Post Academic


Interviews You Don’t Want to Have #3: You Need an Entrance Strategy

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on November 30, 2010
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This installment of “Interviews You Don’t Want to Have” actually recalls one of the best interviews I’ve had at MLA.  I thought I hit my marks, got my dissertation spiel off as cleanly as possible, and received compliments on the nice bright pink tie I wore.  I really did my best, but, contrary to what they say, my best just wasn’t good enough.

So why am I writing up this relatively positive experience as an “Interview You Don’t Want to Have”?  Well, it began as a comedy of errors which may have thrown me off my game without me even knowing it — after all, I couldn’t exactly judge how well I did, could I?  Take it from me, you need an entrance strategy to your MLA interview.

You can kinda see the Philadelphia Museum of Art from the Embassy Suites, aka the site of the IYDWTH #3 ("Philadelphia Museum of Art" by su1droot, Creative Commons license)

Don’t get there too late — or too early: I’m chronic worrier about time, especially when it comes to making it to appointments.  First, I worry about whether I actually got the date, time, and place right, after one of my friends from grad school actually missed one of her MLA interviews because she missed transcribed the info.  Second, I hate uncertainty when it comes to directions, so going to a city I don’t know and having to be at a place I’ve never been always puts me on edge.  As a result, I tend to overestimate how much time it takes to get to the hotel where an interview is taking place.  The one thing I’m not is cheap about these things, so I always take a cab to get me where I’m going — which also means there’s less of a chance that the nice bright pink tie will be bird-pooped on or my suit will get messed up by whatever.

The problem is that getting to the MLA interview hotel early isn’t exactly the most relaxing thing in the world.  While you might think that having a little extra time before the interview to unwind might help, it doesn’t when it comes to any MLA hotel lobby, since there’s a bunch more more nervous people stressing themselves — and you — out.  What’s even more nervewracking is running into people you know, either the dept gossip who wants quid pro quo about interviews or someone in your field who may or may not be interviewing for the same positions.  At this particular MLA, 2006 in Philly, the situation was particularly bad, because the Embassy Suites was pretty much the only hotel with suites and was housing most of the interviews.  So the concentration of nervous nerds was even denser than typical.

More about the structural problems of the Philly Embassy Suites, after the jump…

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Interviews You Don’t Want to Have #2

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on November 23, 2010
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The site of my first (bad) MLA job interview, D.C.'s Mayflower Hotel ("Mayflower" by D.F. Shapinsky, Creative Commons license)

This post goes out to all you bright-eyed, bushy-tailed dissertators who are full of hope and, probably for good reason, looking forward to a bright future in academia.  Of course, I’m not entirely sure why you’d be reading this blog if that describes you, unless you’re just wasting time on the Academic Jobs Wiki and you unknowingly stray here from there.  In any case, maybe you can learn something about what NOT to do when you land your first MLA interview, from what happened to me five years ago in DC.

Here’s the backstory: In my first real go-round, I got one interview request from a pretty elite SLAC (Small Liberal Arts College, if you’re not in the know) for a job in what’s now my area of specialization — except that it wasn’t my field of expertise then, unless 40% of my diss counts as “expertise.”  Suffice it to say that I didn’t get the position, though I didn’t actually think I had much of a chance to begin with and looked at the whole thing as a learning experience.  Which leads me to my first piece of advice for first-time jobseekers…

Don’t waste opportunities: Only in academia do you tell yourself that it’s okay to spend about a thousand dollars and waste the days off between Christmas and New Year’s just to make yourself a better job candidate *next* time — or the next time or the next or the next.  That’s the attitude I had going in, which I suppose might’ve been a defense mechanism for my self-esteem or a not-so-great way to try to take the pressure off myself.  But it’s a bad gameplan to go into something thinking that you’re going to lose.  So even though I had better possibilities and fits later on, there are never enough opportunities for you to just to write one off.

More things not to do, below the fold…

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Conference Etiquette: The Post-Interview Run-In

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on November 21, 2010
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So here’s yet another reason why you should bolt from the conference site as soon as you can: What do you do when you run into your interviewers outside the headquarters hotel or on an escalator or at a restaurant?  Most people would say you should just act normally, like you would with any acquaintance.  OK, I think I can do that.  But I always end up feeling compelled to stretch out the small talk, which then gets me into trouble because I wonder whether this goes into the interview file or if I’m expected to show how much I want the job at every turn.  In the end, I imagine search committee folks would be even less psyched to be caught in these situations, having to be reminded of job interviews after doing a few whole days of them.

Here’s what runs through my mind when I see one of my interviewers coming right towards me when it’s too late to do anything about it…

"Bus Emergency Exit" by Sushiflinger (Creative Commons license)

No, I’m not a stalker: Rather than just assume that an interviewer would see a chance run-in for what it really is, a mere coincidence, I get too caught up in my own head and start to worry s/he might get the wrong idea.  One time, I found myself walking right behind the search committee directly after an interview, which definitely might’ve seem stalker-ish.  On a few occasions, I averted my eyes or dart off in another direction, hoping to avoid eye contact — I don’t know if this strategy works, since I’ve never looked back for fear of getting caught.  My own neuroses capture the mood swings of the job search process, which go from feeling completely miniscule to megalomaniacal, thinking that I matter *that* much to search committee folks who’ve probably set aside my file and put me out of their minds the instant I’ve walked out of that hotel suite.

More after the jump…

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Interviews You Don’t Want to Have #1

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on November 18, 2010
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The scene of "Inappropriate Academic Interview#1" -- "The Grand Hyatt San Francisco" by Eric in SF (Creative Commons license)

I know, it’s a little early to start thinking about MLA interviews, especially since the first notifications probably aren’t happening for  almost a month.  And who knows how things are gonna work this year, when MLA is a few weeks later — or, at least, I don’t know, because I didn’t go on the market?  What, could they be notifying you after New Year’s this go-round?

Anyhow, I’m gonna start strolling down memory lane with a series of posts about my MLA interviews, ranging from mildly annoying to writing’s-on-the-wall uneventful to ego-crushing abysmal.  I figured that the sooner a hypothetical would-be interviewee could learn from my mistakes, the better prepared s/he might be — though I would hardly say that I gained too much from experience, because new problems would pop up the next time.

Before we get going with the first post, here’s a sample of coming attractions…

* See my dream job interview turn into a nightmare when I’m told that I should’ve focused on a different book for a diss chapter and that the premise of another chapter was completely wrong!  And that’s before the search chair got confused about which UC that I came from…

* Then experience how I totally called it in for my next interview, because I didn’t really see the point…

* Watch me climb about 10 stories from lobby to hotel suite for an interview, because all the elevators were jammed up…

* Try and fathom why I decided *not* to go to MLA, just because I had only one interview for a school I didn’t really want to apply to in the first place…

* Feel my jitters as I go into my very first interview, where I’m so tongue-tied I can’t even spit out the formalities without stuttering.

Rather than start chronologically, I’ll begin with the interview I found the most perplexing and inappropriate.  I wrote about this a while back, but what better way to kick off the “Interviews You Don’t Want to Have” series than with “Inappropriate Academic Interview #1”, which I’ve cut-and-pasted in its entirety after the jump…

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Recycling books (and posts)

Posted in Ask an Academic,First Person by Arnold Pan on November 16, 2010
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So I spent part of last weekend going through my grad school books again, probably my third go-round trying to cull my library.  Anyhow, I’m kinda shocked that some of the books that are/were still on the shelves made the cut the last time I decided to try and declutter my post academic life.  Part of the deal is inertia — the books aren’t hurting anyone on the shelves.  And  I’ve done a good job of getting rid of really useless books or placing the strays in new homes (thanks, Bruce!), so there’s nothing just lying around wasting space.  But a bigger part of things is mental: Even if I’m more or less post academic for good (for now?), I still think I’ll finally read For Marx some day or need some obscure Jameson collection on hand to cite in the near future.

"Kolkata Book Fair 2010" by Biswarup Ganguly (Creative Commons license)

No matter how many times I go through my library, the process still seems difficult, but at least I’m making headway against the clutter.  Hey, I think it counts as progress that I’ve probably shaved off at least a hundred or more titles since the first time I wrote about my academic hoarding problem, which is below…

Being an academic can turn you into an amateur hoarder before you know it, since you assume everything you have will become useful at some time and in the right situation–neither of which ever comes.  What makes it worse is that you’re also likely to be itinerant as an academic, which means you end up packing a bunch of useless stuff rather than just getting rid of things.  Any academic will build a big library of books, which, in many ways, comes to identify her/him, according to both the kinds of texts s/he owns and how many s/he owns.  Here’s how I would categorize the kinds of books that are hoarded in my collection:

1. Books I think I will use that I never have: I bought tons of critical theory books back in the late 1990s academic publishing boom–think lots of Routledge, Verso, Duke UP–many of which I don’t think I ever ended up reading.  But they look really great on my book shelf and represent the kind of academic I imagined being, at least at one early formative period.  I hung onto most of the books, in part because I thought I would eventually get to them (still haven’t) and in part because I wasn’t sure what else I could do with them (still don’t).

More books below the fold…

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Communication breakdown: A Post Academic with nothing to say

Posted in Absurdities,First Person by Arnold Pan on November 5, 2010
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I mentioned last time how the flip side of no longer possessing the academic gift for gab is that I find myself pretty much unable to chit-chat in any situation any more–great, I have to go to a wedding of someone who’s barely acquaintance tomorrow!  I know, I know, it’s probably hard to believe that I’m so tongue-tied when meeting new folks, considering how I can be a virtual blabbermouth.  But when I’m at a kids party or some kind of get-together where I only know the hosts, you best believe I’m camping out at the buffet, chowing down on the Trader Joe’s snacks or the greasy pizza.  To be honest with you, I’d probably find it hard being at a gathering of people I know these days, though it’s tough to say since it’s not like I’ve been around my party of my peeps or even talked to them on the phone since the summer.

"Conversation by Friedrick Moosbrugger" (Public Domain)

Anyhow, based on a sampling of Halloween events and birthday parties I’ve recently attended, here are some of the reasons why I find “real world” shindigs somewhat more difficult for me to deal with–though the real explanation might be just that I’m a misanthrope.

(Not) finding the common ground: When an academic is released into the wild…er, life outside of the ivory tower…adaptation to a different environment can be difficult.  Within the sorta friendly confines of academia, you might not like everyone you know, but at least you have something built-in to talk about that’s based on some kind of shared interest.  Even now in a post academic stage, I find I can easily slip into some whiny complaint about the academic job market when I run into an acquaintance because that’s something I know how to do.

More to say about having not much to say, below the jump…

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The Art of Academic Conversation

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on November 3, 2010
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One way I know I’m out of training for the job market is that I no longer possess the skills for the academic-speak.  (The problem is, though, that I have problems with small talk and chit-chat that’s not academia-related either, but that’s a topic of discussion for another time.)  But every once in a while, I can still vicariously and virtually partake in academic banter via Facebook, which inspired me to write about the kind of convos I remember having when I was a grad student.  Just so you know that I’m not trying to suggest I’m just a disinterested and bemused observer, I’ll readily admit that I’ve partaken in the rhetorical maneuvers I’m describing, and probably even more often than I’d realize.

"De claris mulieribus" courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Libraries (Public Domain)

Below are a few types of go-to moves that academics can whip out when they find themselves face-to-face at a party, going to/from the library, or, yes, on Facebook.

One-Upping: As academics, we go into the so-called “life of the mind” because we’re kinda know-it-alls.  Granted, some folks are nicer than others, while some are bigger a-holes.  But no matter our personalities, it’s easy to get caught up going back-and-forth about things we know more and more-er about, which can devolve into a passive-aggressive pissing match about who has read more or read more obscurely.  It doesn’t even matter if you work in completely different fields and don’t know what your counterpart does, there’s always some way to compete and one-up one another.  Then consider how neurotic and stubborn know-it-alls can be, especially when challenged by other smarty pants, add alcohol, and your true feelings about your friends and neighbors might sneak out.

Knowledge/Power: Speaking of paranoia, neuroses, and passive-aggressiveness, it’s not hard to be entrapped by those gossipy colleagues who keep tabs on you and everyone else–even if doing so only makes them bitter and unhappy that they aren’t getting the fellowships or job interviews their peers are getting.  But if you play your cards right, you might be able get some of the dish and scoop you’re looking for.  First, though, you have to realize which chatty Cathys you can kinda trust and those you totally can’t trust, though you might not find out without being burned.  Second, expect that these interactions require a little quid pro quo, so you might as well toss out some bait that you’re not too precious about and see what you get back in return.  Third, your news will probably get out there somehow, so don’t take things or yourself too seriously.

Go Meta: Then again, there are always (more than a) few academics who do take themselves, what they do, and what they believe way too seriously, and it’s better not to pick a fight with ’em because they have a whole bag of rhetorical tricks that are really annoying.  My favorite is the guy who assumes you’re a dupe for an ideology that they can see through, but you can’t.  These smart alecks can always identify how what you’re saying is always symptomatic about something, yet about what they’re saying is above it all.  You might protest, but the more you argue is only a greater indication of how you’ve been blinded by ideology.  And then there’s the Jedi mind-trick I call “the reversal,” where what you think are incisive and critical statements only somehow serve to support whatever ideology or institution you are arguing against; it’s just that you’re too dumb to know it and they’re too smart not to see it.  There’s just no way to get into a tit-for-tat, whether it’s friendly or vaguely hostile, with anybody who claims a meta position — unless you can find a meta-meta frame!

Interpersonal skills #1: Keeping up with your friends

We’re launching a mini-series here about the interpersonal skills you need to navigate the academic job market.  You might almost be through the initial stages which only require you to know enough about which formalities to include in a cover letter or introduction email.  But soon, you’ll probably have to interact with real, live people about what’s happening with your job search, from friends, family, and mentors on your side to search committees and administrators on the other end.  And sometimes, it might actually be harder and demand more diplomacy from you to talk to those folks who are cheering you on than it is with complete strangers with your future in their hands.

We’ll start with your friends, though I’m not exactly one to speak here, because I don’t think I’ve talked to or corresponded with any of my grad school peeps in months–if any of those folks are reading this, I’m not slighting you, but I’ve pretty much stopped using my cellphone to talk to anyone but family these days.  When I’m not AWOL, my friends are the ones who are not only my support system to get me through the ups-and-downs of the job application process, but also a source of good gossip and scoop, especially when we’re applying for the same jobs.  And I do my best to return the favor too.

The thing is, what’s a boon can also lead to some prickly situations.  And let me tell you, the job market requires interpersonal skills even with the people you know best, since I’ve definitely had a few friend flare-ups, though no friend break-ups as far as I know.  Below are a few aspects of relationships that develop or change with the whims of the job market:

Unconditional Support: While I’ve always considered myself a good friend and someone that people can rely on, I have to admit that I get peeved when I don’t feel that the give-and-take is mutual.  But in a lot of cases, I probably owe more than I’ve given, though my friends probably aren’t the kind of keep score like I sometimes do.  Pretty much everyone I’ve been close to has stuck with me through thin and thinner, and given me feedback that doesn’t hold back, but they can deliver constructive criticism in way that builds me up and gets me to work harder rather than bum me out.  Whether or not what they tell you actually means anything to anyone else is up in the air, but it doesn’t matter much when you need a pick-me-up.

More types of more complicated relationships after the jump…

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While you’re waiting for that call/email…

"Autoanswer-1" by Kitsya (Creative Commons license)

If you’re not holding on until the last possible minute to mail out your job application packets, you should pat yourself on the back.  And if you are procrastinating, you have about a week to get those November 1 applications in, so get cracking.  Anyway, those of you  more or less done with your end of the bargain are entering various stages of waiting, depending on how much you were asked to send in for a given call.  We already addressed what you should be doing to be prepared for a secondary request for materials, but there are those ads that ask you for everything at once, leaving you hanging until you get the call–or not–for a MLA interview.  And since MLA is in January 2011 this go-around, I’m not sure if that also means you’ll find out news–or hold onto to false hope–later than ever.  Though knowing that university bureaucracy will dilly-dally as long as possible, I hope they either put the candidates out of their misery for the holidays or let them use the time to prepare.

I know, I know, you should use your time productively–like getting ready in advance for possible interviews or working on your diss to knock out two birds with one stone–but it’s much easier to fritter hours away online, which you are, of course, welcome to do so here.  Below are some of the not-so-productive activities I found myself engaging in while playing the waiting game.

Cybersnooping: I know I shouldn’t and I know it’s undignified, but I have become quite a good cybersnoop, starting from MLA season to campus visits to finding out who landed the positions I applied for.  The academic jobs wiki makes this way too easy to do; once the first notifications for interviews are posted, the dang site becomes pretty much like crack, which gets all the more addictive once the x2 (by phone) and x3 (via email) notes pop up, while you’re making sure your cellphone voicemail works and checking that there’s nothing in your spam folder.

More on cybersnooping, below the fold…

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Your Recs Dream Team

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

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