We had originally planned to write a longer piece about the pitfalls of campus visits, even though we’ve never experienced first-hand the hazing ritual of the next round after convention interviews. Still, we’ve seen and heard enough of ’em to offer some good second-hand anecdotes for those of you preparing for your upcoming endurance test of meet-and-greets, job talks, teaching demos, and all those meals and down time where you could slip and say something impolitic. (By the way, we’d love to post some first-hand accounts, so please let us know if you wanna share your experiences here at Post Academic.)
But really, the interpersonal tightrope and the logistical nightmares of any campus visit go with the territory, and it’s not like you can or should change your personality at this point in order to anticipate what might happen that you can’t anticipate anyway. Sure, we could’ve mentioned the time that grad students in my program made a job candidate hyperventilate by bombarding her/him with snarky theory questions. Or about when a friend of mine had her teaching demo time cut in half with no warning because a classroom was double booked. These kinds of things happen, though who knows what *exactly* will happen, so you’ve just got to be ready for a lot of variables.
The one thing,though, that invariably happens with humanities campus visit presentations is that the A/V will not work. While it’s a plus for you to show off how you can use technology, whether it’s a PowerPoint presentation or something more advanced — hey, everyone wants a digital humanist, even if a lot of folks don’t exactly know what that is, just because you’re tech savvy doesn’t mean that your hosts are, no matter how much they want someone like that. We at the Post Academic help desk have seen too many job talks that get off to a bad start because the A/V hook-up to a laptop doesn’t work or are derailed in the middle when the sound on the DVD player is jacked up. Don’t be the one who looks crushed when you need to be at your best, just because your best-laid plans have just fallen through. So keep in mind the following…
Don’t Believe Your Eyes: You might think the pre-game test of all the equipment means you’re good to go, but we’ve been in too many situations where prep doesn’t mean a thing. Somehow, the A/V gremlins come out in full force when you least want them to, even if everything checks out or you know what you’re doing or your hosts have the tech guy on call.
More advice on how to manage your A/V presentation, below the jump…
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.
Now that people are grumbling about the usefulness of core courses and education that does not involve an MBA, I’ve been pondering the point of higher education. Is it facts? Maybe not. See what Dr. $hriaz has to say about that over at Worst Professor Ever.
After a few years in the Hamster World, I’m starting to think that education involves a sprinkling of facts and massive doses of the following three lessons:
1. Getting people to sit down, shut up and concentrate. I figured out this lesson when I taught SAT courses. The courses started in 9th grade and led right up to the test. I taught vocabulary and grammar, but I also gave practice tests, and you could measure success by how well the students were able to concentrate. You can memorize as many big words as you want, but it won’t help if you are thinking about your World of Warcraft scores during the test. Concentration is a critical skill.
2. Encouraging people to stop believing everything they hear. OK, this is the humanities element talking, but one of the best exercises I did when I was TA-ing was teaching logical fallacies by giving students print ads and asking them to list all the fallacies. Oh, bandwagon! Oh, slippery slope! I don’t think I transformed my students, but I think that a few of them were surprised to discover that just because something looks, sounds and even smells true doesn’t mean it is.
More after the jump! Image of Canadian students in a train classroom, 1950, from Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia Commons.
I just peeked on the Academic Jobs Wiki for the first time in a few weeks. I have to say it’s much better not applying for jobs this year and not having to sweat all the responses to the listings on the Wiki. In the past, you see someone else post that s/he’s gotten some kind of request, which only leads to a bunch of speculation on the Wiki and in your head: When did you get the request? Is it because you sent in your application early and the school sends out responses on a rolling basis? Are they responding alphabetically? Why haven’t I even gotten the Affirmative Action postcard?
In the end, there are some things to remember: 1. Yes, your application got where it’s supposed to go, so don’t sweat waiting for a receipt; 2. There’s a person on the other end of the application, probably someone who’s overworked and underpaid, so just wait; 3. You either have a shot or not, so just wait. Still, you should be ready–like we’ve been telling you to be–in case you get that email you’ve been waiting for asking you for more materials. Because once things get rolling, the process can spin out of control, leaving you wondering why you didn’t use the time you had earlier on–i.e., now.
Be polite: When you receive correspondence from a department, respond to the message and be nice about it. Take a little time and be anal about sending out a proper response, even if it’s to a work-study student who’s saddled with all the work and not the chair of the search committee. Treat everyone the same way, especially if you’re the paranoid type who worries that being perceived as rude or aloof or anything might blackball you or cause something to happen to your application. But be nice mostly because it’s the right thing to do, too.
More tips after the jump…
Maybe I shouldn’t be the one to be offering this advice, since I’m probably not sending any job applications in and still haven’t logged into the MLA JIL even for curiosity’s sake. But if you’re doing some kind of endzone celebration after sending in your first batch of job applications, we should flag you for excessive celebration. First, there’s probably still a bunch more applications to send in, which you would know if you made a handy spreadsheet like we suggested awhile ago. Second, it seems like no two applications on your spreadsheet list are the same, from those requiring the bare minimum of cover letter and CV to those asking for everything and the kitchen-sink. If you’ve already dealt with the latter, you’re probably golden for what’s yet to come.
But if you’ve only been turning in the standard letter-CV variety up to now, you better be ready when you get the email you’re hoping to get for a secondary application or even a pre-convention interview request. It might seem like it’s too early to stress about it now, but don’t wait to sweat it when you get your golden ticket, but aren’t ready to promptly reply to it. In addition to the basics of the cover letter and CV, you can pretty much get any variations of the following at any time, so get your ducks in a row.
Writing Sample(s): I’ve been asked for samples of various lengths from 15 to 30 pages, including or excluding footnotes. Unlike some folks who just send in whatever they have at hand no matter the length, I follow instructions in fear of inflexible, dictatorial search committees looking for any reason to disqualify me, and will cut my default 30-ish pager down to 15 or 20 or 25, depending on what they’re are asking for. Use it as a good exercise in editing and not being too precious with your writing, since slicing and dicing your papers can actually make them better and more streamlined.
More about writing sample(s) below the fold…
So it might seem bass-ackwards to start talking about the academic job application process by beginning with letters of rec, before you even know what positions you’re applying to. Really, it isn’t, though, because that’s the only step that depends on other people–well, unless you count the schools you applied to. But the “next” step should really be the first one–finding job openings and making a spreadsheet listing them in a way that’s easy to access and sort. If only schools would cooperate and, you know, start posting positions now!
(A quick aside before we get going: you might ask yourself why you would listen to the unsolicited advice of a post-academic who hasn’t gotten on the tenure-track, which is a good rejoinder on your part. Well, I’ll say that I did have good success getting convention interviews, though it was definitely a case of “quality”–however you define that–over quantity, since I never got double-digit invites at any MLA nor applied to that many jobs in a given year anyway. As for the next step hopefully coming at the beginning of 2011, you’re on your own–or we’ll try and find a sherpa who knows what s/he’s talking about when it comes to campus visits. Till then, you’re stuck with me.)
So back to the process: The first thing you need to do, obviously, is find where the jobs are, which has been easier said than done the past few years. In English, we’re still about three weeks away from the big unveiling of the MLA Job Information List–henceforth known as JIL–on September 16, a day we’ll commemorate for sure. But, for the time being, you can check the Academic Job Wiki for whatever has been posted–you might as well bookmark the wiki and get used to checking it, because it’s gonna be the equivalent of your browser homepage soon enough. The Chronicle online want ads, H-Net.org’s job site, and university HR sites (if you know what you’re looking for) have some early job postings in a variety of fields.
More about getting started with the process below the fold…
So we’ve been spending some time on recs, particularly how it never too early to start the ball rolling with the process of contacting your letter writers. Like I mentioned last time, it’s obviously more important to you than it is to them, so show ’em you mean business and set the right tone for everyone involved in the process. That means you should appear business-like and have your act together, even if you normally don’t. Below are a few tips on some basic details you should take care of, so that you don’t have to worry about any mixed messages or crossed signals or lost mail.
Sign off on your recs: By the time you’re applying for tenure-track jobs, you should know well enough to waive your rights to read the recs. I mean, undergrads applying to grad school might not know better, though those who don’t just seem like suspicious grade-grubbing control freaks when they don’t. But I’ve even heard of Ph.D.-types who mull over not signing off on their recs, just to reserve the possibility of reading ’em, whether because they’re paranoid or overly curious. I’m actually surprised that you have a choice, beyond the formal legalese, since there’s really no point not to waive your rights if you think about it…
Why to waive your rights, after the jump…
I’m not sure I’m the person who should be giving this advice, seeing as I can’t even decide whether to save the dossier I currently have or just let it be sent to the paper shredder, where it probably belongs at this point. But if I were to, say, start planning for the academic job market, which is closer to starting up than you think, I would probably at least start thinking about the most excruciating part of getting your application together: herding the cats–er, contacting your recommenders–so that you can have your dossier ready to go. You know you’re gonna procrastinate when it comes to actually carrying out the palm-sweating task of asking your mentors to write your recs, so at least put yourself into that mindset now. That way, you’ll actually be right on time after you keep putting it off–call it time doping!
What makes getting recs so stress-inducing is that it’s the only part of your application profile you really have zero control over. If your CV is either too weak or really straining the limits of credulity, that’s on you for doing too little and/or embellishing too much. If your cover letter is a mess and the job you’re applying for is a real stretch, that’s your responsibility. But you have almost no hand in your letters of rec, short of deciding whom you ask to advocate for you.
What’s out of your control–and what you can try to do about it–below the jump…
Remember how we wrote up a mid-summer Choose-Your-Own-Adventure checklist as a healthy reminder of what you should/could be doing to make the most of your dwindling block of dissertating/research time? We should’ve included that you need to stay in touch with your diss committee and faculty mentors. We know it’s easy for academics to reverse-hibernate during the summer, but it’s a good idea to stay in contact with folks and even follow up with faculty you’ve lost touch with. And it’s never too early to plan ahead for the upcoming round of job applications, so stay in prime networking shape, while you’re also getting what you’re supposed to be doing done.
Here’s what got me to think about how easy it can be to reconnect with your faculty whom you might have dropped out of touch with: Recently, I ran into a prominent prof in my field whom I hadn’t seen for a few years, as well as another faculty member whom I only know on a personal level at a talk. Not only did I have a good chat with them, but they were in fact warmer to me than ever before. This may have been due to the occasion, but I almost felt like they felt like they were seeing an old friend when we were catching up–although I didn’t tell them about my post-academic plans! The interactions put things about my relationships with mentors and former teachers into a new perspective for me.
Memories can be strong: I mean this in two ways. First, like I mentioned above, good impressions can carry a long way, and remembrances of things past can end up feeling warmer over time. Second, give credit to your faculty boosters for having good memories, rather than assuming that they’re just absent-minded professors. And give yourself some credit, because you probably did something good in a seminar or while TA’ing with a prof to make your faculty booster think of you fondly.
More about keeping in touch with your profs, below the fold…
So it’s not quite Alien vs. Predator, but we figured we could end our respective serieses (plural of series?) with a little compare-and-contrast. You can think of the comparison between a CV and a resume along the lines of my posts vs. Caroline’s this week: the latter are longer and (overly) detailed, while the former are short and sweet and to the point. We understand that it can be hard to make the conversion from a CV to a resume, since it’s not just a matter of translating your skills and reformatting the way you describe them. There’s also some emotional baggage attached to the CV, as if cutting loose your publications and conference papers is the same as making them disappear forever. Don’t worry–they’re still there and they’re still significant accomplishments.
But if you really want to make a full conversion, just try starting over and seeing what you come up with. That CV is always saved to your hard drive, so you can always go back to it when you want. And take solace if you can’t cut the cord quite yet, because you have lots and lots of good company. To paraphrase Susan Basalla of So What Are You Going to Do with That? fame, the worst thing to prepare you for the hamster world job market is being on the academic job market. So think of the exercise of putting together a resume as a process of unlearning and relearning the rhetorical skills you obviously possess and can command.
Read below the fold for some key points to compare and contrast in our CV vs. resume battle royale…