Post Academic


Your Recs Dream Team

Posted in Absurdities,First Person by Arnold Pan on September 9, 2010
Tags: , , , ,

So it’s not quite like LeBron’s “The Decision”, but I finally wussed out and played it safe by setting up an Interfolio account for my moldy academic letters of rec.  Hey, maybe my decision was a little LeBron-like in the end, since I decided to take the easy route–holding onto the dossier would be like playing with Wade and Bosh in Miami–instead of sucking it up and doing the harder thing–letting academia go, in my case, staying in Cleveland for King James.  I hemmed and hawed a bit about it on the blog here, but I decided to take my talents, er, recs, to Interfolio, mostly for sentimental reasons because I have an irreplaceable rec from my advisor that I’m not ready to send to the digital dustbin of history just quite yet.

"Beijing Olympics Men's Semifinal Basketball USA huddle" by Richard Giles (Creative Commons license)

To stretch the LeBron analogy a lot further, I started imagining how creating a (non-existent, in my case) dossier might be like putting together the perfect “starting five” on the court.  My latest daydreamy musings on letters of rec is all about composing your very own dossier dream team.  Here’s how you might think about filling out your references roster.

1. The Team Leader, Your Advisor: Nope, we’re not necessarily talking about your LeBron megastar here, but your D-Wade, who’s the inspirational force and guiding light of your job application team.  Your advisor knows you the best and will direct you–and maybe the other recommenders–to the best gameplan.  That means playing the game the right way, which, in this case, might include showing you the ropes, reading between the lines of the job ads, and networking with colleagues.  But it’s the intangibles that make for a great advisor and team captain, like giving you a pep talk when you’re about to throw in the towel, while kicking you in the pants and pushing you when you get too caught up in things and take your eyes off the prize.

See who else rounds out the roster, below the fold…

2. The Superstar: It always helps having a big-time name, whether it’s someone within your field or interdisciplinary beast, to help you get noticed and step up your game.  Some superstars can really be superheroes, who are somehow amazing ballers, team players, and just good people, all at the same time.  Others, however, whether in sports or academia or whatever, can be prima donnas, though usually with good reason, because they earned that status at some point.  Just be sure you actually have a real relationship with the All-Star, because it’s too easy for you and your A-lister to try and coast on reputation.  If you can’t get some kind of individualized comments or a standout prop, you might just be getting empty stats from your superstar.

3. The Do-The-Rest Guy: I’m thinking about a Chris Bosh-type guy who’s supposed to take care of business while LeBron and D-Wade are in the spotlight.  You need someone to rebound, play defense, and score in the paint, which in this case means you want a recommender who know the academic biz inside out.  Your do-the-rest guy should be able to give you some of the tricks of the trade, going into the mindset of how search committees work.  S/he should provide you a trustworthy set of eyes, in case you and your advisor are too in the weeds to see straight.  This member of the team could be the unsung hero.

4. The Specialist: Here, you’d like to have someone who fills a need and does the things the main guys are ill-equipped to do.  For many jobs these days, you’re gonna need a specialist that can speak to specific strengths and skill sets, particularly teaching.  Maybe your superstar or your team leader advisor can’t vouch for your work in the classroom, so you might be relying a lot more than you thought you would on your teaching mentor or the writing supervisor.  These are folks who might not be as high profile, but probably know more about you in a practical sense than your advisors.  Think of the specialist spot like one of those pesky Bulls 3-point shooters on the Jordan teams: MJ might have carried the heaviest load the longest, but occasionally it was Kerr or Paxson who knocked down a clinching shot in a pinch.  The teaching mentor or some other specialized recommender might just be your closer, so don’t overlook ’em.

5. The Enforcer: It’s always great to have someone who can do the dirty work for the team, scrapping, clawing, and scratching to get the end result you’re all working for.  You want to have someone like this on your dossier team, someone who’s willing to do the things others might not want to or don’t have the time or contacts to take care of things.  The enforcer is the one with a little less scruples than everyone else, who’ll call a friend at a dept you’re applying to, either to put in a good word for you that might be embellished more than a little bit or to get the dirt on what’s happening with the position.  You love this member of the team, because s/he’s happy to believe that the ends justify the means in getting you where you’re going.  Just hope s/he doesn’t go Ron Artest on you.

Just keep in mind, though, that having a good, well-balanced team doesn’t mean you’ll win it all or get that job.  You might wanna have as good a shot at it as LeBron does, but remember there’s always an a**hole Kobe-type on a stacked team from a legacy franchise/program that’s eager to beat you, then rub your face in it.  Even for the greats, there are some things that are out of your control.

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One Response to 'Your Recs Dream Team'

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  1. As the jobs have started to pop up this season, I have become very nervous. I was sure I would not apply to any of them. I was done. I am post. But then I see some jobs that don’t seem half bad and, hey, maybe I could get that one, etc, etc. But you know what? It’s a trick. It’s a trap! They are trying to suck me back in. I am going to try to stay away! I am going to relish my liberty! Unless I don’t.


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