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…
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…
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 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.
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…
To christen the opening of yet another academic job market, we thought it would be a good time to revisit what’s happening with academic salaries. I know, I know, you’re just getting excited about the fact that the first JIL has gone online, even if I personally still haven’t been able to log on because my Ph.D. alma mater has yet to renew its account! I don’t mean to be a wet blanket or a sore sport–though it’s probably ingrained into my very being after whiffing my 5 times on the market!–but it’s not a bad idea to know what you’re about to get yourself into, if you’re that lucky in 1-in-200 (or more) who lands a position. And if you’re not holding the winning ticket, maybe you won’t feel quite as bad if you don’t get that academic job. (Probably not much consolation still?)
Below is basically some info we gathered about salaries at the end of the last job application cycle, which explains that salary increases were, not surprisingly, the lowest ever. But as with the job market, here’s hoping that you can only go up from the “worst [fill in the blank] ever”…
The AAUP’s annual salary survey is not only being covered in education-oriented publications like the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, but also in the New York Times. Great–what we really need the “worst salary year” to complement the “Worst. Job Market. Ever.” (at least in English and Comp Lit), which we covered a few weeks ago on the blog.
The key take-away point from the high-altitude perspective of the survey is that the average pay increases across different disciplines and different ranks were outpaced by the rate of inflation. As the Chronicle article sums it up:
In 2009-10, the average salary of a full-time faculty member rose only 1.2 percent. That’s the lowest year-to-year increase recorded by the association in the 50-year history of its salary survey.
To make matters worse, an inflation rate of 2.7 percent meant that many professors actually had less buying power than the year before. In fact, two-thirds of the 1,141 institutions surveyed over two years gave their faculty members either a pay cut, no raise, or an increase of less than 2 percent, on average.
If you take a brief look at the AAUP summary, what’s most shocking is the breakdown of percentage increase of salaries across different types of institutions: you’ll notice that about 20% of faculty received a raise of 0-.99% and that 30% or so had their salary decreased. So basically around HALF the faculty around the country had a raise of less than 1% or took a pay cut, which means that 1/3 of faculty who received raises of 2% or more really pulled up the average. Below are links to the AAUP survey itself, and to some of the news articles covering it:
2009-10 Report on the Economic Status of the Profession [American Association of University Professors]
“Professors’ Pay Rises 1.2%, Lowest Increases in 50 Years” [Chronicle of Higher Education]; the Chronicle also offers an easily searchable database for salary comparisons from the survey results that can be broken down by school, state, and institution type.
We also compiled some links to salary information, from salary search databases and self-reported job offers on the Academic Job Wiki:
University Salaries Revealed. Kind Of (April 1, 2010)
Show me the money!: More university salaries revealed (April 1, 2010)
So today is basically like Christmas day for the English and Comp Lit types looking for jobs, because the MLA Job Information List is finally up! Many folks have been waiting for months and months for this day, which might explain why I can’t get on the mla.org or ade.org JIL sites. Once their servers ever de-slam, and provided someone renews UCI’s subscription, we’ll try to offer some anecdotal analysis comparing this year’s initial job listings to last year’s edition. Otherwise, we’ll just have to check and re-check the Academic Jobs Wiki today in hopes that someone will repost the jobs–might as well develop that habit and bookmark the site now, because it’s gonna happen sooner or later!
But to mark the occasion, we’re gonna give you a little homework in preparing for the job market and provide a little historical context. We’re reposting a piece from this spring around when the blog just started, which basically digested the very sad and depressing numbers released by the MLA “Mid Year Report.” I guess you could say that the report was “comforting,” since it pretty much confirmed that it wasn’t your fault you couldn’t find an academic job–2009 really was the “Worst. Job Market. Ever.” Here’s hoping things are better this year, since they couldn’t be worse–could they?
This little nugget from the MLA via an Inside Higher Ed news blurb (forwarded to me by Caroline) all but confirms what many of us have known empirically or surmised: that the current manifestation of the job market is the worst ever — or at least since almost all current first-time job seekers were born. According to a MLA midyear report, advertised job openings dropped from 1,380 English positions in 2008-09 to a projected 1,000 positions in 2009-10; for foreign languages, the drop went from 1,227 to a projected 900. Most startlingly, the raw numbers indicate that this the fewest number of job openings in at least 35 years (see Figure 1 from the MLA report). For job seekers looking for their first tenure-track position, the stats may even be worse, with only 165(!) T/T Assistant Prof positions in English and 97(!!) in Foreign Languages advertised in the “big” October 2009 Job Information List (see Figure 5 and Figure 6, respectively).
Check out how quickly this decline has hit the profession:
Year: Total Job Openings (English numbers/Foreign Language numbers) and Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Openings in Oct 2009 (E/FL)
2005-06: 1,687 E/ 1,381 FL total and 412 E/ 231 FL Asst Prof
2006-07: 1,793 E/ 1,591 FL total and 474 E/ 267 FL Asst Prof
2007-08: 1,826 E/ 1,680 FL (The highest number of openings since 1999-2000) and 384 E/ 244 FL Asst Prof
2008-09: 1,380 E/ 1,227 FL and 299E / 236 FL Asst Prof (Keep in mind that many, many openings were cut after they were advertised in Fall 2008, at various stages of the process)
2009-10: 1,000 E/ 900 FL total (projection) and 165 E/ 97 FL Asst Prof
More bad news, 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…
Recently, I was on a flight and became embroiled in a conversation that spanned the entire four-hour homebound trip. Those who know me will know that I did not initiate the chit-chat, since I try to look as surly and petulant and indifferent as possible around strangers, often with earphones in. Anyhow, the chatty guy next to me started talking to me about sports, which I enjoyed, and we eventually started talking about our jobs. Of course, I let him take the lead and just asked questions so 1.) I didn’t have to talk a lot and 2.) I was actually interested in what he did. About three hours in(!), I figured it would only be fair and neighborly of me to offer some quid pro quo and tell him about my own professional life, since he asked–hey, it’s probably good practice for a mumblemouth like me, too, to be engaged in a conversation where I’m talking a little about myself, but making what I say seem like it’s about my audience. After all, isn’t that what an academic interview is all about?
So, I figured I could talk about basically what I blog about: the academic job market. We started with him being surprised–or, “vexed” in his words–that I could train for so long for a Ph.D. and not have a job. For all the talk among academic-types about a general ressentiment against us smarty-pants, I do think your average joe respects those of us who’ve strived to get our advanced degrees. In some ways, I think we misperceive what misperceptions about academics are out there, something that I learned in the course of my flight-long talk…
More below the fold…