Friday, January 6, 2012

Shawna from Shawnigan on Writing Yourself Out.

Beaker Ben
Gets Name-Checked.
Following up Bison’s post, my experience of grad school wasn’t much more enjoyable than Bison’s (and as an undergrad I thought profs were a higher species of being) and things were pretty bad when I graduated in 1996 and went on unemployment insurance. I revised the thesis, sent it off, and then took up paid research work.  But the ms was published and then things turned around.

At that early stage, I was given some advice by a prominent scholar: if you don’t like where you are or what you are doing, then write your way out. Now, I know that that sort of advice doesn’t work in all fields. But do correspondents think that it is true for disciplines where monographs are the standard mechanism of advancement?

In my own experience of hiring committees, writing well is crucial. I wish I could read everything Beaker Ben ever wrote because he always nails things, precisely and elegantly, so that you seem to get a better understanding of the issues at stake. People who can do that are, I suspect, more likely to get hired because they make the academic life slightly more enjoyable for everyone who reads them. I say this with diffidence. I was a crappy writer when I started in university: patient profs had to teach me grammar, sentence structure and the like, and I’m lucky they took the trouble.

It didn’t make me a great writer but it made me (perhaps just barely) good enough. And I know that a lottery is far and away the best metaphor for the academic job market.

But whenever I read an account like Bison’s, I wonder if writing is a possible problem or solution.


  1. I'm a 1996 Ph.D. too, and I wrote my way out of an completely untenable (and untenurable) first job where I was paid less than I'd earned on fellowship as a grad student. Well, actually, it should be PUBLISHED my way out.

    But I'm not sure that what happened to those of our vintage applies now. It is much, much harder to get a monograph accepted by a decent press than it was then, when editors chased me around with their business card, and the volume of journal submissions is way up. Not to mention that hardly anyone was teaching 12 courses a year patched together from 3 institutions and that sort of thing.

    In other words, given my age, I am hard pressed to blame the victim.

  2. I have actually thought that might still be an option. Could a life-long adjunct who published two or three books or a small stack of articles with decent reviews get back on track sometime in his or her late 30s to 50s? In my field, the logistics are doable. We don't need expensive lab equipment, for example. Some travel money might be an issue, but it is mostly about libraries and solitude.

  3. What I've been told is that 15 years ago, a graduating Ph.D. in my field that had 1 - 2 peer reviewed articles was a rare diamond. Now, you need 3 just to make the initial cut for some jobs.

    Plus, based on the wiki and other posters here, T-T positions are drawing somewhere between 200 - 700 applicants. Multiply that by a minimum of 2 (cover letter and CV) and I assume that my materials get 60 - 120 seconds of skimming. I've been told that many go right to the publications section and simply count.

    This is probably telling about my own field, but quantity of publications seems to trump quality.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.