Post Academic

Get ready for your secondary requests

Posted in Process Stories,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on November 10, 2010
Tags: , ,

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…


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…


Here come the lame responses too…

Last time, I wrote about how you need to be prepared for any kind of crazy response for materials that may come your way after your initial application.  So it seems like it would be a good time to give you a head’s up that you’ll likely be getting some lame responses to your oh-so-conscientious effort to send in a strong job application.  We’re strolling down memory lane for some of our greatest hits from earlier posts before you probably knew we existed, along with a few new entries to this hall of shame.   Some of these are garden-variety, out-of-anyone’s-control deals, but some of the others are in such dubious taste that you wonder what people are (not) thinking.

Sorry, but the search was cancelled after you invested time and money in applying: Back in the Dust Bowl markets of 2008 + 2009 — which must seem like ancient history to a fresh-faced batch of first-time applicants — it was a fairly common occurrence to find an email message noting a cancelled search or log on to the job wiki to get the bad news before you personally received it.  But there’s still a few of these that might pop up, like what happened to this Af Am lit search at well-heeled Wesleyan.  Courtesy of the Academic Jobs Wiki:

Note 9/13: Received email that search has been postponed.

Subfield/description: The African-American Studies Program and the English Department at Wesleyan University seek a specialist in African-American literature and culture for a tenure-track appointment at the assistant professor level….Expertise in one or more of the following areas is particularly welcome: diasporic and transnational studies, cultural theory, performance studies, gender and sexuality.”

Deadline: Completed applications received electronically by November 1, 2010, will receive full consideration.

Hey, at least they seemed to notify potential candidates fairly early in the game, even if it’s a bummer that a prime job got cancelled.  What’s worse is actually putting in the time, effort, and sometimes money to send in an application, only to have the rug pulled from under you via a terse but apologetic email.  What’s even worser is the situation I’ve heard of but haven’t experienced first-hand of a search that dropped after the interview stage, which calls for even more psychic and material investments from all parties.

Have you heard of BCC?: More than a few years ago, at the advent of the digital job correspondence era, I received either a mass acknowledgement or rejection email — with all the hundreds of applicants’ names and emails present in the “to” field of the message!  It must have been a rejection e-letter, not because that seems more dramatic, but because I remember not feeling so bad about being rejected because of all the good company I had, which included friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and some people whose pubs I had read.  And come to think of it, I recall it being a job at…Wesleyan?  If this jogs anyone’s memory back to, what, 2006, please comment below!

Even lamer examples from the Post Academic archive below…


Be prepared!: After you send in your job application…

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.

"Emergency Preparedness 'Ready to Go' Kit" by Red Cross (Public Domain)

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…


Stop procrastinating: Write your cover letter!

So we’ve more or less covered what you’ll need to send in a complete application when you’re applying for your typical humanities–OK, specifically, English–tenure-track position.  We tried to get you to contact your letter writers and start the process of herding cats.  And we’ve pretty much discussed CVs ad infinitum over the first seven months of Post Academic.  We could say more about what to do with your writing sample, but you should be set if you have a publication or have something publication-length that you have under review.

The one element of your application package we haven’t gone into is the most fundamental and probably the most important — the cover letter.  Not every application in the initial stages will ask you for recs and/or a writing sample, but you definitely need a cover letter, which is basically the first (and maybe only?) chance to make a good impression.  Well, duh, right?  That’s obvious, but how you want to present yourself might not be so much.  So before you get ready to crank out what’s in effect 50 form letters, take some time to think about how you want search committees to see you, even if it’s for, like, the one minute your evaluators give your application if you’re lucky and good.  As always, the same caveats apply: take my advice for what it’s worth, as someone who could package an application up well enough to get good convention interviews, but could never cash in on my chances with a t/t job.


"Tailor Shop Yau Ma Tei Hong Kong" by Cantona (Creative Commons license)


Format matters: When you’re sending out a job letter, make sure it actually looks like, you know, a letter.  That means to put iton letterhead even if you have to sneak it out of the office, to date it, to address it to the proper person, to make sure your paragraphs and margins don’t look wonky.  Also, be sure your letter is a reasonable length; I never sent in a job letter that was longer than two pages single spaced, though it’s more like one-and-a-half pages after you account for the header, date, and formal address.  I know it’s superficial, but you don’t need a strike against you with a weird looking letter before anyone actually starts reading it.

Tailor and prioritize: Don’t be lazy and just send out the same letter to basically the same kind of jobs within your field.  Tailor your letter to make it appear it’s the only one you’re writing, even if everyone knows it’s not.  Maybe it’s because my research enabled me to try for various kinds of positions — from basic 20th c. American lit to Asian American lit to multiethnic lit — but I was always conscious of targeting my cover letter to the specific parameters of each and every posting.  And even when the areas of interest for the list of jobs you’re applying are pretty much the same, the goals and profiles of the institutions aren’t.

More cover letter to do’s below the fold…


Teach: Tony Danza: “I’m always afraid they’re gonna unmask me.”

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on October 6, 2010
Tags: , , ,

PhotobucketTeach: Tony Danza” follows the actor, whom we all know and love from “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” as he teaches an English class at a Philadelphia public school. This could have been a goofy reality show series, like “Tommy Lee Goes to College,” but the first episode shows just how hard it is to be a teacher. Danza enters the school full of hope, and by the end of the first episode, he looks exhausted. For those of you who constantly hear how easy teachers and professors have it, you should recommend this show to your critics.

The show is far from perfect. It’s over-edited, and there are too many framing scenes in which Danza and the teachers spell out their motives in an obvious fashion. Some of the kids look like they’re already auditioning for the next reality show. But the show does reveal how uncomfortable it can be to stand in front of the classroom. It’s hard to convey information and keep people interested at the same time, and being an actor helps only so much.

Being an actor actually isn’t Danza’s main problem in the classroom. He makes several classic mistakes that first-time teachers–both high school and college–make. For example:

Never act as if you want to be liked. The moment Danza walks into school for his first day, I felt uncomfortable because he so clearly wants approval from his supervisors and his students. This might be because he still has an actor’s need to please people, but teaching isn’t about pleasing people.

More after the jump! Image of Tony Danza at the Indianapolis 500 parade by Matt B. from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Real-life academic examples of CV fudging

Posted in Absurdities,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on October 5, 2010
Tags: , ,

So writing that Christine O’Donnell post the other day made me think about some examples of CV fudging and credentials padding I’ve seen over the years.  We’ve actually written quite a lot about CVs and resumes, and we’d like to think it was practical, helpful, only semi-bitter advice we were giving here and here and here.

"Variety of fudge at a shop" by benjgibbs (Creative Commons license)

But today we’re going to totally snark out and focus on some of our pet peeves with what people try to do with their CVs.  Alright, I’m not above admitting that I’ve partaken in a little CV fact stretching myself, although it was done in all sincerity and with the best intentions that what I was embellishing was going to really, really come to fruition — like most everyone else!  Really, I’m not impugning anyone here, because the CV arms race, like everything pertaining to the academic job search, can really get out of hand, forcing first-few-time jobseekers to put undue pressure on themselves to come up with unreasonable expectations of what they need on a vita, especially when it comes to publications.

Here are a few cases of CV padding that walk a fine line, even though they can seem totally legit once you find a way to justify them.  And if you can get it past a search committee’s BS sensor, more power to you!

Ph.D. expected: There are probably degrees of fudging here, from absolute fantasy to fairly possible possibility, depending a lot on when you dip your toe in the shark-infested job market.  I should know, because this applied to me in the 2 years I applied for jobs before finishing my degree.  The first time was a just a shot in the dark, the idea being that I would actually complete my diss when I claimed I would if I got a job — hey, it worked for some of my friends, so why not give it a try?  No matter that the “finished” product would be crappy, and I had no idea how strongly my committee would vouch that I could do it in their recs.

Later, though, I really could’ve gotten everything done under the flexible degree expected deadline, which made me more antsy to land a t/t position, because I started worrying that a finished diss was diss whose expiration date was coming closer and closer.  Now with a 3+ year old Ph.D., I wish I could reverse date fudge and somehow make my degree look newer and fresher!

More fudging pet peeves below the fold…


Christine O’Donnell and fudging your resume

Since we were on the topic of politics this week, have you heard about the resume padding scandal involving GOP Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who seems to represent her whole own kind of crazy?  Talking Points Memo has been all over what it’s calling “LinkedIn Gate”, which involves O’Donnell fudging the education line of her resume.  The main issue in question is a line on her resume that she earned a “Certificate in Post Modernism in the New Millennium” at the University of Oxford, which sounds a little sketchy to begin with.  Anyway, O’Donnell’s campaign came up with some kind of lame conspiracy explanation that someone put up a fake LinkedIn account to discredit her, but HuffPo checked with ZoomInfo about identical education info posted there and found out that the bio was verified by O’Donnell.

"Mmmm fudge!" by Brampton cyclist (Creative Commons license)

This opened up a bigger can of worms for O’Donnell, especially when TPM went digging and asked the “Claremont Institute”, also listed on her resume, about her application to see if it included the Oxford certificate.  In turn, TPM learned that the her participation in a one-week program at the “Claremont Institute” was embellished, which, one presumes, includes the vague idea that the conservative think-tank would be connected to the Claremont Colleges, which it isn’t. Now we go further down the rabbit hole of O’Donnell’s imaginary education, since, per Politico, she hadn’t actually received her undergrad diploma from Farleigh Dickinson until this September, even though she has been calling herself a graduate of the school.  Apparently, she had an elective to finish up and owed the school $4000 in tuition — fudging the degree is one thing, but owing tuition money can’t bode well for her Tea Party bona fides, if there is such a thing, can it?

Going back to what started this whole thing off, the Oxford certificate, the line stretches the meaning of “at Oxford” to its extremes, since she earned a certificate from a three-week program called the “Phoenix Institute” that seems to rent space from Oxford and isn’t officially affiliated with Oxford.  O’Donnell’s “Oxford” “tutor”, currently an Oxford Ph.D. candidate and prof somewhere in Nicaragua, apparently raves about her, describing her as “intelligent, engaged, dynamic, good with questions and interested in ideas” and his course as stacking up to “any graduate school at any university.”  All this brings to my mind those “Oxford Round Table” solicitations I’ve received in my inbox before, which set off warning bells by asking for an exorbitant fee before you read the fine print that it’s not connected to Oxford.  Have you gotten those?  It’s kinda like the elitist Ph.D. version of the Phoenix Institute for more advanced scholars to, it seems, buy an Oxford conference paper to put on your CV at a cost of a few thousand bucks.  If I’m right or wrong about this and someone has attended, please comment below.  I just know that if my invite to something at Oxford involves a company in Kentucky, I’m questioning if it’s legit.

All this begs the question of just why is Oxford letting it’s name be used for all these dubious enterprises, especially when you’d think that Oxford would be protecting its brand and/or too snobby to let just anyone co-opt it, right?  And anyone who’s following the O’Donnell saga has to be wondering when she would’ve had the time to get all these “degrees”, since it seems like she spent much of the late 1990s on Bill Maher’s “Politcally Incorrect” and “MTV News”.

Great Employment Opportunity! #3: You know it’s time to quit when…

"Carrier Dome" by Lvklock (Creative Commons license)

I’m still frozen out of the MLA JIL, so it’s probably time to pay up rather than just rely on Una74 and the Academic Job Wiki.  But I did find this “Great Employment Opportunity” on the wiki, which really is a great employment opportunity.  I should know, because I interview for this position, more or less, at the Chicago MLA in December 2007.

Syracuse University’s English Department seeks a tenure-track assistant professor in Asian American Literature. This position enhances our strengths in American literature and supports the development of an Asian American Studies program in the College of Arts and Sciences. Ph.D. must be in hand at time of appointment.

The difference between the job posting this time and last time was that the earlier ad wasn’t focused only on Asian American lit, but was looking for a multiethnic lit specialist that could check off as many of Asian Am lit and/or Af Am lit and/or Chicano lit as possible.  The gist of it is that Syracuse seems to want an Asian Americanist, which it must not have gotten the last time around–despite interviewing myself and two friends of mine working in the field.

Personally speaking, the job represents something I’ve been suspecting for a while now, but had been unwilling to recognize: that you know it’s time to quit when the same jobs you applied to before come around again.  This has happened to me before, with mildly encouraging results, when I scored an interview with an Ivy League school the second time I applied to an Asian Americanist position.  The first time was a way-too-early trial run that I mostly did because all my friends were testing the market, myself only halfway through the diss.  The second time I applied for the same position, I did feel I was pretty legit, even though I coulda/shoulda done better with a pretty pleasant interview experience.

So when I saw this Syracuse position open up again, my initial thought was to try for it again, since I’ve had decent luck basically trying again.  Plus, the pool would be smaller, with only Asian Americanists competing this time.  Plus, I would have a strong publication to tout on my CV.  Plus, I have more teaching experience in Asian American and multiethnic lit than before.  Except that my Ph.D. is now three years older.  And if they liked me enough in the first place, I probably would’ve gotten the consolation prize of a campus visit or something, at least.

In any case, I’m passing on this position, because I actually don’t believe in getting a second bite at what’s essentially the same apple.  But this sloppy seconds situation goes to show how the academic job market is an enabler that can fool you into rationalizing what is really insane and compulsive behavior, applying over and over again hoping that the results will change even when you know they probably won’t.  It’s just that it’s even harder to break the cycle when the options are so few and far between and you’re getting more and more desperate for a job.

Politics and academia

"Fictional flag of the fictional Communist Democratic Party of America" by Oren new dag (Public Domain)

Talk about stating the obvious: Politico, the blog I haven’t been able to stop reading since the 2008 election in spite of myself, posted a story the other day about how “College Professors Go Big for Democrats”, which hardly qualifies as news.  As a liberal myself (duh!), I’m happy to say that employees of the UC system I’m a part of donated over $400,000 to the Dems–although the Boxer folks still want more and more, as my inbox can attest to.  Anyway, that’s 86% of all political donations made by UC  types.  Then there’s the case of Princeton, where the employees gave $100,000 to the Dems and apparently $0 to the GOP.

Again, none of what Politico reports should be any surprise, except, perhaps, for the overwhelming margins.  This might explain why I don’t have any conservative friends (as far as I know), and why my wife and I are suspicious of nice strangers whose politics we don’t know, since we’ve met a few undercover libertarians.  Heck, I can barely stand a lot of academics who share my worldview more or less, either because I don’t think they care enough about race-related issues or because they try to act holier-than-thou than me–unapologetic Ralph Nader 2000 boosters, I’m looking at you.

But I was wondering the other day about when it was I became a liberal and how it happened.  Did my prolonged exposure to academia turn me into a lefty?  Or was I already a latent liberal who found the right venue to bring my politics out of me?

At the risk of alienating and offending folks, we’re delving into politics and academics below the fold…


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