Post Academic


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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A Middle Ground Between Tenured Faculty and Adjuncts?

The New York Times set up a debate called “Rethinking College Tenure.” You’ve probably already read it, and it’s the usual Tenure Debate stuff, in which various types who should know something about the subject make their points, some dude whines that conservatives are oppressed and someone gently hints that tenured professors are lazy, oblivious or both. (Read Arnold’s in-flight adventure to figure out how to respond to that myth.)

If you read through the NYT articles again, you’ll notice a thread in which tenured faculty members are pitted against adjuncts, or a “more flexible” job model. If adjuncts are treated fairly and receive the pay and benefits they deserve, where does that put tenured professors? What’s the real difference between the two? Should there be a difference?

Or, are debates like these a manifestation of a divide-and-conquer strategy, a setup for a Tenure Vs. Adjunct Showdown? One of the writers, Mark C. Taylor, attempts to offer a “middle ground”:

It is a mistake to pose this question in all-or-nothing terms – either you have permanent tenured faculty or itinerant adjuncts. A middle ground will address most of the problems. After a trial period of three to five years, faculty members who merit promotion should be given seven-year renewable contracts. For this system to work effectively, these reviews must be rigorous and responsible.

Since I’m not an academic, a guaranteed job for three to five years followed by seven year periods sounds nice, especially since I’ve been through layoffs. But the Hamster World is a different matter since it is more subject to market forces, and Taylor’s solution doesn’t address how to protect academic freedom so that the market isn’t determining the curriculum. How does Taylor’s idea sound to you? If it sounds like BS, is a middle ground possible?

The Pros of Word-of-Mouth

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on July 7, 2010
Tags: , , , , , ,

PhotobucketUsually, word-of-mouth refers to rumors and gossip. At best, it seems more suitable for a viral video than it is for academic work. Yet word-of-mouth is one of those intangibles that might get you a job, either in or out of the academy.

Freelance writers in particular rely on word-of-mouth to build up a client base. Writer Dachary Carey,* who covers a range of topics on the life of a freelancer, writes:

First and foremost: treat every job like a big job. Don’t put small jobs off because they’re ‘small’ and they won’t pay you much; treat your small clients with the same respect and responsiveness that you provide your ‘big’ clients. You never know when a small client can refer a big client, or even when a small client expands the scope of his business or marketing efforts and needs more from you.

The mantra “treat every job like a big job” is worth keeping in mind as you make any career transition. When moving from academia to the Hamster World, you will need to take on “small jobs” that may be small in quantity of work, pay or prestige. You have to prove yourself first, and then the work will follow.

For that reason, you need to minimize any trash talk or negative feelings regarding small jobs. You may feel tempted to brush off a small client, but no one ever, ever likes to be “looked down” upon. It can be exhausting to treat all jobs like they are important, but the key to avoid burnout is to employ smart time management skills … a subject that will appear later.

*I worked with Dachary for two years, and I’ll use her word-of-mouth tips and recommend her work. Even if you don’t need a freelance writer, her blog can help you with tips on self-employment.

Image of “The Conversation” by Danielle Scott, on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

The Decline of Film Criticism: A Glimpse of the Future for Academia?

Posted in Housekeeping,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on June 14, 2010
Tags: , , , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionFilm critics have been laid off in droves as newspapers change their structure. Understandably, the critics who have been laid off aren’t happy about it, and the debate regarding the role of the film critic sounds similar to the debate regarding the role of the academic, especially in the humanities.

In the latest Vanity Fair, James Wolcott describes the responses of critics scorned, and one in particular surprised me. On a panel, Richard Schickel from Time magazine said, “I don’t honestly know the function of reviewing anything.”

I don’t know Mr. Schickel’s work. He may be a brilliant writer, but those who want to keep their jobs ought to be able to justify what they do. If he can’t think of a function for reviewing anything, then why is he a reviewer?

Perhaps if film critics could better justify what they do, more of them would still have work. I can think of many ways film critics do the public a service. For starters, they save us money by telling us if a movie is worth watching or worth renting. They are also cultural historians. Pauline Kael’s “For Keeps” is, in my opinion, a work of history as much as a work of film criticism. Why didn’t Schickel try to make a better worded, more sophisticated version of this argument?

Wolcott hat-tips Roger Ebert because he was able to adapt, and now he has created a niche for Twitter film criticism. It’s proof that you can’t make your job last solely by complaining and navel-gazing. You must be able to justify what you do and be willing to adapt. After all, Ebert hasn’t changed what he’s done for a living. He certainly hasn’t sold out. He’s just finding new ways to reach new audiences.

A manual film projector with a mini-film and box. Photo by Mattia Luigi Nappi from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

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.
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How Does Getting Laid Off Really Feel?

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on May 28, 2010
Tags: , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionA confession: I’ve always wondered why academics and future academics panic about job security since no other profession except maybe medicine has job security. A layoff is a worst-case scenario, but if you know what to expect, you’ll be less afraid of it if it happens to you in the Hamster World. Here are some tips:

Don’t assume you are a loser. Most people are laid off through no fault of their own. I’ve been laid off, and the decisions happened from way up the corporate food chain. Since the economy is so bad, hardly any hiring managers will assume you’re a failure because of a layoff. They’ll simply assume the company you were working for had a cash-flow hiccup.

Keep your resume up to date. Whenever you’ve had a big accomplishment at work, add it to the resume. You don’t want to forget it when you are out hunting for a job again. Once I found out I was laid off, I changed the end date of my job from “present” to “1/2010.” Since I didn’t have to write a resume from scratch, I was able to send resumes immediately.

Live within your means when times are good. Yeah, yeah, easier said than done, but especially true after the latest economic bust. But unemployment takes a while to kick in,* it doesn’t last long, and it makes up only a percentage of your past income, depending on the state where you live. Saving up for an emergency fund can give you some wiggle room, and living on a budget means you won’t have much of a culture shock if you need to stretch an unemployment check.

Don’t take any old job, unless you really need the cash. If at all possible, try to find a job that suits your skill set or teaches you something new. Otherwise, you might be stuck working for crazies who are taking advantage of desperate job-seekers, or you’ll look like a job-hopper if you move to something new too quickly. With an emergency fund, you can be choosier. Without one, you might need to get anything you can.

It is not the end of the world. When an academic doesn’t get tenure, it is assumed to be the end of the world because the academic thinks he or she doesn’t have any other marketable job skills. (That’s not true, by the way.) When we Hamster Worlders get laid off, we just keep chugging until we get a new job.

*Unless you’re an adjunct, which means you don’t get unemployment if you’re not renewed, which is flat-out ridiculous.

A Young Student at His Desk: Melancholy (1630-1633) by Pieter Codde Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Why Are There So Many Underpaid Adjuncts in Higher Ed?

Megan McArdle’s piece at the Atlantic, which is a response to a piece on the rough lot for adjuncts at Inside Higher Ed asks a good question: If academics are supposedly liberal and pro-labor, why do underpaid adjuncts make up so much of the higher ed workforce?

Here are a few possible answers, plus my evaluation of those answers from the Hamster World perspective:

Tenured faculty members don’t pull their weight when it comes to teaching.
Response: I’m sure there are some tenured faculty who don’t carry their load and give everyone else a bad rap, but those people should be treated as individuals. In the Hamster World, you wouldn’t fire an entire department if it is harboring one slacker. You’d put the slacker on notice and then fire the slacker (or at least give the slacker a hard time since you can’t fire someone with tenure).

That’s what Socialism gets you.
Response: McArdle warned her commenters not to make assumptions and claim the academy made its own bed. First of all, too many people assume that academics are liberals. Anyone who’s been in the academy for any amount of time will tell you that’s not so. The Socialism argument is a crock because the system is obviously broken, and pointing fingers isn’t going to fix it. In this kind of situation, one’s political leanings are irrelevant.

More after the jump! (more…)

Why You Should Invest in Computer Books

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWe’ve already warned you against hoarding books, but you need some computer books for your academic career. Chances are good that you’re here because you have either started grad school or you are concerned about the state of grad school in the Humanities. So why do you need a book on HTML, CSS, or Windows 7?

A little computer knowledge can increase your value in the workplace, whether you wind up in academia or not. Learning HTML in particular expanded my job opportunities after I left graduate school. You don’t need to turn into a mega-hacker, but being able to hop on a computer or build a Web site or a Wiki will save you time and will make you much happier. Why is that, especially when you focus on books and reading?

Your students expect you to be wired. More and more students want PDFs, or they want to visit a Wiki to get course materials. You don’t have to start speaking to them in 140-character Twitter lingo, but you will need to make your coursework accessible in more ways.

Fewer IT resources will be available. As universities cut budgets, the hard truth is that departments will have to share the IT guys. That is not an ideal situation, but the delays you are experiencing now to fix your computer will only increase. It’s best to take charge of the situation and start thinking of the computer tasks you perform most often (Printing? Word processing? Spreadsheets for your grades?) and buy a book or two that can help you deal with these tasks.

Other faculty members will love you. You don’t want to get stuck showing people how to print specific sections of Excel spreadsheets, but being known as your department’s computer whiz gives you an edge.

But how do you get started? Schedule a few hours a weekend to sit down with your computer and learn some new skills. Set a goal first, such as creating a custom grading spreadsheet or building a wiki, get a book on the subject, and get started. If you want any specific book recommendations or have anything you want to suggest, either e-mail us or leave a note in the comments.

Image of a PDP-12 from Uppsala University from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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…

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