Post Academic


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…

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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.

The MLA JIL Cottage Industry

Posted in Absurdities,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on September 23, 2010
Tags: , , , ,

I promise that this is the last post you’ll see from me about the MLA Job Information List — at least until I actually log on to it, either through buying my own affiliate account or poaching off the UCI English dept whenever it decides to renew its account.  But you’d be surprised by all the stuff you can find online typing in “MLA JIL” or “JIL MLA” or “ADE JIL” (which includes one of our very own posts near the top of the Google search list).  So here’s what I found searching for the JIL and trying to backdoor it and not being able to do so.

"Cottage Industry!" by Colin Smith (Creative Commons license)

The mlaconvention Twitter account: This is where all the action is if you want to find out all the JIL news, even if you’re not actually able to get on it.  We’ve linked to and been linked by the MLA’s Exec Director Rosemary Feal’s Twitter before responding to a call about reforming the dissertation, but who knew she would give a play-by-play on the status of the JIL while hosting and responding to comments by MLA members?  If you dig a little into the older Tweets, you’ll notice that the JIL had a very shaky and frustrating launch.  We’ve dogged the MLA quite a bit on this blog, but you can’t beat their customer service when the Exec Director responds to pretty much anyone who Tweets @ ’em.

MLA JIL LOLCAT: And to keep the restless natives entertained while they’re in the virtual line trying to get onto the JIL on the geeks’ equivalent to day-after-Thanksgiving shopping, the MLA has created its own gallery of…LOLCATs: “This #MLALOLCat is for all you patient #mlajoblist users!http://cheezburger.com/View/3977057024“.  You gotta give the MLA credit for trying to amuse the unamused masses, though isn’t “I Can Has Cheezburger?” so 2008 — which is also around the time the job market plunged and we probably needed the humor the most.

The Academic Job Wiki’s Una74: One of the best things about the Academic Job Wiki was the virtual community aspect of it, where people shared job info, advice, and a feeling of doom.  Those of you who are on the wiki might have noticed that many of the early listings have been put up by a user named Una74, who describes her/himself as a “Professional Lurker, Part-time Administrator of Academic Jobs Wiki.”  On the one hand, you wanna thank Una74 for the thankless job of posting all the job listings as they come up, especially when you, ahem, don’t have access to the JIL.  On the other, you wanna ask who made Una74 the boss of the Job Wiki–I mean, could we have applied for this position and can Una74 put it on a CV?  Considering that the Wiki has always been a communal effort, we’ll see if the presence of Una74 as a shadowy majordomo will change the dynamic of how folks contribute when we really, really need to find out about interviews, campus visits, gossip, and job offers.  (Seriously, I’ve been thinking about that!)  I imagine probably not, if some of the frustrated jobseeker posts already up on the Wiki are any indication: As one Wiki commenter noted, once the JIL technical problems were resolved, “yeah, now all we gotta deal with is how sh*tty the list is so far. at least in my field”.

Chronicle MLA JIL sites: I didn’t want to link this Chronicle message board, since we’re going head-to-head with it to see who’s higher on the “MLA JIL” Google search, but to heck with it.  All these message boards and Wikis do serve the function of being online support groups for those who need the support, even if you’re just lurking.  The we’re-all-in-the-same-boat gallows humor does help, like the shared experience of not being able to explain how the profession works to people outside it, as in this case:

A couple of years ago I was visiting my mother and told her there were only X number of jobs out there in French and she didn’t believe me. I popped open the laptop and went through the MLA JIL with her.  When she saw how many Francophone jobs there were she said, “Well, you must be wrong about what ‘Francophone’ means.”

Right mom. I was totally mistaken and am indeed a Francophone specialist without my knowing it. Thanks.

There’s also a breakout message board about “Predictions for 2010-2011 job season”, which is good vicarious viewing for those without proper JIL access.  While the numbers seem *relatively* encouraging — how could they not be after the worst market ever? — the comments are still caustic: When someone queried what the growth fields might be, the two sad-but-true replies were “adjunct studies” and “administration”.  Just because it’s depressingly true doesn’t mean it isn’t still kinda funny…

The etiquette of cat herding: More on getting recs

Posted in First Person,Process Stories by Arnold Pan on August 23, 2010
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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…

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Time to herd the cats! Don’t get wrecked by your recs…

Posted in Process Stories,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on August 19, 2010
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"Herd of Cats" by Boksi (Public Domain)

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…

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Top Grad Student finale: Polls close in a few days!

Posted in Housekeeping by Arnold Pan on August 15, 2010

Hope everyone is having a good weekend!  We’re putting in a plug to get folks to vote in our “Top Grad Student” finale, which is in the campus visit round.  However, voting might be futile, thanks to a very committed Media Studies constituency, which has put our Media Studies contestant at the top week in, week out.  Here are the results, up to this point:

Week 1, CV writing — Winners: English, Media Studies (Loser: Poli Sci)

Week 2, curriculum builder — Winner: Media Studies (Losers: Engineering, History, Physics)

Week 3, extracurriculars — Winner: Media Studies (Loser: Math)

Week 4, convention interviews — Winner: Media Studies (Loser: Life Sciences)

So far, English is putting up a good fight and it might come down to the wire for this one.  Polls close on Tuesday!

“Top Grad Student”, our imaginary virtual reality show

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on July 10, 2010
Tags: ,

"Tom Colicchio at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival" by David Shankbone (Creative Commons license)

We usually use the weekends to scratch our pop culture itch, what with Caroline’s great Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Prof Stereotype film series and our Footnotes odds’n’ends that have featured the likes of Lady Gaga and James Franco.  We also mused way back when about what TV show resembles grad school the most, which is kind of the inspiration for today’s ridiculous post re-imagining grad school as a grueling series of reality show contests à la “Top Chef”–heck, if artists can get their own show (“Work of Art”), you best believe academics should!  Although it looks like our original poll had “Mad Men” winning as the best extended metaphor for academia, which means you better read the post about not antagonizing the admin and staff because the Joan Holloway of your dept might make or break your professional life.

Off the top of my head, let’s imagine we have Ph.D.-candidate contestants from various disciplines who compete for, say, a tenure-track position or equivalent at the University of Phoenix, which would totally be our sponsor.  We could have great settings for the show, like a seminar room and a bucolic campus.  Then, maybe all the contestants could be forced to live in university subsidized housing together, which could possibly lead to another reality show spin-off, like a nerdy “Bachelor/ette” or something–wait, didn’t they already have that show already (“Beauty and the Geek”)?  In any case, is this format so different from the stages between the convention interview, with about 12 or so candidates (at least in MLA fields), being whittled down to a handful of campus visits, before a chosen one is selected?  Our daydreamed TV show would be more entertaining and, who knows, maybe it would only capture the absurdities of a real-life job search, documentary film-like.

Maybe it’s because it’s too early in the morning while I’m writing this, but I’m a little punchy: Why don’t we do this thing online and call it a virtual fan-fiction reality show or something?  We’ll put a poll at the bottom of this post, and you can vote for whom you imagine would win any given contest.  And we’ll periodically return to this thing if folks actually vote.

Anyway, our first competition should be a get-to-know-you sort of thing, so let’s start with a feat-of-strength about writing a CV.  Who do you think would win this round, based on style, formatting, the number of accomplishments, length, reasonable embellishment?  The hypothetical student with the most votes gets immunity next round, while the contestant with the fewest votes is voted out!  And use the message board if you feel like justifying your vote–you can be your very own “Judges Table”!

And if there are any show developers lurking here, you know where to reach us!

The Benefits of Boundaries

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionEstablishing a shorter time to degree has its pros and cons. One major pro might surprise you: Writing gets better when you are forced to work with boundaries, whether they are deadlines, word limits, or formatting restrictions.

Lifehacker suggests that people are more productive when faced with limits because you have to get creative. The best limit I set for myself is trying to answer one single question in a piece of writing. “What do I want someone to think or do after reading this piece?”

Usually, in the kind of writing that I do, the answer is simple: Buy now, call us, click through, etc. Once you have that goal, you can flesh it out. Otherwise, you’ll get lost, and the reader will get lost as you try to explain several different ideas at once.

This is tough for academics because academic writing involves a slow buildup, and the best academics can build an argument brick by brick. This style has value and can lead to surprising conclusions, but if you want to hook a reader, you need to at least suggest that you will answer one question. Then, once the reader is hooked, you can go all Derrida on them and take them on the theoretical equivalent of a magic carpet ride.

FYI: I hope that, after reading this piece, you set a deadline for finishing your dissertation or turning your resume into a CV.

Image of the seen power of the picket fence by Idir Fida from Vancouver, Canada, from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Last week on Post Academic (5/30-6/5)

Posted in Housekeeping by postacademic on June 6, 2010
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At the end/beginning of the week, we like to point out some of the posts that have either cycled off the front page of lost in the shuffle from the week just ended on Post Academic.  Besides the return of Broke-Ass Schools and the continuation of our Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Professor Stereotype film series, the last week is pretty easy to recap: resumes and CVs.  You can start with Caroline’s first post musing on resume objectives and work your away forward, or end with Arnold’s CV vs. resume grudge match comparing the two forms and go backwards.

Or if you’re sick of listening to us on the topic, just check out the video above by web jokester Liz Thompson, who made a YouTube on “How to Write a Resume!”.  It’s part of a series of “How-to” videos by Thompson, and it captures the silliness of resume writing pretty well.

And sorry, no Zizek-SNL update this week, mostly because Arnold didn’t get to attend the UCI talk and ask him if he knew about the campaign.  For those of you counting at home, the Facebook fan site seems to have stalled out at 5,358 members, thought that’s still a pretty impressive number.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

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