Post Academic

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…


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.

Great Employment Opportunity! #2: So basically, anyone can apply?

We’re back with our latest installment in our series highlighting and reading between the lines of job postings in lit fields, what we’re calling Great Employment Opportunity! (or GEO! for short).  Last time, we started with the ethnic lit catch-all, which I think will be quite prevalent this year, because I’m guessing that a lot of depts think they will have a preference for Chicano lit specialists, but still aren’t quite sure yet and will keep their options open.  But if you think the ethnic lit catch-all was vague and open-ended, check out today’s GEO!#2, which is so broad that the job calls in question should just ask for anyone who ever studied U.S. lit to apply.  Actually, that’s what the 3 sample postings we have for your perusing pleasure more-or-less do, courtesy of the folks setting up the 20-21 c. American lit page at the Academic Jobs Wiki site, of course:

"Main building of the University of Notre Dame" by Tysto (Public Domain)

Notre Dame: “Assistant Professor, American literature after 1900. Breadth and interest in various genres desirable.”

Princeton: “19th-20th – century American Literature. Candidates with expertise in theory and/or visual culture are especially welcome.”

San Diego State: “Assistant Professor: 20th and 21st Century American Literature . . . tenure-track assistant professor specializing in 20th and 21st century American literature. Desirable secondary specializations include race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality studies, literature and the environment, transnational and comparative studies, border studies, or media studies.”

So, great, if you’re applying for these jobs, you’re basically going to be in a pool of at least multiple hundreds of applicants.  Hey, at least, San Diego State adds some specifics, though there are so many of them that I’m not sure who is left out, since what person working in American lit over the past century doesn’t deal with race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and so on–maybe that burgeoning field on the intersections between New Criticism and the graphic novel might be snubbed, although I’m thinking specialists there could talk themselves into thinking they work in media studies, right?

My favorite of these job postings is the one for Princeton, which really could yield applications from almost everyone working in American lit, since I’m sure early Americanists who mostly work in the 18th c. could fudge their credentials in 19th c. and 20th c. implies 21st c., right?  I suppose those who work in “theory and/or visual culture” are licking their chops now, thought, you know, that might weed out 1 out of every 10 folks because everyone *thinks* s/he does theory in some way or another.  But speaking of weeding out, how many applications do you think have no chance the instant they are received for these positions?  I tended to avoid applying for jobs like these, because I figured I would never even get a reading among the hundreds and hundreds of applications, and assumed I needed a connection to grease the process for me, rightly or wrongly.

In the end, it seems like there’s no real criteria for the position, so what was the point–I might be full of myself, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the BEST scholar in 19th-20th c. U.S. lit that a job like the Princeton one would seem to be seeking, though who’s to say who that is or if it exists?  My friends would always say that you just have to apply to everything because you never know what might happen–except I did know from my experiences what was going to happen.  In the end, the wing-and-a-prayer GEO!s can add up, in time, effort, postage, pilfered letterhead, and inbox space.  Count me out!