Post Academic

Another MLA Online Roundup

Posted in Absurdities by Caroline Roberts on January 10, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionI would have made this a Twitter roundup, but the #mla11 feed is admirably polite and professional, aside from concerns about cliquishness among a certain group. To which I say, this is a convention, not high school, so make your own group if you don’t like the dominant group. It can be done. It’s a large convention, not a cafeteria. Watch “Police Academy” or “Stripes” or any other inspiring misfit comedy, take some notes and call me in the morning.

Anyway, on to the roundup:

1. I haven’t seen much about individual interviews, but I feel comfortable saying that the award for Worst MLA Interview 2011 has already been won. Here’s a sliver from College Misery about an awkward meeting with an inside candidate … right in the middle of the interview:

“Oh, Glen is also a candidate for the job. But since he knows more about the position than the rest of us, we asked him to come along so that all the candidates would benefit from his knowledge.”

“And he left the room…” I started.

“Oh, yes,” the chair said. “It would be poor form for him to sit in for the interview.”

Poor form, indeed. I’d like to propose an MLA rule: If you have an inside candidate you like so much that you have him sit in on all the interviews, then at least save the other interviewees some trouble and use Skype. I’d also love to know how the candidate made it through that hot mess without going all Hulk on the committee.

2. Speaking of the Hulk, what would an MLA online roundup be without a comment from the MLA’s biggest star:


May Adjunct Hulk get an even better job from the MLA … and not necessarily in academia. Adjunct Hulk has some serious comedy-writing chops!

Cover of Smart Set Magazine, September 1911. From Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Most Common MLA Sensation–and It Doesn’t Involve Drunken Hook-Ups

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on January 7, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhile perusing the MLA scuttlebutt, I noticed a theme, which is … nausea, the scourge of the academic. This feeling rises all too often during events like the MLA.

For example, Bardiac isn’t going to MLA because it is chock-full of fear: “The whole conference is brimming with it, from arrogant a-holes to terrified and desperate folks, there’s a definite odor of angst and desperation. Just thinking about it makes my stomach churn.”

Come to think of it, that sounds like a bunch of job fairs and networking events, but what is truly upsetting about the MLA is that the education industry has boomed … yet there aren’t enough jobs. Just asking what’s wrong with that picture can result in a tummy ache.

Speaking of churning stomachs, Erica Daigle over at the Huffington Post has a friend who declared after a bad MLA result: “I give up. And I might vomit.”

Daigle has a remedy, and it isn’t Rolaids. She writes, “… no matter how much time you’ve invested, money you’ve spent (whether it’s yours or not), and pages you’ve written, there is no shame in leaving a familiar path when you’re tired of endless roadblocks. There is always another way, even if the gods of academia don’t tell you about it.”

Please remember Daigle’s words. Whatever you do, don’t act desperate. Interviewers in all realms can smell fear, and they love it. It makes their job easier because they can cross one more candidate off the list. And stock up on some Dramamine before you start your interviews. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, but you will find a job–whether it’s in academia or not.

Image of what is called a “vomiting bowl at the toilet of the brewery restaurant” by SJU from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license. Yeah, we keep it classy.

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.

Our turn: Some thoughts on reanimating the Ph.D. (with poll!)

"Classic Comics: Frankenstein" by Chordboard (public domain)

Over the past few days, we’ve discussed how MLA President Sidonie Smith has put forward some provocative ideas for reforming the dissertation process.  We’ve been “admiringly skeptical,” as I put it on the MLA Twitter feed–admiring because Pres Smith seems committed in her attempts to make the lives of very vulnerable MLA members better, but skeptical because we’re not sure what will end up happening and when.  So while the MLA seems sincere in responding to the concerns of grad students and recent Ph.D.s, help can’t come soon enough for those facing the Worst. Job Market. Ever.

I think the main reason for skepticism–or at least, anxiety–has to do with whether or not recent Ph.D.s and current students are going to be made even more obsolete in any kind change over to a new way of doing things, unless the MLA has come up with the academic equivalent of a digital conversion box or something.  I’d wonder what would happen in the transitional phase, if it gets to that: Practically speaking, how would changing the system affect both those playing by the new rules or those playing by the old rules, the latter who have dutifully finished a long, long dissertation as they have been expected to?  This might be too petty on a personal level, but I wrote a 400+ page dissertation that included some very thorough argumentation and extensive research.  What took me a long time was to figure out the connective tissue within and between chapters, so am I going to be penalized for the time and effort I spent above and beyond the “suite of essays” approach PresSmith mentions that doesn’t seem to put a premium on thinking of the dissertation as a holistic thing?

On the flipside, I might also be somewhat hesitant of being the guinea pig for composing a whole new kind of dissertation, although, considering what the market is like, what would you have to lose, especially if you finish your Ph.D.a few years earlier?  The reason why I wouldn’t be so sure I’d want to be in the vanguard here is that I wouldn’t have confidence that the folks–i.e., long-time tenured faculty–judging my scholarship or even advising me on what to do would know how to evaluate new forms of scholarship.  In any case, I guess what I’m saying is that any kind of transition should have a principle of fairness built into it, even if that sounds naive.

We’re not really sure how to resolve these issues, but nobody voted us to represent anyone else either!  Below the fold, we’re–finally!–offering some suggestions on how to streamline the process that might not require the daunting task of overhauling the entire conceptual structure of what the Ph.D is.


The latest from the MLA: Is the diss extinct?

"DMSN dinosaurs" by Luke Jones (Creative Commons)

Last week, we explored MLA President Sidonie Smith’s discussion of the role that the lengthy dissertation process has played in the latest crises in the humanities.  Over the weekend, we answered a Tweet by MLA Executive Director Rosemary Feal soliciting responses to Pres Smith’s thoughts on the dissertation, telling her of our “admiringly skeptical” view on the possibility for reform.  And we also committed ourselves to considering her solutions to the problem, a promise we keep below.

Before we go into greater detail about our admiring skepticism as to how plausible the possibility of change is, we do have to give Pres Smith credit for her foresight in attempting to take on the most ingrained and daunting of academic hazing rituals, the dissertation writing process.  Beyond any issues folks have at a personal level maintaining their own sanity, balancing their finances, and figuring out their day-to-day lives through grad school, Pres Smith identifies the consequences the dissertation process has on the profession as a whole, stunting the development of young scholars at the start of their careers who may be investing too much into the diss manuscript as the end-all, be-all first book:

“They have brought with them a demonstration of expertise, not the draft of a publishable book, no matter how bold or sophisticated or deftly written. They must refine the project’s conceptualization, condense the research apparatus buttressing their arguments, pare down those arguments to the essentials, and subordinate disagreements with theorists of reference. When all this is done, the assistant professor in pursuit of a book may be left with the equivalent of one or two articles worth salvaging, anxiety about not yet knowing the large argument, and a sense of disappointment that more of his or her work hasn’t entered scholarly conversations.”

In turn, the overly specialized dissertation has a broader impact on scholarship as a whole, both in terms of research that has become too self-referential that even specialists in other sub-fields can’t understand it (much less the public) or pedagogy that hasn’t kept pace with the times.  So what Pres Smith is proposing would require reform of the whole grad school process, from changing the expectations of students starting Ph.D. programs thinking that they need to write a diss that’s a future book to the tenure requirements when/if someone needs to turn that faraway vision into a reality.

Below the fold are a few alternative forms of the dissertation that Pres Smith proposes…


The latest from the MLA: Acknowledging the problem is the first step

"Dinosaurs Attack!" by akaalias (Creative Commons)

I know it’s totally lame that I’m reading the MLA Newsletter (registration req’d) with more gusto than before, even though my status in the profession is more precarious than ever.  But with all the various crises facing humanities doctoral programs–from the existential crisis of being and extinction to the mundane day-to-day crisis of  funding to second-order crises like academic publishing–it’s interesting to see how the biggest academic professional organization is dealing with these problems.  In particular, current MLA President Sidonie Smith of U Michigan has been focusing on ways to rethink the dissertation and how that might reshape graduate education.  As Smith sees it, one of the main hurdles to timely time-to-degree (see that NYTimes article on humanities Ph.D.s taking 9.3 years on average to complete their degrees) is the unwieldy dissertation process as it is now, which impacts not only the personal lives of grad students, like those who might want to start families and have no idea where they will live, but also professional development in delaying time-to-tenure–if you’re even lucky enough to get on the tenure track, I might add .

It’s great that Smith is taking such a sincere and proactive stance challenging one of the sacred cows of the Ph.D., the dissertation, so it’ll be interesting to see how her words translate into actions.  While I hate playing the naysayer–OK, maybe I don’t hate it so much!–conceptual solutions can only go so far in a profession that is, in many ways, defined by looking backwards and not forwards.  Below the fold, I walk through what Smith identifies as the problems and possible solutions to the syndrome of crises that converge in the literature Ph.D.


The latest from the MLA: Convention proposals due April 1

Posted in The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on March 29, 2010
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We usually don’t do CFPs (aka Calls for Papers) here, but I got an email yesterday from the MLA reminding me that the deadline for all panel proposals for the January 2011 MLA convention are due this Thursday, April 1.  The reason I’m posting this is that the MLA announced earlier this month that it is promoting panels and papers on the ever-worsening status of the profession, under the catchily-titled theme “The Academy in Hard Times”.

Just thought we’d put out a PSA about the MLA convention deadline, especially if you’re more together than I am and can get a proposal together in the next few days.  Here’s a link to the MLA proposal submission site.  At this point, I think single paper proposals to panel CFPs are all but closed by now, so you’ll have to come up with a panel topic, then find a few colleagues and friends with papers to round out the proposal.  One helpful tip: It’s a bit confusing to navigate the MLA submission site, especially if you aren’t a member and don’t have a login–actually, you can’t even submit anything if you aren’t member, so don’t waste your time if you’re not!

Hopefully, some of panels listed under “The Academy in Hard Times” will consider post-academic issues.  Good luck, and let us know if you have a panel accepted, whether it’s about “Hard Times” or good times!

The latest from the MLA: Worst. Job Market. Ever. (Or in 35 years)

Posted in Surviving Grad School,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on March 24, 2010
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Unfortunately, the title of this post is no exaggeration, unless there’s some fishy accounting to explain otherwise.  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


The latest from the MLA: Are job security and a living wage “snooty”?

Posted in Surviving Grad School,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on March 16, 2010
Tags: , ,

I don’t mean to slag on the MLA, I really don’t–heck, I’m still a dues-paying member and they really do mean well.  But the way the MLA has responded to the crappy job market seems a little out of touch, as if the organization hadn’t foreseen what was on the horizon even though all (or at least many) of its members knew the situation wasn’t ever so great to begin with.  The latest is a resolution, introduced in December at the 2009 MLA convention, that the MLA is asking its members to comment on, then vote for, which I’m reproducing below:

“Whereas job security is under attack throughout higher education; and

Whereas a job with a living wage is an economic right of all employees;

Be it resolved that the MLA recognize the importance of job security throughout the academic workforce. All college and university faculty members–full- and part-time–should be eligible for tenure. All higher education employees should have appropriate forms of job security, due process, a living wage, and access to health care benefits.”

Yes, job security, a living wage, and health care benefits would be nice, which goes without saying.  But the appearance of such a resolution at this point almost implies that these issues weren’t primary concerns until now, when it’s (almost?) too late.  And they should probably include grad students/future faculty members under the job security and living wage umbrella, unless they *know* that it’s a promise that can’t be kept.

Before you assume that it’s a slam-dunk that everyone would agree with the basic demands of a very vague, general resolution, check out the blow-by-blow account of the debate over it at the MLA convention, recorded for posterity at Inside Higher Ed.  Not only was the resolution *not* unanimously agreed upon, but a major sticking point appears to be whether or not the mention of “living wage” was “snooty!”  Via the Inside Higher Ed report from 12/30/2009:

“A representative for creative writing faculty, Brian Leung, an associate professor at the University of Louisville, said the resolution’s clause declaring ‘a living wage … an economic right of all employees’ came off as ‘snooty’ and ‘rings really hollow’ coming from academics, whom outsiders often criticize for complaining about employment conditions from within the security of the tenure system.

Eva Woods Peiró, an assistant professor of Hispanic studies at Vassar College, said a ‘living wage is anything but snooty’.”

You’d think that such a resolution, which is so boilerplate one wonders if it is enforceable and what it would actually enforce, wouldn’t be controversial in any way.  But it figures that academics would debate the semantics of “a living wage” rather than figure out what that wage would be and try to deliver it.

MLA Resolution Comment Form (member login req’d) []

Economics and the MLA [Inside Higher Ed, 12/30/2009]