Post Academic


Postacademic MLA Interview Survival Tips

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:

Top Grad Student, Round 4: Convention Interviews With Soul-Sucking Vampires
Inappropriate Academic Interview #1
Transfer Your Skills: Interviews in the Hamster World
Look Like You Want the Job

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.

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Interviews You Don’t Want to Have #6: Dream School Turned Nightmare

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on January 4, 2011
Tags: , ,

Happy New Year all!  I’ve been meaning to put a little closure on our Interviews You Don’t Want to Have series, but, as with all things academia-oriented, that’s probably never gonna happen.  But seeing as MLA is about to kick off — I think folks will be arriving in downtown L.A. for MLA by tomorrow — I guess it’s time to finish up recounting MLA war stories with my best/worst one.  The stakes with this one were high, or I at least thought so going into it, since it was for pretty much a dream situation: a tenure-track position that fit my interests to a T at a top, pretty-much-Ivy research institution in my favorite non-California city (hint: it’s not NYC or Boston).  So of course, I felt a lot of pressure going into the interview, rather than seeing it as an I’ve-got-nothing-to-lose scenario, since the candidates I’d be up against would be pretty stellar.  (More about that later.)

 

This is where my nightmare interview took place. "Hyatt Regency Chicago" by Atomic Taco (Creative Commons license)

After doing a pretty good job sequestering myself from the temptations of MLA gossip and catching up with old friends, I worked studiously to anticipate possible questions, prepared my sample syllabi, and learned the best walking route to the interviewing hotel in the snow and slush.  But unfortunately, I could tell you that all the prep and nervous energy would be for naught right from the first obnoxiously nitpicky question — and the interview only got worse and worse after that.  Here’s a recap, after the very brief, obligatorily flattering small talk:

Question 1: “Why do you use the word ‘demographies’ in the title?”

Response: The real, unspoken answer was simply that it sounded good!  Still, I was able to gain a little footing talking about race and space, which was the focus of my dissertation.  At least I could repurpose my diss spiel here.

Question 2: “If you are writing about demographies, which didn’t you use this other book by Author X instead of the one you did?”

Response: The real answer is that I read the one I worked on and I didn’t read the other one!  But I suppose you can’t show any ignorance in this situation, so I stammered out some summary of the chapter in question, which wasn’t so bad because I could recall my specific argument pretty well.  Still, no one could suggest that things were going well, when a “friendly” questioner was asking me why I used a specific word and why I didn’t focus on one text instead of another.  At this point, I felt like my whole 400-page diss had been discredited — or that maybe my questioner should’ve just written it for me.

I say that this questioner was friendly, because things only got more and more hostile, which you’ll see after the jump…

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(Unofficial) Interviews You Don’t Want to Have #5: The Mock Interview

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on December 17, 2010
Tags: , ,

So I guess my first interview wasn’t really a real interview to begin with: It was a mock interview with my advisor and one of my other diss committee members, along with one person I didn’t know.  Normally, I passed on the dept-sanctioned fake interviews, in part because I didn’t really want the powers-that-be in my business–for instance, there’s always one *really* nosy professor who likes to take credit for your interviews/job even when s/he’d totally ignore you otherwise–and in part because I was too cool for school. But my faculty peeps set up their own ad hoc alterna faux interviews for us self-identifying outsiders, so there was no excuse not to do them.  Here are what ended up being the pros and cons from the experience…

PRO — Practice makes better: I had never been under the intense scrutiny of a job interview, with the closest thing being the qualifying exam orals.  The mock interview at least gave me a chance to give my dissertation spiel, even though I probably ended up giving it less than half the time in my real interviews.  But the experience was useful in helping me tweak my answers, mostly through a process of elimination, since I learned more about what I shouldn’t be talking about.

CON — Role playing is only playing: The thing is, though, I didn’t find the role playing plausible.  For starters, I’m a bad bluffer, and even more so in front of people who know me.  So try as I might, I found it hard to ham up my answers in front of my faculty members, whom I kept worrying had their BS detectors on.  I know they weren’t there to check on the progress of my dissertation, but that’s how I felt.  I’m just not a good enough actor or an imaginative enough person to pull it off.

More pros and cons of the mock interview and making a mockery of yourself, below the fold…

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Interpersonal skills #1: Keeping up with your friends

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

Remember this?: “Worst Salary Year” meets “Worst. Job Market. Ever.”

Posted in The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on September 21, 2010
Tags: , ,

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”…

"Handshake (Workshop Cologne '06)" by Tobias Wolter (Creative Commons license)

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.

“Study Find 1.2 Percent Increase in Faculty Pay, the Smallest in 50 Years” [NY Times]

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)

Cover Letter Do’s

PhotobucketA few days ago, Gawker offered a potent example of what not to do in your cover letter. Now for a little constructive advice–how to tackle your cover letter. The key rule is to keep it short, so I’ll jump right in:

Match your skills to the job. If your skills and background don’t match the job, don’t send the letter unless you are confident that your skills are in the ballpark and you have a friend at the company.

Don’t get cute. A cover letter structure is basic. Let the reader know what position you want, where you saw the position and what you have to offer. Your life story and your passion are unnecessary. HR is not interested in your life story. In fact, HR is probably inserting your cover letter into scanner software that hunts for specific keywords that match the job description. Return to the importance of reading the job description above.

Suppress your emotions. Save dazzling them with your personality for the interview. Sob stories or rage about how you were laid off will not faze HR. They are looking for skills only, and in this economy everyone has been burned.

More after the jump! Photograph of a stentor (announcer) transmitting a program at the Budapest Telefon Hirmondó, which appeared in the “The Telephone Newspaper” by Thomas S. Denison, in the April, 1901 World’s Work magazine.” Image public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
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Cover Letter Don’ts Courtesy of Gawker

PhotobucketUsually, Gawker’s salty snark is applied to celebrities and politicians, but this week it has been applied to garden-variety Hamsters who don’t know how to write a cover letter. An unfortunate Hamster looking for a job sent a cover letter to a company … which was promptly forwarded to Gawker.

Here’s an example:
DO: Explain that you’re a dedicated worker.
DON’T: “I don’t just think outside the box, I stand on top of it. I aim to appease my employer. If he/she isn’t satisfied with my work, I will sweat blood and tears until I get them the result that they are enamored with. If my employer wants me to be knowledgeable of a certain person, place or thing; I will research that particular subject until I know everything that Google, Lycos, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and Encyclopedia Britannica has to say about them/it.”

This person is probably already embarrassed enough, so we’ll just glean a few lessons from this incident. First, keep your cover letters short so you can avoid embarrassing yourself. Second, hyperbole is a no-no, especially if you claim you can do the impossible, such as literally sweating blood and tears. If you can actually do that, HR will deem you a health hazard, and you won’t get the job.

More after the jump! These serious-looking individuals are reading a cover letter, and they might be on the verge of laughter if you don’t watch it. Engraving public domain, Wikimedia Commons.
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