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).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tips for the Teacher

Almost every semester, when I teach my Intro to Literature course, I find myself really drawn to Ralph Ellison's short story "Battle Royal." So, I assign it for my students to read, usually connecting it to their reading about symbols (literary, conventional, etc.). The problem is that I don't ever seem to know what to say about the story when we discuss it in class. It's almost like the story is too "heavy." Like it needs time to breathe or something. I usually manage just fine by giving students the agency to take the class discussion in whatever direction they choose, and we always read more than one story, but I don't feel like I'm "doing" anything effective with "Battle Royal." I'm certainly not doing it justice. For whatever reason, I have this weird feeling like I'm missing something important about how to teach this story. And because of this, I ask you - the few readers I have - what do you do if/when you discuss this story with students?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What a Difference a Day (or two) Makes

After being Frustratingly Stuck on my current dissertation chapter for nearly a month, I finally had a breakthrough! I wasn't Brain Fart Stuck, but rather stuck in the sense of What the Hell Did I Think I Could Use This Play For??? While I thought I'd selected two great plays from two women writers that would work perfectly in this chapter, I re-read both pieces only to scratch my head and try to remember what it was I thought these plays could do for my project.

Play #1 didn't work at all.
Play #2 wouldn't fare much better.
Play #3 from one of the same writers was a loose fit.

So, back to the research. EEBO. ECCO. ESTC. And then...just when I thought I was running out of options, I found two plays that turned everything around. One of them is written by one of the writers that I'd already planned on studying, while the other play is writter under a pseudonym. Why is this important? Because it just so happens that Great Conference Across the Pond has the theme "Identity," and my advisor had long ago said that she thought I should submit a proposal. The deadline for proposals is this Friday. As of Monday morning, I had no idea what I could possibly propose. As of today, I not only found The Perfect Play to use for the conference paper proposal, but I also stumbled into a clear specific argument about the play, connecting it to the conference theme, AND I wrote and submitted the proposal!

In just three short days, I found the play that will work for the conference and my dissertation chapter, and I've already gotten some initial writing done!! Oh, the dam has broken, and it feels so good!

The cherry on top is that one of my committee members is considered Dr. Anonymity for the period. He's currently finishing a book on anonymous publication, but he's technically on leave this semester, so I wasn't sure if he'd be available to talk with me anytime soon. I sent him an e-mail explaining what I'd found and why the play works great for my diss, and he not only thinks it sounds like an interesting case, but he's also happy to meet with me next week to talk about the kinds of issues and questions I'll need to consider in terms of anonymous/pseudonymous writing in this area. Yay!! I just love, love the fact that all 4 of my commmittee members are actively publishing in the areas of my field that my dissertation considers specifically, and it sure doesn't hurt that they're all genuinely nice, supportive people.

Now, I just need for my kids to stay healthy so I can take advantage of all the work time I can get before the semester gets really busy (i.e. when students start turning in papers).