Post Academic


Hamster World or Hamster Wheel?

So as I start to looking into what Caroline calls the Hamster World for gainful employment, I somehow end up back on the Hamster Wheel of the academic job market.  Last week, I wrote a post about the temptations of continuing to apply to academic jobs, even when the writing is on the wall (and has been on the wall for a while now).  While I haven’t applied for THAT job that I was mulling over (and still mulling over), I discovered a postdoc to apply to as I scoured over the Academic Job Wiki postdoc page to find out the results of another search.  Even as I learned that yet another opportunity was biting the dust–one I thought that I had as good a shot as any, since it was a diversity postdoc–I found a late postdoc posting just in time, a few days before the application deadline.

I didn’t dither about going for one more last application, since postdocs are a lot more open-ended and less restrictive than a field and period specific tenure-track position.  (Then again, that’s why there are also at least 3 times more people applying to any given postdoc!)  The reason I decided to quickly put together an application for the postdoc is that I already have a project ready to go, as opposed to the finetuning and tweaking that applying for a job that doesn’t quite fit my profile would take.  Yet just when I was notified by my dossier service that my confidential recommendations had been sent, I started having second thoughts, mostly because I was lazy.  I didn’t want to have to do the following:

1. Rewrite my cover letter: It’s not so big a deal to tailor a cover letter to a specific school with its specific strengths, but I’m always re-reading my letter warily because I’m scared of catching any typos and grammatical errors from the default version I’ve been sending out for months.

2. Revise my project proposal–again: While I thought this would be pretty easy to do, since I have a tightly written 1000-word proposal that I’ve used for a bunch of other applications, this one required that I lengthen the project statement and include an abstract version of the proposal.  This wasn’t exactly that hard to do, but I realized how many different versions of this project I’ve written, including double-spaced ones, ones with bibliographies, ones that are slightly longer or shorter, ones that have to be combined with a teaching proposal, etc.  In the end, the idea that I had a proposal that was ready-at-hand wasn’t entirely accurate.

3. Revise a teaching proposal–again: I have tons of sample syllabi and variations on my teaching philosophy saved in various folders on my desktop, but I came to realize that I don’t think I’ve sent the same teaching proposal out more than once.  Even though I have actual experience teaching the courses I send out as samples for my applications, I end up having to amend them, depending on if the school is on quarters or semesters, as well as how many books a typical course tends to go through in any given term at a particular place.  Again, the template really isn’t so much a template.

4. Final proofreading–again and again: It’s a pain using a template that then has to be tailored to a specific position, since I become paranoid that I forget to change the details, like sending an application to Johns Hopkins that is addressed to Wash U.  I don’t think it has ever happened, but the micromanaging of details ends up being paralyzing, in part because, as I mentioned earlier, I hate finding errors that might have been hiding in plain sight since my first applications back in November.

5. Delivery: Again, you’d think this last step is not so big a deal, but it seems that lots of programs are very finicky about how they receive the application.  Some ask for email applications where all documents need to be compiled into a single PDF file, even though they want 5 or 6 pieces of info that are all formatted differently (I’m looking at you, Rice).  Others want it by snail mail, but aren’t clear whether the deadline is a receipt date or a postmark date, leading to many threads on the Wiki about who has or hasn’t gotten receipt notification.  The biggest beast of an application this year required all materials be sent by mail in TRIPLICATE, though some people on the Wiki had read that FIVE copies needed to be sent, which caused much consternation among the Wiki-ites as to whether a mailing box would be needed or whether stuffing everything inelegantly into a Priority mailer would suffice.  And don’t get me started about the hybrid email and snail mail (for recommendations) applications, sometimes with multiple mailing addresses for packages and mail (I’m looking at you, again, Rice).

The easy solution to this would be to have a standard format for all applications, since the materials each program asks for isn’t all that different, give or take a writing sample at the initial step.  I don’t know whether the slight, but time-consuming-to-address, differences from one application to the next are ways that programs try to distinguish themselves, but there must be a better way to give yourself a unique identity.

As much as I gripe about it and as keen as I am to the reality of the situation, I still keep jumping through the same hoops, and, more likely than not, to no effect.  My mantra should be, “Hamster World, here I come”–if only I could jump off the Hamster Wheel I’ve been on.

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