Post Academic

Decluttering the job application process: The spreadsheet

Posted in First Person,Process Stories by Arnold Pan on August 24, 2010
Tags: , ,

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!

"ExCel Exhibition Centre" by jasoncart (Public Domain)

(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’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…


The etiquette of cat herding: More on getting recs

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

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…


“Top Grad Student” Finale: Campus Visits

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

This is it: We’ve finally reached the campus visit round, where one of our “Top Grad Student” competitors will receive a tenure-track position, sponsored by the University of Phoenix.  In classic academic bad-form fashion, we didn’t notify our convention interview round loser, the Life Sciences candidate, that s/he’s out of the running, so s/he’ll either be lurking on the academic jobs wiki to find out what happened or learn the bad news when s/he watches this week’s episode of “Top Grad Student.”  But we didn’t want to give the Life Sciences contestant “official” notification, in case our top choices don’t accept the position and we’re forced to go to our fourth choice, right?

"Newport Hill Climb finish line" by Huwmanbeing (Public Domain)

Like “Top Chef,” the campus visit round involves the finalists jetsetting somewhere to a scenic location, getting ready to compete in one last battle-royale round.  While the speed-dating frenzy of the convention interview round required one set of skills, the campus visit require another kind, more focused on depth than breadth.

So here’s the itinerary we have set for the would-be could-be “Top Grad Student”:

1. Arrive after a long flight, only to have a search committee member engage you in mindless, but potentially hazardous small talk, while you’re hungry and don’t really have your wits about you.  Be dropped off fairly late at a generic hotel, where you have find something to eat, iron your clothes for the big day, print up documents you’ve edited (again) at the last minute.  And get some sleep.

2. Wake up (too) early, meet with another search committee member, have more chit-chat, while eating breakfast and making sure not to spill coffee on your only suit.

3. Get ready to meet the search committee, only to have the Dean cut in line to because s/he has something more important to do during your regularly scheduled time.  Then we mix up your schedule, so that you meet folks at different times than you expect.  And then we throw in a “Top Chef” finale-like twist, where you need to do a teaching-prep that you hadn’t planned for, in addition to the research presentation you did.

4. Have more meals with more people that involve more awkward yammering, including a “down-time” coffee break with overzealous grad students who think they should be in the position you’re in.

5. The last step involves dealing with a meddling, autocratic school higher-up.  What I’m envisioning is this experience which apparently someone had when interviewing on campus at Bard College, as described on the academic jobs wiki “Universities to Hate” discussion section–who knows if it’s true or how much of it is, but it would make for great TV wouldn’t?  Actually, it makes for pretty great reading as it is!

OK, so when you vote, consider how well the finalists can navigate these challenges.  Who’s got the best stamina and is least likely to puke at the wrong time?  Who’s the best at providing substantial BS, while being able to adjust what s/he says to different situations and not offend anyone on accident?  Which type is likely to be the most personable and remain so under stress and strain?  Notice we didn’t mention anything about, you know, qualifications, because our expectation is that, in this job market, there are many more overqualified candidates for too few positions.

Thanks for playing along, and may the best grad student win!  We’ll post the results next week…

Look Like You Want the Job

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension,public domain wikimedia commonsDean Dad recently published an article explaining why he can’t answer the question “Can You Tell Me Why I Didn’t Get the Job?”

But he did drop a few hints about why some qualified people don’t get one of the precious few academic jobs that are available. One of those hints was this: “Your answer to x suggested that you’re settling for this job, and other candidates seemed actually to want it.”

One of the major issues with the academic job market is that there are so few jobs that people feel like they have to apply for everything. Then someone gets a job in a place they don’t like, and they spend half their time miserable and half their time trying to get out.

A smart interviewer or job search committee will be able to separate the candidates who are interested from the ones who just want a job, any job. So, if you want that job, whether it be an Ivory Tower job or a Hamster World job, you must look like you want it. Find out how after the jump!

Image from Reefer Madness from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Is It the Big Lie of the Mind or the Big Lie of Job Security?

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionPost Academic shows up in many searches for “the big lie of the life of the mind,” which refers to William Pannapacker’s legendary article “Grad School: Just Don’t Go.”

While I prefer to defend the life of the mind, I have been thinking of another “big lie” lately that relates to academia in general, and that involves job security. Should job security or tenure be an expectation of anyone who goes to graduate school?

If you go into graduate school, the best approach is to assume that you won’t get a tenure-track job. And that’s okay. You might get a career, but it might not be the one you thought you would get. You might even find a career that you like better. Adventures in Gradland had a superb series on the types of careers that former academics have discovered, and it’s required reading whether you’re just starting grad school or you just got tenure.

It may sound harsh, but the real big lie related to academia doesn’t involve the life of the mind (or lack thereof). The real lie is that, academia is the fast track to job security, and the evidence is that non-tenure track faculty make up over 73 percent of those teaching in higher ed.

Academics must fight hard to keep the jobs that they have (see debate on why it seems that academics haven’t been fighting hard enough), but it’s also smart to start thinking of other career tracks while you’re in school or even while you’re teaching. You’re not being disloyal to your university or to academia if you think of a Plan B. You’re being smart, and you’ll be better prepared for economic upheavals than most of your peers.

Tomorrow, a glimpse of what it’s like going through a layoff, and why it’s better in the Hamster World.

Image of Mary Pickford from the Library of Congress, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

Taking a time out *after* grad school: The personal benefits

Yesterday, I wrote about the novel–and completely impracticable–idea of taking time off after earning your Ph.D. as a way to take stock of where you stand in academia.  Of course, the kind of ambivalence I described regarding the professional side of a career in higher education might only be the result of being on the ego-bruising job market, and not some kind of existential state seeking out these insights.  Since it’s all-too-easy for soon-to-be Ph.D.s and recent doctorates to get on the academic job cycle hamster wheel, but hard to get off, whether with a tenure-track job or by leaving the profession behind, maybe a cooling-off period wouldn’t be the worst thing to think things through.

Here are a few “life” life things I probably woulda and shoulda appreciated more, if only I took the time and psychic energy to jump off that hamster wheel, even temporarily…

1. Living conditions: Being on the academic job market really warped my sense of priorities, both in the present and for the future.  The odds of the academic job market are geared to failure–in MLA fields, not only are the odds you’ll land a job about 1 in, say, 200 these days, but there’s maybe a 10% chance you’ll even make the first cut of a convention interview–so there’s a baseline feeling of anxiety and miserableness fighting over the few crumbs being offered.  It was easy for me to obsess over the process–or, rather, the Academic Jobs Wiki–as if more attention to it would yield a better result.  As a result, I kinda forgot why it is that I was seeking a job in the first place, and I’m not just talking about whether I liked teaching or research.  For me, the job is a means to an ends of enjoying my life, which, actually, was already pretty great and fun, so long as I didn’t get caught up in the vicious circle of job market-induced self doubt.

Why my life was/is so great, after the fold…


Adjuncting and High School Teaching: Adventures in Post-Gradland

Adventures in Gradland (a great blog, FYI) is doing a series on based on a roundtable talk on Post Academic careers. The first article in the series is on what life is like as an adjunct, while the second is on high school teaching. Many PhDs in the Humanities work as adjuncts to fill in the gaps as they try to get a tenure-track job, while there are also those who work as much as full-time tenured brethren as “freeway flyers”–just without the benefits and perks. While it is often said that grad students are treated like cheap labor, this post suggests that adjuncts may be treated worse.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but the post’s bottom line stuck with me:

… don’t adjunct while you’re ABD unless you’re able to teach only one or two courses related to your dissertation, don’t adjunct for more than a year or two unless you want to be labeled a “generalist,” find out what course credits you need to teach high school so that you have a back-up plan, and get familiar with new technologies and online learning. And urge the MLA and the AAUP to start fighting for the rights of adjuncts.

One woman in the audience who had worked as an adjunct for several years made an impassioned plea–don’t adjunct, period. You’ll be exploited, you’ll ruin your chances of a secure academic career, and you’ll contribute to an exploitative system.

You may need to adjunct at some point because that’s what you’re qualified to do, but don’t overdo it. The cycle of exploitation is dangerous. You’ll expend so much energy on teaching that you won’t have the time to train for other careers if that’s where you suspect you’re headed in the long run. At the very least, you should be figuring out how to teach high school. High schoolers aren’t that scary, and the benefits are way better than what you would get as an adjunct.

Speaking of which, Arnold picks up the coverage of what the Gradland blog has to say about high school teaching below the fold…


Or maybe you should/could hang in there: “10th Time’s the Charm”

US 10th Mountain Division Distinctive Unit Insignia (Public Domain)

Something happened on the way off the hamster wheel of the academic job market: I came across this column in the Chronicle titled “10th Time’s the Charm” written pseudonymously by Thomas Cranly, who finally landed a job kinda on his own terms after 4 years, 16 interviews, 10 campus visits.  Though Cranly claims his story is most valuable for “its entertainment value”, he is probably being too modest for persevering through the absurdities of the job search and getting some of the things he wanted out of the whole thing–not just a hard-to-get tenure-track position, but also in a place he wanted to live (Florida, in Cranly’s case).

The first-person piece gives a good peek into the rollercoaster that is the academic job search, especially the non-intellectual parts of an endurance test that takes at least as much good humor, physical strength, and socializing skills as obvious smarts.  Actually, you’re probably better equipped to get the job if you possess the former skills, since it’s likely that you’re pretty bright if you’ve gotten this far.  Some highlights from Cranly’s column include:

* Second thoughts over pressing a “Submit” button to apply to law school, which he didn’t, despite his better, practical judgment, because he received a notice that his book had been accepted by a press

* Overhearing a job search committee member saying to himself, “We really need a black man in the department”

* Navigating the different ways one is asked about her/his relationship status, which is at least verboten by the unofficial rules of interviewing (if not the official ones)

* Being urged to buy a rare edition of a book by the search committee

So what if the column turns a little maudlin at the end, as Cranly explains that he *probably* wouldn’t have done it any other way, even if the 10th time wasn’t the charm?

“With each rejection that arrived through e-mail, letter, or just plain silence, my disappointment was mitigated by my appreciation for the temporary jobs I held at the time. I value the 10 years I have spent as a graduate student and as a non-tenure-track faculty member. And I like to tell myself that I would feel the same way, even if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to get a job I desired.”

Though Cranly himself more or less acknowledges that it’s easier to say so when the outcome is a good one, he definitely seems sincere and the way he explains his experiences shows it.  And in light of all the bad news about the job market and the still-abstract idea that only radically reimagining the humanities Ph.D. can save it, it’s good to know that old-fashioned hard work and stick-to-it-iveness can still pay off.

And that’s a wrap–at least for this year (Part 2)

So I left off yesterday with a decision looming before me about whether to attend MLA in Philly.  Here’s what I was weighing…


* Actually having a job interview

* Seeing some friends I haven’t caught up with in a while

* Eating an authentic Philly cheesesteak, which I missed the last time MLA was in the City of Brotherly Love because I didn’t want to emit an oniony smell during my interviews

Philly cheesesteak by Cessator (Creative Commons)


* Paying over $1000 for airline tix and a hotel and spending parts of 5 days in Philly for basically a 30-min interview

* Packing during Christmas for my flight early on 12/26

* Not being able to do family stuff before and after Christmas because I’d be stressing out prepping for my interview and getting ready to travel

When you put it like that, the decision was a lot easier to make: I cancelled my hotel reservations, took the $150 penalty on my plane tix, and stayed home.  Pretty much none of my academic friends thought this was a shrewd decision, but I really couldn’t stomach spending the money and the time for a single half-hour interview, even if my career hung in the balance.  Moreover, I’m pretty sure the interview request was made on the strength of a single tout by a very supportive, very helpful faculty friend, so I didn’t know if the whole thing was a courtesy deal or if I was blowing a really golden opportunity.  After all, I was offered an interview before they even *asked* for a writing sample or official recs, so it was a situation that was hard to read.

Once I settled on my decision, though, I was more than happy to be watching The Princess and the Frog with my family peeps the day after Christmas, instead of worrying about whether I’d be snowed in making a connection in Denver.

But surprisingly, the story doesn’t end, quite yet!  Continued, below the fold…


And that’s a wrap–at least for this year (Part 1)

About a month and half ago, I wrote about the last–maybe the very last–job application that I sent out for a postdoc I had found out about at the last minute.  It was a pretty easy application to put together, since I had applied for so many postdocs this year and had a project proposal more or less ready to go.  Of course, I was as dubious as ever about my odds of actually being selected for the postdoc–actually, more so than usual even, due to the late date and the very short application period, which made me think that an inside candidate must’ve been lined up and the posting must’ve been done for compliance purposes.  Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Or, just nothing gained: It wasn’t much of a shock, but I received my email rejection for the postdoc late last week, which was my first interaction with the institution, since they didn’t bother to send an acknowledgement.  Actually, I had found out at the Academic Job Wiki postdocs page that a decision had been made, so my “personal” rejection–lacking a personal salutation to me and hundreds of other applicants–just confirmed what I already knew.  I know they’re being nice and all, but, c’mon, you don’t need to include platitudes like the committee found your research “original and engaging”, when it’s likely that most of the hundreds of applications aren’t, my own possibly included.  It wasn’t the worst rejection letter, but it wouldn’t have hurt them to read our rejection letter do’s and don’t’s posts, here and here.

Don’t know if I’m ready for a career post-mortem yet, but here’s the post-game analysis on this year’s job cycle for me, since all the results are in.  See it, below the fold…


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