Yesterday, our department held its annual meeting for the graduate students who are going on the job market. I’ve attended the meeting as an onlooker for the past few years to get a sense of what was in store, but this is the first year I’ve attended as one of the job seekers. I have nearly a complete draft of my dissertation, with revisions, rewritings, and the distillation of my argument into an introduction as my remaining writing tasks, so it’s time to leave the nest.
For the past three years, the agenda has looked much the same: this is what a dossier looks like, here are some sources on how to draft a cover letter, don’t forget about the importance of your teaching statement, and whatever you do, DON’T PANIC. This last admonition typically has the opposite effect on me, which is probably the reason why I scramble to sign up for every professionalization opportunity the university offers even as I internalize the futility of it all. This year, I had the same stomach-dropping sensation as the agenda was passed around, but even as I tried not to vomit, a curious realization hit me. All of the people sitting at the table yesterday are going on the job market for the first time. The people who attended past meetings have defended and gotten jobs. Academic jobs. Good academic jobs.
As I worked to square this observation with stories told by my twitter feed—filled with panicked, cranky, dismissive, and pessimistic observations about the current situation in academia—I opened my ears to actually listen to what our job coordinator had to say. And to my delight, the agenda took a slightly different tenor than last year. The traditional ways of finding and applying for jobs are changing. The MLA JIL used to be the only source for academic employment opportunities. Now there are a plethora of sites, including Jobs in Higher Education, Academic Careers, and Women in Higher Education, not to mention various list-servs and the Chronicle of Higher Ed, that list jobs in a variety of fields. I don’t have to be limited to the 20 or so (extremely competitive) positions in Romanticism that will open this year because there are a number of opportunities I could pursue.
In addition, our meeting stressed the importance of being savvy while job searching. This year, every grad student on the job market will create a personal website since a professional online presence is almost a prerequisite for the top jobs. I’m happy I bit the bullet and created this blog three years ago, but this semester I’ll migrate it to its own domain, and will update it with writing samples and sample syllabi. I’ll also implement a blogging schedule soon, something I’ve resisted in the past that now seems practically mandatory—the only thing worse than a poorly designed website is a dormant one.
It’s a semester of change, but I’m excited about the challenges ahead. And for once, I’m not panicking.
In a recent blog post for Inside Higher Ed, Lee Skallerup Bessette chronicles her bleak job search over the past few years. She writes:
I’m still receiving rejection letters in the mail (and emails) … The letter I received today (Monday) outlined that they had received over 500 applicants and conducted dozens of interviews.*
Dr. Skallerup notes the scanty job market in her field that grows increasingly smaller every year. Everyone (administrators, job seekers, search committees) agrees that we’re in a tough spot. But recent attempts in Higher Ed blogs and commentaries to dismiss the problem by comparing the job search to a lottery or a game (as their recent “Play the Role of the Search Committee” feature illustrates) belittle job seekers, of which there are too many qualified individuals to collectively patronize them as overly ambitious or ill-suited to academia.
But why should we care? Certainly there are other, more pressing, issues such as the growing amount of student debt that need to be addressed. Yes—but the conversation about academia and money shouldn’t be an either/or questions. We need teachers to train students, to give them the best quality education the university can offer them; but we can’t do this effectively if our instructors are spending 3 to 5 years on the job market hoping that eventually they will “beat the odds.”
What type of work are we looking for when we seek these positions—that is to say, professorships in the humanities? One simple definition could be an opportunity to teach college students at a competitive salary and to conduct our research in a supportive environment. By “supportive,” I mean institutional access to libraries and other facilities, and a university that provides basic care such as health insurance and retirement plans for its employees (for that’s what faculty are, even if they refuse to accept this label).
Whether this happens on the tenure track or no, there are things we need to set in place to make sure we are providing the best support for teachers. Livable wages and some measure of job security are a good place to start.
We need to work with our administrations to put these changes in place. We need to hold our administrations accountable when they change minimum degree requirements, or raise tuition so that students are forced to turn to MOOCs or community colleges in order to afford their degree. These proposals are not my own, and there are already people with bigger microphones than mine working on these issues.
Still, it troubles me that there is an entire generation of academics who are growing so dissatisfied with the system that they are abandoning it to the lowest bidder. We hear shouts of rage from every corner—so why aren’t we making meaningful proposals? Ones from which all constituents of the university—students, faculty, and administrators—can benefit?
I’ve been recruited to live-tweet during the Millennial Medicine Symposium next Friday (held at Rice University at the BRC). Live-tweeting is more focused than regular tweeting in that it involves a group of people having a conversation around a certain topic searchable with hashtags. Over the past two or three years, academics increasingly have used live-tweeting during conferences, speaking events, and other site-specific gatherings to share knowledge and participate in debates. With university budgets cut year after year, we may not be able to attend as many conferences due to smaller travel budgets; live-tweeting helps engage scholars across the online community and to bring the ideas discussed at the conference to a larger audience.
Live-tweeting is also a great way to meet people, especially at larger conferences. I live-tweeted during MLA-Seattle and AWP-Boston and shared ideas with people sitting in the same panel (via Twitter). There were fewer people tweeting during the BWC-Albuquerque two weekends ago, but I similarly found people who share similar research interests.
If you’ve never live-tweeted, here’s a round-up of links to help you get started. And feel free to join me (@AnnaSaikin) on Friday as we discuss what the future of medicine should be, and how we should get there—#MMed13
Live-Tweeting Best Practices — From Twitter Developers; gives basic overview and tips
Live-Tweeting: An Essential Top 10 Guide of Tips and How-tos —Covers basic tips and suggestions on how to make a successful live-tweeting session
12-step Guide on How to Live-Tweet an Event — Much like tips and how-tos, but covers before and after the event
5 Tips to Help You Live Tweet a Speech — Symposiums are different than conferences in that there are usually only one or two speakers during each block of time. How to live-tweet when you’re listening to a more lengthy presentation
List of 10 Most Socially Awkward Examples of Live-Tweeting — Not all events were meant to be live-tweeted. Here are some examples of times when you should put the phone down.
If you have other suggestions, feel free to list them in the comments. See you there!
Last month, the Chronicle of Higher Ed posted an essay on how blogging helped one grad student in the humanities finish his dissertation. The comment section is filled with both supportive and condescending remarks—some in the digital humanities praise bloggers for helping to share the work of academia outside the Ivory Tower, while others were more inclined to say “the lady doth protest too much.”
Although the writer, Maxime Larivé, claims that the blog should be related to the student’s research, to me his argument seems valid no matter what the subject of the blog. (No surprise there—the topics on this blog sway wildly from academia to creative writing to everything under the sun.) I have found that my biggest problem while writing the dissertation has not been the research or the arguments—though these have been plenty challenging. Rather, its keeping the momentum of writing moving forward, which, coincidentally, is also the advice my advisor gives me when we run into each other in the hallways. “Are you writing? Keep writing!”
The point of writing a dissertation—the first draft, at least—is to demonstrate that you have the chops to write a monograph-length work of original scholarship. But those 200-odd pages do not come naturally. Blogging, and the sense of community that comes with it, keeps you honest. When I’m writing here, I’m usually also writing there. If the well dries up, it’s that much more difficult to sit down in the chair again.
For the record, I’m not the only one in my department blogging. When I first started blogging, a senior grad student (now an assistant prof at an East Coast university) kept a personal blog where she wrote about her personal life with a bit of research thrown in. Tim Morton, a faculty member at Rice, is a prolific blogger—he frequently liveblogs guest lecturers, and posts several times a day.
Though blogging might not be for everyone, I do think that it as some value, even if you can’t turn it in to your committee. If it helps write the dissertation itself, I say, go for it.
From the frequency (or lack thereof) of blog posts I publish, you may think that I’ve forgotten about the blog or that my heart really isn’t in it or I’m too lazy to make time to write.
This isn’t true. I think about my blog all the time.
I compose entire posts in my head on my way to campus. When something interesting or poignant or hilarious happens, I think that would make a great blog post. Sometimes I even write entire posts, only to save them in draft form to be published at some magical future date. And that time never comes.
Why is this? How did I go from I Am Writer, Read My Words to, well, silence?
In Tillie Olsen’s book, Silences, she describes lots of different types of silence. One: the absence of books written by women in the canon (keep in mind Silences was originally published in 1978). Another: long gaps in a single writer’s literary production. Olsen examines the conditions for these gaps: fear of criticism, inability to make time to write, political silencing.
How, then, can I account for my own silences, at least on the blog?
The biggest factor, I think, is that I don’t have a job. To be more accurate, I currently have four jobs (student, writer, editor, and administrative junkie), but none of them pay very well (or at all) and none are sustainable. In a few months/years, I will have to go out on the job market and find a career, something with maybe a retirement plan and insurance. No matter what type of job I find, I’m terrified that the blog will become a liability, not an asset, despite reassurances to the contrary.
You can’t measure, rank, or quantify the usefulness of a blog. You can’t measure, rank, or quantify any of the things I do, really, but somehow the blog has come to stand as that thing that makes me feel like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. Nobody else I know IRL who isn’t already established has a blog, so there’s no one I can really talk to who can say how a blog fits into their larger professional vision, if there is such a thing. There’s also no one to tell me to relax and do what I want, because the only information I hear are the horror stories of trying to find a job.
And so, I’ve become the ultimate censor of my work. Is this interesting? What am I trying to say, exactly? Do I really want to publish this? How will this read if someone finds it in five years?
In addition, the readership of my blog has increased in an inverse relationship to the number of posts I write. People are coming up to me at events and saying, “I read your blog!” This produces all sorts of weird associations in my head. For the past few years, I’ve joked to Husband that I want to be famous. Except I’m only half-joking. I really do want to be famous, not necessarily in a Bloggess sort of way, but famous in a way that people will want to read my work and take me sort of seriously.
But now that people are finally reading my work, instead of rejoicing (“Yay I’m famous!”), I’m terrified. Who are these people and why do they care what I say? Don’t they know I’m making most of this up as I go along?
And aside from the usual Impostor Syndrome symptoms, there’s also the fear that Someone Important will read my work, become offended, and I will get in very real trouble. You see, in March I was elected to be the Graduate Student Association president at Rice. It’s a very cool title with very annoying responsibilities. For the past six months, I have been working on planning and executing events for Rice’s Centennial celebration. Most of it has been fun, if working 12 hour days every day for four months can be fun. It has also put me into contact with a lot of 1%-ers in ways that make me feel like I need a shower afterwards. I have seen the underbelly of higher education, and I don’t like it.
I have a lot of opinions about these sort of things. But I don’t want to write about that because I can’t. I benefit from a lot of the things I don’t like. And I like working in administration, and you don’t get a job in administration by biting the hand that feeds you. Still, in this political climate, it has put me in the odd position of smiling-and-nodding when I really want to be shoving a picket sign in someone’s face.
I am silent because there are things that can’t be said, at least by me. I’m silent because I’m scared. I’m silent because I’m tired, to be frank. I can’t be silent anymore—but I don’t know how I’m going to fix it, at least not right away.
I’m here. I’m still reading your blogs. I’m always on Twitter. If I haven’t written in a while, it’s only because I can’t figure out how to say what I want to say yet. In the meantime, keep writing, my friends. Always keep writing.
The MLA Job Information List (hereafter referred to as “JIL”) will be released today. Though one can find academic job postings for elsewhere, such as the Chronicle for Higher Education, the JIL is the granddaddy of professorial openings for students wanting to become a literature and language professor.
Let me give a brief rundown of the process for getting a job in academia. I have explained this process countless times to Husband and friends, but unless you’re living it, the experience can seem very counterintuitive, bizarre, and beside-the-point. Oh wait, it is.
When a department decides it needs to hire a new faculty member and the position is not an endowed chair, the faculty must first take their request to the Administration, who (hopefully) will give their blessing to the faculty. The department will draft a statement (“job posting”) stating the types of things they are looking for in a new hire. These postings are usually organized by field, which in turn are usually historically or geographically situated: British Romanticism, for example, or 20th century American lit. Such and such.
They post the job opening to the JIL, which runs from Sept 15 through sometime in June. Newly minted PhDs, grad students on the cusp of receiving their PhD, and assistant professors unhappy with their current position or salary flock to the website only to find a disappointingly small amount of jobs listed.
Job applications consist of a CV, writing sample, dissertation or book project abstract, letters of recommendation, and teaching statement. As I mentioned, the jobs are posted Sept 15; applications are usually due between Oct 15 and Nov 15. The hiring committee, usually three tenured professors, will whittle anywhere from 100 to 400 applications down to a choice 10 to 12, who will then be invited to interview at MLA, the giant magaconference in our profession. From these 12 lucky applicants (only in academia are you considered lucky even to be offered an interview), 3 will be chosen to participate in a campus visit.
Oh, the campus visit.
Over the course of two weeks or so in February or March, the applicants will be trotted one at a time through the campus, meeting other faculty, grad students, and the administration for what must be an excruciatingly long two-day visit. At some point they will give a public lecture, a 45 minute reading from their book project, followed by a 15-30 minute torture-fest wherein we learn more about the faculty of the hiring school than about the applicant. Q&A sessions are just bizarre. Assuming the candidate is still standing, he or she will be sent home to wait. And wait. And wait.
The faculty will meet in small, closed-door meetings to decide who to hire. Battle lines will be drawn. Longtime rivals will resume their passive-aggressive hostility. A candidate will be chosen.
Phone calls will be made to the victorious party. While contracts are being negotiated, the other two candidates will be left in limbo. If, for some reason, the first candidate has taken a position elsewhere, the committee will call No. 2, but of course pretend like No. 2 was really No. 1. Woe be you to be No. 3. Not until the ink is dry will they call the candidates who made a campus visit but did not make the cut to tell them the bad news.
Nobody seems to like this process. Not the faculty, not the hiring committee, certainly not the applicants. It’s like applying to college or grad school, taken to the nth degree.
I will not be on the job market this year, but I attended the job meeting our university held for students on the market. Everyone in the room had their game-face on, but as the meeting wore on, faces started turning green. The process sucks. It sucks even more that the people who haven’t been able to get a job since Lehman Bros collapsed (aka my first year in the program) are still going on the job market, year after year, waiting. Just waiting.
That smell in the air on campus? That’s not the beginning of fall. That’s desperation.
The Call for Papers for the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the major conference in my field, was announced today. I am searching through the list to find a panel that suits my needs: I want to present a paper that will (hopefully) generate buzz around my field and will introduce me to people who may (eventually) help me get a job. I will have achieved candidacy (knock on wood) by time the conference rolls around (March 2012) and thus the stakes are higher than they were three years ago when I presented at this conference as a first year, a wide-eyed nobody who went just to absorb everything there is to know about the eighteenth century.
I have been looking forward to this conference for several reasons. It will be in San Antonio, a mere 4 hours away, and thus I will be able to attend this conference without the stress of eating Ramon noodles in order to pay for it. It is the first ASECS conference I will be able to attend in three years because the organizers did not ask me if March is a convenient month. If they had, I would have told them no, you can’t hold a conference every year on my wedding day/anniversary. But they did not ask me. The location also means that I can drag Husband along if he so chooses. I’ll be at the conference; he’ll be at Six Flags. It seems like a reasonable trade-off to me.
So anyway, I’m scrolling through the CFP when one reaches out and punches me in the gut. It’s perfect for my dissertation topic, and it’s sexy enough to entice other departments on campus to give me money. But I keep looking to see if there’s another one. And then I see it.
David Liss, author of Conspiracy of Paper fame, will be chairing a round table discussion of the eighteenth century in contemporary novels.
I heard Liss speak when I was an undergrad at UT before I even read his book, and was enthralled with his energy and enthusiasm. Liss lives in San Antonio, and presumably the conference organizers were aware of this fact before they booked him. Still. It seems a bit surreal to me that Liss, an extremely successful contemporary novelist, is attending an “academic” conference, when he has made it clear in interviews and on his website that he dropped out of academia in order to write novels.
Now that I’m blogging about it, the idea doesn’t seem as strange as it did 5 minutes ago when I saw the CFP. After all, it would seem to be entirely reasonable to be an academic and not live and work and breathe in the Ivory Tower. Or to look at it another way: at least half of the panels are on the digital humanities. Could exploring the contemporary novel be just another avenue of academic debate?
I guess the CFP unsettles me because it is so different from other panels. Do I bring a copy of his book with me for him to sign? Do I bring a copy of my query in case his agent tags along? How do I schmooze with a writer when I’m simultaneously trying to get my foot in the publishing door and the job market door? What do I do?
ASECS is Comic-Con for Eighteenth Century Nerds. We call ourselves professors but we’re all nerdy. At the NASSR conference I went to last August, a bunch of tenured professors got together and made “John Thelwall” t-shirts and wore them to bars. Don’t worry, I didn’t know who Thelwall was either. It was ridiculous and awesome and embarrassing all at the same time. I’m so used to concealing my nerdiness in complicated literary jargon that I have a difficult time negotiating my conflicting feelings of guilt and enthusiasm when reading Jane Borodale’s The Book of Fires or watching The Scarlet Pimpernel, let alone sharing this anxiety with other academics.
Liss, for me, represents the side of academia that dare not speak its name. Everyone in my department, without exception, has a pet side project to keep themselves busy. For me, it’s fiction. For another, it’s food criticism. For yet another, it’s editing. Several of us have blogs. We all have projects and activities that are not strictly within the boundaries of our dissertation or field, and yet we cannot talk about it in the open with our peers. The whispered hush in the halls is, don’t reveal too much. It won’t help you on the job market. Contrariwise, Liss’s project became an award-winning book. Is it wrong to dare to dream?
I’m not sure if I will have the guts to ask Liss to autograph a book or whether that’s even appropriate considering the circumstances. I expect I will show up at the panel in hopeful expectation, just like I do before every panel. I do know that this is going to be one fun and exciting conference.
I’m creating my first ever syllabus from scratch. Well, not really from scratch. No syllabus is ever truly created from nothing, though every syllabus carries with it the possibility for transcendence. Or at least that’s what professors tell themselves.
I’m finding myself torn between EVERYTHING MUST BE REPRESENTED and “Is the Norton really that awesome? I could do better.” Or something like that.
There are more or less given parameters for what the course should, supposedly, look like. But I believe that you should teach to your strengths and I am not strong in 20th century literature. So, we make do with what we can. Stoppard’s Arcadia made the cut, but Waiting for Godot is so out (it’s about God. I get it. But I can’t teach it for a week). Other possibilities include Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. But I’m also considering stuff written in the 21st century to round out the second half. Any good (teachable) postmodern books you recommend?
It’s time for the fourth installment of my month-long series about writing in academia. Today, I will give what little advice I know about writing book reviews for publication in academic markets.
Some people will tell you that book reviews are a waste of time. I heartily disagree. For baby graduate students or junior professors, they can be a great way to begin publishing in academic journals. They allow you to participate and comment on your colleague’s work in a refereed journal. Plus, reviews (should be) fun to write–and great to read as a researcher. They are part of the grease that keeps our profession alive.
My one publication has been a book review for Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies (link above right). When I wrote that, I knew little about the format of book reviews. I began by writing chapter summaries, and then tried to restate the book’s argument in my own words. I don’t think I would have read the book as closely if I wasn’t writing the book review; in a way, then, writing the book review taught me how to read a book for it’s argument.
I think what takes a book review to the next level is the ability to incorporate the book into the existing academic conversation on the subject. To put it in context. I wasn’t perhaps ready to do that yet when I wrote my book review, but I will be thinking about techniques to do that for the next one.
Some journals publish book reviews consisting of more than one title. I think it creates a more interesting review–certainly a more nuanced one.
Above all, be respectful to the author, even if you think the book’s not that great. The author has worked on it for a long time, and several people (editors, blind readers, colleagues) have looked at the manuscript well before you. Be honest, but kind.
And don’t write too much. Unless you’re writing the SEL review (it includes all/most books written, organized by period), reviews should not be more than 2000 words, and many are much shorter than that. Quotes are nice, but use sparingly. We are interested in what you have to say about the book.
And HAPPY THANKSGIVING!