are generally good, particularly within the major. I for one would be thrilled to have you here Arnold.

    Also, keep in mind that search committees are almost never made up of the same people, ESPECIALLY when it’s for the same job. Unless you feel that you made a distinctly bad impression at one department (utterly flubbed your conference interview or on-campus), there is NOTHING WRONG with applying again, your odds are no worse than the first time and could be better. For all you know, you were on the short list of a committee member last time who is search chair this time. I say, go for it!

  4. Arnold Pan said,

    Thanks for all the great responses! I should clarify that I do think this is a new line, because, based on the snooping I did a few years ago, the position I applied to was filled after a somewhat odd multi-tiered campus visit system in which a #1 candidate was clearly identified. I guess we should take heart that Syracuse is hiring and that the school is really interested in a very niche field like Asian Am lit during this time!

    I really appreciate your thoughtful, thorough reply, Orangeman, and apologize if I miscast your school in any way. You bring up some interesting dynamics from the perspective of the school and hiring committee that are important to keep in mind. A lot of us (rightfully enough) are so worried about ourselves that we don’t see the bind that some friendly search committee folks (like the Syracuse English people I met) are put in. Of course, I’d rather be in their bind than mine — I think? — but it’s not easy on the other side of the interview table.

    The scenario Orangeman raises, where top candidates use one really good job as a springboard to another, really makes the job market even more difficult for everyone involved. It might be a rationalization, but I’ve applied to jobs against the same folks over and over again who have the advantage of jumping from one t/t position with a better CV because they had a job as a foundation to work from. You’ve got people in the situation Orangeman brings up who are trying to move to another position once they get their first, whether for personal reasons or professional ambition. Then you’ve got some people who get the most prestigious jobs who start looking either for tenure leverage or because there’s no chance they’ll get tenure at an Ivy level school no matter what they do. It definitely muddies the market for seekers and it’s illuminating to hear from Orangeman how it messes with the seekees too.

    As for this particular position, I have a feeling that one of my recommenders was the big reason I got plucked from the giant stack of folders and made it to the convention interview stage. That’s not to say I didn’t “deserve” the interview, whatever that means, but I also think my odds of advancing weren’t and aren’t too great for this particular position. The encouragement from you, Orangeman, is very nice consolation though!

  5. Orangeman said,

    Thanks for the reply! This is a wonderful blog that you and Caroline are running here and I wish you much good fortune in either the Hamster or academic world. (Thanks also for implanting the terms “Hamster World” and “Horndog Alcoholic Professor” in my head.) You’re both clearly talented hard-working people, and I’m sure you’ll flourish whatever path you take.


  6. Thank you for the compliments. We’re glad you like the blog, and we’re always happy to coin a phrase or two!


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