Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reasons why the Job Market Scare Me, Part One

I've decided to begin a series of posts that reflect my fears about going on the job market in December ('08). I have a list of fears already, but new ones emerge on what seems like a daily basis, especially now that I'm taking a Placement Seminar. Luckily, the seminar is given by a wonderful professor who just so happens to be on my committee! Also good is the fact that said professor isn't one to "sugar coat" things, so I generally feel like I'm getting honesty, truth, reality, whatever you want to call it. Some of the main goals for the seminar are that it will help students who plan to hit the market this Fall a) get an early start on preparing the required stuff for a dossier, b) get a "realistic" understanding of the market in all its glory & trauma, c) in turn, provide some extra time for faculty members who will be writing on behalf of these students.

My own goal in starting the List of Fears is to give voice to those fears, as some of them I may forget along the way or feel too stupid to bring them up in seminar or to my advisor. I'm also hoping that the occasional academic passerby on this blog might notice them and have some helpful advice, warnings, antecdotes, etc. I mean, it's always better to have multiple opinions right? Mainly, though, I'd like to come back to these reasons in October and not have some of them anymore. And for those that remain, I want to be able to directly address (not necessarily "fix") them somehow.

So, here goes:
(and the order in which these appear has no relation to priority...there all just fears)

#1 - The impending "Recession." There's no doubt that the mere talk of a recession will make academic finance committees cinch up their assholes as tight they can and ignore any needs for hiring new faculty.

#2 - I fear the sheer number of search committee members who may be put off by the letters "A" and "M" that appear in the name of the PhD granting university (despite the disconnect these letters have with the strength of my home department, or my committee members, or dare I say?, me).

#3 - I fear that my husband won't get offered a spousal hire.

#4 - I'm afraid I won't look good enough on paper to even get a request for additional materials, much less an interview at MLA.

#5 - I'm afraid that - should I actualy get a job - it will be in one of the areas I really don't see myself living in happily (i.e. the Pacific Northwest, California, the Northeast, the Northern Plains). Yes, I realize this is a large amount of space, but those places either scare me (for financial reasons) or just don't appeal to me in general.

#6 - I've very much afraid that - should I actually land an interview at MLA - I will come down with a horrible case of Diarrhea of the Mouth, babbling nonsensical jibberish in response to any and all questions from the search committee.

#7 - I'm afraid of (again, should I actually get an interview) *thinking* everything went well and they loved me, when the reality is they thought I was a total imposter and couldn't believe I ever made it out of Home State, much less to a graduate degree.

#8 - I'm afraid I'll just have no fucking clue how the whole MLA Thing works. Or, if I do, I'll forget it as soon as the plane lands in MLA State. (Yes, I do know it will be in San Diego this year.)

#9 - I'm afraid they'll just sense that I'm a Breeder (I use this in the same sense as Ariel Gore and Bee Lavender do in their collection of the same title). That is, I'm afraid I'll be seen as a less "serious" academic, feminist, teacher, etc. because I'm married with children, who are truly my number one priority.

#10 - I'm afraid all the time it takes to Be on The Market will significantly limit the time I'm able to spend finshing revisions on my dissertation. I like numbers. I want to know it will take X hours per week to do Job Stuff, which leaves X numbers avalaible for diss work.

Edited to Add: After reading the helpful comments Dara left, I realized I hadn't mentioned that, throughout the semester, everyone in the placement seminar will be developing, revising, and workshopping their letters of recommendation, vitaes, possible writing samples, etc. In addition, our wise placement coordinator continues to remind us that we should have as many eyes as possible reviewing our materials....This should make me feel better, shouldn't it? The fact remains that I'm just soooo incredibly insecure when it comes to my scholarly work.

Another Edit: San Diego? San Francisco? Same difference, right? My thanks to LD for bringing the faux pas to my attention. See what I mean people? I have reason to fear! (*So I'm compelled to explain that I confused the two because I was thinking of where the recent NACBS was held...if that counts for anything).

8 comments:

Dara said...

#1 - The impending "Recession." That’s quite possible, but that’s not a reason not to prepare to go on the market! And it’s not entirely clear that that’s likely to happen right now.

#2 - I fear the sheer number of search committee members who may be put off by the letters "A" and "M" that appear in the name of the PhD granting university. It all depends on the kind of institutional you’re applying to, and what the connection is between the strength of your department and the fields you’re applying in.

#3 - I fear that my husband won't get offered a spousal hire. Spousal hires are incredibly difficult at small schools, and more possible at large ones. But they’re always tricky. Better for him to go on the market as well, so that you can be working both sides. And then you’re aren’t taking all the pressure, which is important.

#4 - I'm afraid I won't look good enough on paper to even get a request for additional materials, much less an interview at MLA. Ask faculty in your department to look at your materials and give you a realistic assessment. If you aren’t certain that there’s anyone in the department to do that, send the stuff to a friend/colleague/mentor at another institution and ask for the realistic read. And remember that it’s often a crap shoot, that you can’t anticipate all the idiosyncratic needs and desires of hiring committees, and that particularly for that first round it might well not have anything to do with the *quality* of your materials.

#5 - I'm afraid that - should I actualy get a job - it will be in one of the areas I really don't see myself living in happily (i.e. the Pacific Northwest, California, the Northeast, the Northern Plains). If you don’t think that you could live there happily, don’t apply for those jobs. It isn’t fair to yourself or to the hiring departments.

#6 - I've very much afraid that - should I actually land an interview at MLA - I will come down with a horrible case of Diarrhea of the Mouth, babbling nonsensical jibberish in response to any and all questions from the search committee. Practice interviewing!

#7 - I'm afraid of (again, should I actually get an interview) *thinking* everything went well and they loved me, when the reality is they thought I was a total imposter and couldn't believe I ever made it out of Home State, much less to a graduate degree. They’re unlikely to think that you’re a total imposter. And it’s always difficult to know how well an interview went. (I do think that you can know if it went terribly.) And just because they don’t invite you to campus doesn’t mean that they didn’t like you, think you were qualified, etc. It just means that several other candidates fit their needs better.

#8 - I'm afraid I'll just have no fucking clue how the whole MLA Thing works. Or, if I do, I'll forget it as soon as the plane lands in MLA State. (Yes, I do know it will be in San Diego this year.) At its core, MLA is just a big conference. Really. Ignore the hype.

#9 - I'm afraid they'll just sense that I'm a Breeder (I use this in the same sense as Ariel Gore and Bee Lavender do in their collection of the same title). That is, I'm afraid I'll be seen as a less "serious" academic, feminist, teacher, etc. because I'm married with children, who are truly my number one priority. I’ve never hidden on a campus visit that I have kids, although I’ve also never blurted it out as my most major concern. By the time you get to that stage, they’re wanting to get a sense of you as a colleague for the next 20 years, and if they can’t deal with the fact that you have kids, you probably don’t want to be a part of that department, anyway. While I wouldn’t let the information our earlier than that, I don’t think there’s any reason to be shy about questions about the school district, where young faculty with families live, and so on.

#10 - I'm afraid all the time it takes to Be on The Market will significantly limit the time I'm able to spend finshing revisions on my dissertation. I like numbers. I want to know it will take X hours per week to do Job Stuff, which leaves X numbers avalaible for diss work. If you get your letters and writing sample(s) done early, Being on the Market takes relatively little time until November or December. Then there’s more to do – sample syllabi, job interview prep, job talk prep – but for the first two months of the fall you should be able to focus almost exclusively on the diss.

All right, I'll get off the soapbox now. I hope this was at least somewhat helpful!

Dara said...

(I'm sorry the formatting I used makes it so hard to tell your worries from my responses!)

M said...

Did you magically leap into my mind and read my thoughts? I swear I could have written this post with the exception that I fear I won't get offered a partner placement.

Here's what I've learned after participating on a hiring committee and witnessing C go through all of this twice: it's a crap shoot. Granted you want to do all you can to make yourself look the best you can (which is why I'm so glad that I'm taking this course now even though I don't know if I'll be on the market in the fall). But a lot of it seems to come down to your fit in an individual apartment. C didn't get offered an on-campus interview at one school last year because his work is too close to the department head's. The search committee really, really liked him, and apparently couldn't decide for some time whether or not to bring him to campus (he learned this from one of his profs who knows the department head). He was everything they wanted except in terms of his research. I really think so much of this is ambiguous, which, of course, makes it that much harder to to deal with.

M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LD said...

amen, amen, and amen to all of that--except maybe the A & M part.but isn't mla in san francisco??

AcadeMama said...

ld: Why of course it is! I was just testing you ;)

dara: i "do" early modern stuff and there are a very good number of em faculty here, if that helps illustrate the situation. and thank you so much for your tips! many of them (like hubby hitting the market too) were already in the plans. i hope other check out your comments though!

m: yes, i'm magically crawling into other people's heads all the time! much more interesting than my own :) oh, and lucky for me, only a handful of people have the same research focus as i do...thank god!

GayProf said...

These are common fears (though most people fear not ending up in California, the Pacific Northwest, or the Northeast).

The job market is ultimately unpredictable; however, the best thing that you can do is prepare and get solid mentoring. Show your draft letter to as many people as possible. Sign up for practice interviews. Research the schools to which you are applying and tailor your letter to match. If you have an on-campus, practice your job talk until you drop.

One last thing: DON'T mention anything about a spousal hire until you have an actual offer.

LisaWV said...

Ditto that about the spousal hire! It will seriously put off a search committee, who likely have absolutely no control about spousal hiring.

All these fears are valid, and you've been given good advice about them. The Breeder issues are real; I have encountered hostility as an academic mom. I keep the kids away from the office and from anything department related when possible (which annoys some of the other women who wanted me to be a symbol of the New Academic Mom, but I really wanted tenure and couldn't afford the snippiness, if that makes sense). I was visibly (very visibly) pregnant for a semester, and it cost me inchoate status in the department. Pre-existing kids seem to be less of an issue. People can forget about them. I hate to put it like that, but it's true. There's a bias against breeders. Well, no, I'll put it this way... there's a bias against moms. Everywhere. I've found this to be true in most English departments. Dads are ok, esp. dads with stay at home mom wives who do all the work at home, but moms? More of a problem. But not a deal-breaking, soul-wrenching problem, just that little giggle you get from the colleague when you trudge into the faculty meeting with a stray cheerio on your sweater, that kind of thing. It's an undercurrent of suspicion. But then English faculty are paranoid, so it may just be my paranoia. Or their's.

I wouldn't apply to anything in Nebraska when I was on the market. I was coming out of NYC, and just could not see myself in Nebraska. I have a friend in Lincoln now, and hear it is a very cool town, but still... at the time, just couldn't do it. I turned down a campus visit in rural Louisiana, after the MLA interview. But I applied widely -- 88 job applications, anything at all that matched something I might be able to do -- and ended up with a bunch of interviews and visits. It is worth casting a wide net and then doing closer research later. You cannot narrow a list from a website or even from a single visit. It takes the whole process of the MLA-campus visit routine to figure out what you want. I came out of that process with a very different idea of what I wanted. I thought a cozy liberal arts job in the midwest, ended up in a mid-Atlantic research job, and it was the best choice. I didn't know this until I slogged a lot of airmiles doing campus visits in various places. The process itself is good, even if it is grueling. Pack power bars and a hot pot so you can eat when they finally leave you alone because it is tough to eat during an interview meal. That's one bit of practical advice.

I was exhausted at the end of it all, but was offered a job I now love, so all's well...