We at Post Academic are specialists in rejection. I’ve had plenty of cubicle doors slammed in my face out there in the hamster world, but it doesn’t sting quite as much as academic rejection since the stakes are higher.
So I can appreciate Christine Kelly’s Inside Higher Ed article called “After the Failed Interview.” She reminds her readers that recovery after an academic job rejection is a little different from recovery after a Hamster World rejection:
Step one is to acknowledge and work through your emotions. Your support network will tell you “things will be all right” and “this means something better is out there for you” because they want you to feel better quickly. But you have to give yourself time to grieve. That time may be relatively short if you weren’t strongly committed to the position, or it may be longer if it was your dream job. You may need some time to wallow in your disappointment. Ask your support network to let you vent without judging and without trying to make you feel better.
At first, I thought Kelly’s grief metaphor was a bit much. My inner knee-jerk response was, “Dude, settle down. It’s not like you just met the Crypt-Keeper.” Then I realized that I am one of those well-intentioned but pain-in-the-ass people in an academic’s support network who don’t know (or remember) that most jobs come around only once a year, and there aren’t many at that. It’s not like you can keep submitting your resume unless you want to–here’s that death thing again–end that chapter of your life and start a new career.
That thing, whatever it is, is playing a song for the job-that-wasn’t. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Even though MLA ’11 may be history and you’re (hopefully) home from L.A., that doesn’t mean you’re still not thinking about it. No, I’m not talking about all the back-and-forth about digital humanities or the general direness of the hard times in the profession, but, rather, your ongoing, neverending anxieties about your first-round interviews. I know I should say that you should forget about the interviews so that you can get on with the rest of your life, but that’s not gonna happen without more than a little wasted mental energy. So yeah, go ahead and lurk on the Academic Jobs Wiki if that’s what you’ve been doing all along, though there’s little info about campus visits yet. And maybe some not-so-discreet depts will start posting job talks on their calendars soon, but it’s a little early for that considering that some schools aren’t back in session yet. One piece of advice on what not to do while you wait: Don’t second-guess what you did in your interview, since it’s over, no matter how many times and how many different ways you re-run it in your mind. (Unless you want to write up any zany experiences for Post Academic!)
But there are some things you can do to futz with a job search that’s more or less out of your hands until/unless you get to the next round. Be prepared and be productive as you deal with your nerves about what your future might or might not hold for you.
Send out thank you notes ASAP: You’ve probably done this already, especially if you were told at your interview that the search committee is planning a quick turnaround on who to invite to campus. I always prefer to mail a handwritten note whenever possible, but that might not be possible or preferable when time is of the essence. Though it might not be as formal and gracious as snail mail, send a quick email to the search chair — and maybe even the whole committee if you have enough to say something unique to everyone so it doesn’t read like a form letter. It might feel a little tacky and pushy, but emailed thank-you messages are pretty much pro forma as far as I’ve heard. One advantage to email is that you know that your message will get to its intended soon enough, rather than get lost in the mail sorting process. The other, potentially more beneficial aspect of email is that you might get a response back. It might not be exactly what you want and it might lead to more tea-leaf reading, but maybe you will get a little more info to work with.
More productive fussing, below the fold…
If you’re getting jittery because your MLA interviews are but hours away and you’re too paralyzed to do anything but read Post Academic for some reason, you might as well take a look and tick off what’s on our handy little checklist below. For real, nuts-and-bolts advice, check out this great post from On the Fence by our blog friend Eliza Woolf and this piece from Inside Higher Ed by Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) on MLA and AHA convention interviews. One note of caution about Tenured Radical’s piece: Do prep your dissertation spiel, but be forewarned that it’s not always the ice-breaker question and might appear in a less explicit form, at least for MLA interviews. Just be flexible and don’t automatically go into rote memorization robot mode right when you step in the room — my first ever interview question was to describe my best undergrad experience, which was not anything anyone prepared me for.
1. Do you know where to go for your interviews and when? Think this one’s obvious? I had a friend who once missed an interview because she had the wrong time written down. Also, hotel suites can change, so check in at the job information center and maybe have a contact email/cell number ready.
2. Did you turn off your cellphone? Once you know where you’re going and everything’s set, be sure to turn off your cellphone. The Search Committee might take calls to, you know, make lunch plans, but you sure as heck shouldn’t.
3. Did you bring a pad of paper and pen? Like we wrote last time, look interested!
4. Did you bring your sample syllabi? And be sure to bring enough for everyone!
5. Do you have your prepped questions for the search committee? Committees usually give you a chance to ask questions. Use the time wisely to catch your breath and take control of the interview for at least a little bit. Good questions also show that you’ve done your homework.
6. Did you bring your emergency bottle of water? If you’re a germaphobe like me, bring your own water. And if you’re not, bring your own water because they might not have any for you. You can always take a sip and use it as a time-out to collect yourself — just don’t do it *too many* times.
7. Did you pee? If you did bring your own water, don’t drink too much of it! And be prepared in advance in case you do.
We’re probably getting to this a little late to be tipping you as to what to bring with you to MLA 11 in LA, since many folks are either here or on your way. But just in case you’re furiously packing and happen to be online at the same time, here are a few essentials you might want to take with you westward — unless you happen to one of the peeps tweeting about going to MLA with only carry-on luggage! (FYI: For the latest helpful, not-so-helpful, and absurd MLA tweets, search #MLA11 when you’re on Twitter.)
BRING your computer: I mentioned a while back that it might not be a bad idea to leave your computer at home and be unencumbered with extra baggage–literally and figuratively–for MLA. OK, I lied: Do bring your computer, because no one is ever 100% prepared before arriving at MLA. In addition to logging onto Post Academic, of course, you can use your laptop to do practical things like looking up people on the search committee, skimming their writing via JSTOR via your school library network, finishing up any docs you need for the interview, and finding where the nearest FedEx Office (aka Kinkos) is so that you don’t hafta pay the ridiculous hotel “business office” printing rates. If nothing else, your computer is a security blanket, so don’t be without it now!
BRING your sample syllabi: Speaking of sample syllabi, always bring ‘em to interviews, whether solicited or not. Search committees always get giddy over them and it gives you something concrete to talk about, kinda like a script that lets you control the flow of the discussion at least a little bit. I always do up fake real ones that fit the quarter or semester schedule the school is on, but the best is real real syllabi you’ve taught. Why? You don’t have to make things up, you don’t have to put books on that you actually haven’t read and might be asked about, and you have actual teaching experience to talk about. Sample syllabi are great however you slice it, as long as you don’t out-think yourself and sweat too many of the details.
BRING a pad of paper and pen: Go old-school by bringing a pad and pen, preferably in that portfolio you got from our Xmas gift list. Come prepared by bringing some questions for the search committee which show you’ve done you’re homework. It’s also important to show that you’re interested enough in the minutiae of the job that you’re taking notes, from teaching load to distribution requirements to whatever arcane curricular ephemera that every school is proud of. Have something on paper to follow-up on, which can also help you catch your breath in the middle of an interview. Also, it might help jog your memory when you’re inevitably playing rewind in your mind after the face-to-face.
DON’T BRING books: We talked about this already. Trust me, you won’t have time to glean the plot points of all the book you haven’t read but feel you should’ve. Just avoid talking about them by not putting them in your sample syllabi on in your dissertation spiel. You’ll have plenty of things that you know a lot about to talk about anyway. Plus, save luggage space to bring books home from the MLA book fair, if that floats your boat.
DON’T BRING a heavy jacket: Hey, it’s Los Angeles, not Philly or Chicago. I know, it’s been raining more than ever in So Cal this past month, but it’s really not that cold for most of you from Midwest and East Coast winter climates. It looks like the weekend will be in the 60s, so you definitely don’t need that cold weather coat you brought for all those other MLAs. A nice coat will do or you could even go to your interview in just your suit for a change!
BRING a sense of perspective: Everyone is stressed out and, being language types, we read way too much into everything. You’ll be nervous and paranoid about strangers thinking that they have their own agendas, and maybe even look sideways at your bestest friends–believe me, I’ve been embroiled more friend drama at MLA than anywhere else, between folks feeling slighted by not hanging out and others getting bent out of shape comparing job interviews. Try not to let everything get to you and remember that you’re probably acting just as weird as you think everyone else is!
I’m putting the smartphone series on hold in the interest of those who are participating in the MLA. Although I strongly advise anyone going to the MLA to develop a backup plan and brace for a career change, I know that some of our readers are giving it one last shot. This one’s for you!
Arnold has been weaving horror stories of MLA interviews, so I’ve gathered together a link roundup of our past interview tips and tales for quick reference:
A caveat: The MLA interview is a completely different animal from the Hamster Interview. As Arnold’s posts have shown, you are more likely to encounter crazy during the MLA, and you can’t reason with crazy.
So, in the face of irrational interviewers, here is the only tip you need: Do not show fear. Keep your face completely still, or at least with a slight smile. Some of these MLA interviewers are sadists who want to tear you apart, and you shouldn’t let them. By not breaking character, you might impress one of the interviewers with your professionalism, or at the very least you’ll fry someone’s circuits.
Remember: There’s nothing wrong with effi-ing with their heads. Why not? They’re eff-ing with yours.
Happy New Year all! I’ve been meaning to put a little closure on our Interviews You Don’t Want to Have series, but, as with all things academia-oriented, that’s probably never gonna happen. But seeing as MLA is about to kick off — I think folks will be arriving in downtown L.A. for MLA by tomorrow — I guess it’s time to finish up recounting MLA war stories with my best/worst one. The stakes with this one were high, or I at least thought so going into it, since it was for pretty much a dream situation: a tenure-track position that fit my interests to a T at a top, pretty-much-Ivy research institution in my favorite non-California city (hint: it’s not NYC or Boston). So of course, I felt a lot of pressure going into the interview, rather than seeing it as an I’ve-got-nothing-to-lose scenario, since the candidates I’d be up against would be pretty stellar. (More about that later.)
After doing a pretty good job sequestering myself from the temptations of MLA gossip and catching up with old friends, I worked studiously to anticipate possible questions, prepared my sample syllabi, and learned the best walking route to the interviewing hotel in the snow and slush. But unfortunately, I could tell you that all the prep and nervous energy would be for naught right from the first obnoxiously nitpicky question — and the interview only got worse and worse after that. Here’s a recap, after the very brief, obligatorily flattering small talk:
Question 1: “Why do you use the word ‘demographies’ in the title?”
Response: The real, unspoken answer was simply that it sounded good! Still, I was able to gain a little footing talking about race and space, which was the focus of my dissertation. At least I could repurpose my diss spiel here.
Question 2: “If you are writing about demographies, which didn’t you use this other book by Author X instead of the one you did?”
Response: The real answer is that I read the one I worked on and I didn’t read the other one! But I suppose you can’t show any ignorance in this situation, so I stammered out some summary of the chapter in question, which wasn’t so bad because I could recall my specific argument pretty well. Still, no one could suggest that things were going well, when a “friendly” questioner was asking me why I used a specific word and why I didn’t focus on one text instead of another. At this point, I felt like my whole 400-page diss had been discredited — or that maybe my questioner should’ve just written it for me.
I say that this questioner was friendly, because things only got more and more hostile, which you’ll see after the jump…
You’d think the hard part was actually doing the interview — but, if you assumed that, you haven’t been reading Post Academic for long enough! Because those of you have would know that I’m the sort of person who even has trouble setting up the interview when I get ‘em. Basically, I learned my lesson to just let any calls from unfamiliar area codes in early December go to voicemail. For someone who’s not great at thinking/talking on my feet, it gives me time to gather myself and collect my thoughts. And since I’m paranoid, it also gives me confirmation that what I heard was true, that I got the interview in the first place. Better yet is corresponding by email, since it’s all in writing.
I only learned these lessons from some awkward experiences that left me nervous and antsy after I actually succeeded in getting the interview….
Driving ‘n Calling: In a lot of place now, you can get a ticket for driving and calling. But before they made a law about that, I used to make calls while I was in the car and I don’t think I was so much of a menace. One call I wish I didn’t take while I was driving, though, was an interview request, which ended up being the one that I had to hike up the stairs to get to. What happened was I received a call from an unknown area code and decided to answer it because of the curiosity factor; I had just received another interview request earlier in the day, so I couldn’t leave well enough alone. Of course, it was just what I wanted, except I was even more flustered answering the call than I would’ve been because I was on the road.
More after the jump…
I had to get in on what Caroline’s been writing about regarding traveling, so we’ll get back to the “Interviews You Don’t Want to Have” series later. Rest assured, the best — or would that be worst? — is yet to come. But packing is part of what makes the whole MLA experience so nervewracking. Below, I’m getting into the pros and cons and insane thinking that goes into preparing to travel to MLA.
Check-in and Carry on?: It’s never happened to me, but I’m always in fear of losing check-in luggage for the first time, which I always presume would be at the worst time. I think having your suit shipped off somewhere else the one time you need it in any given year would probably qualify as being a worst time. So what about a back-up plan, taking some kind of formal outfit on board with you, just in case? There’s nothing wrong with that, right? Except it’s a pain to lug half of your earthly possessions with you across the country. And now, who knows what luggage you have to pay for and what’s gratis on any particular airline?
In my mind, it’s a coin flip. If you don’t mind carrying more luggage and risk having your junk — literally and figuratively — handled, why not be prepared for the worst case scenario? If you prefer traveling relatively light and don’t sweat the unlikely possibility that everything will go wrong, just check your baggage in. In case something does happen, it’s not like you’re flying into the wilderness, since you can pick up an emergency suit or tie or dress shoes. After all, there’s probably more or less the same Macy’s stuff wherever you go.
What (not) to wear or bring to MLA, below the fold…